Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich
Putnam/Penguin Random House, $26.95, 290 pages, ISBN 978-0-399-17396-7
This week’s author had a metric ton of A-list crime fiction writers heaping praise on his debut novel when it first appeared in the fall of last year. The likes of C.J. Box, John Connolly, James Ellroy and others were all highly complimentary of his work in their endorsements . . . and rightfully so, for it became a runway hit . . . which I am chagrined to say I couldn’t find the time to review. But now it’s coming out in trade paperback form, giving me a shot at redemption. I won’t miss it a second time . . . it’s just too damn good.
Bull Mountain, by Brian Panowich defies convention, and classification too. It’s a riveting thriller set in the southern Appalachian Mountains of northeast Georgia that’s partly a family saga, part crime fiction, part fable and part mystery. It defies genre and could be called southern, Appalachian, or hillbilly noir. Whatever name we call it, Bull Mountain will grab your attention with the first sentence and nail your brain to the plot until the last word on the last page when you’ll say, “Please, Sir. May I have some more?”
Told in alternating voices, times and points of view, the novel begins in 1949, when a fateful decision up on Bull Mountain propels the Burroughs clan into the drug trade and away from running ‘shine, their traditional business. By 2015, the two surviving grandsons are at odds. Halford controls Bull Mountain and all of an interstate drug empire, while his younger brother Clayton is the county Sheriff. An uneasy truce exists between the two because, while Clayton has the law on his side, Halford has the guns on his. The standoff evaporates with the appearance of a Federal Agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who plans to end the criminal empire with an agenda all his own . . . pitting brother against brother in a devastating test to see whether good or evil will prevail. With dynamic, hard-edged prose and a compelling narrative coupled with a multi-generational saga, Bull Mountain is a first novel that’s got some serious chops. I’m eager to see what author Panowich comes up with next. Hillbilly Noir . . . count me in!