Occasionally in the writing world a debut author’s book comes along and immediately starts making waves. There’s no exact science to which books will do it, or why. But such books do tend to have one specific aspect in common: They’re almost always dripping with talent and authenticity in a way that makes even experienced authors pine for that level of accomplishment.
Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain is just this kind of book. Almost from the first page I was struck by the sheer authenticity of the book’s voice, from dialog to narration. Maybe it’s because I love rural noir, or maybe it’s because the native Texan in me holds a secret nostalgia for all things southern. But as I dug into Bull Mountain I had a real feeling that I was experiencing something special, something totally unique. Something as filled with authentic talent as it is with authentic setting and character. This book made me self-conscious as someone who also writes southern rural noir.
Bull Mountain is the saga of the Burroughs clan, a long line of Georgia outlaws stretching back into the days before prohibition, having spent all those years protected by the sanctity of their backwoods home turf, a place called Bull Mountain. The narrative bounces back and forth throughout the Burroughs family’s storied criminal history, revealing deep divisions between hard men and women as it moves, and tracking the family’s business progression from the sale of moonshine into marijuana and eventually methamphetamine.
Only a lone Burroughs has ever turned away from the family business, the book’s main protagonist, Clayton Burroughs. Clayton has instead chosen to become sheriff of a neighboring community to Bull Mountain, and ostracized himself from his kin in the process. As the plot moves back and forth through history, from moments in Clayton’s childhood to moments in his own father’s childhood, Panowich waves a deft brush in showing the reader how things came to be where they are.
And where they are is not good. When a federal agent shows up on Clayton’s doorstep with a grim forecast for the Burroughs clan’s future, Clayton is forced to attempt to reconnect with his estranged brother, who is now head of the family business, and who hates Clayton’s guts.
What unfurls is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and very engaging tale of deep family ties, even deeper family scars, and violence so dark it will make your hair stand straight up. Panowich’s writing is absolutely stellar throughout, and perhaps that’s why this book has already made a huge splash, and has even been optioned for a television series.
Expect awards to follow, because trust me when I tell you that Bull Mountain is one of the best pieces of southern rural noir to land from a debut author in a long, long time. My suspicion is that we will all be hearing a lot more of the name Brian Panowich in the future, so do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy of Bull Mountain. That way when it becomes a big, successful television series you can tell your friends you read it before it was “cool.” Find Brian Panowich online at www.brianpanowich.com.