Wednesday, November 11, 2015

REVIEW: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich


From a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

In a sweeping narrative spanning decades and told from alternating points of view, the novel brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the mountain and its inhabitants: forbidding, loyal, gritty, and ruthless. A story of family—the lengths men will go to protect it, honor it, or in some cases destroy it—Bull Mountain is an incredibly assured debut that heralds a major new talent in fiction.

Hardcover, 290 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published July 1st 2015)
ISBN 039917396X (ISBN13: 9780399173967) 

My Thoughts
"Family," the old man said to no one. The word hung in a puff of frozen breath before dissipating into the early-morning fog. Riley Burroughs used that word the same way a master carpenter used a hammer. Sometimes he just gave it a gentle tap to nudge one of his kin toward his way of thinking, but sometimes he used it with all the subtlety of a nine-pound sledge.
This story covers several generations of Burroughs men, and sometimes it can be difficult keeping track as it jumps around. You may be current day with Clayton, then be in the 50s, 70s or 80s with Clayton's brother, father, grandfather or some other relative.

Clayton is the Burroughs man that "turned good" in a family of men that have broken many laws to maintain their way of life. As he explains to ATF Special Agent Simon Holly:
" don't understand how it works up here. Money isn't the endgame for my brother. It never was. It's simply a by-product of the lifestyle my father raised him on...

"...imagine the feeling you had the last time you took a few days off and packed the car, your girl, maybe a few beers and a camera, and set off to find a secluded spot in the mountains, or by a still pond or lake somewhere. You with me?

"...Now imagine that same setting, that pretty picture you got in your head, imagine that as the basis for your everyday. Imagine it's the foundation for work, family, relationships, wisdom, pain, all of it. It's a different mind-set. It's not a break from life for these people. It IS life, and the urge to protect it, and hold on to it, can be fierce."
Clayton's family lives in the mountains of Georgia, where they have lived and died for generations, fueling their way of life with the trafficking of moonshine, marijuana and meth-- and guns. Now Agent Holly has a plan to take the family down once and for all, with the help of Clayton.

For TV lovers, this book is Justified meets Longmire meets Sons of Anarchy. If you are familiar with the residents of Harlan County, then you'll be right at home with the Burroughs gang. Clayton has a Walt Longmire vibe, and then you can throw in a biker gang to boot.

My final word: Clayton is the hero you can root for, and it's hard to feel too bad for his kith and kin as their livelihoods are threatened. Clayton's wife Kate is admirable and sympathetic, having battled with Clayton's demons for years. There is a nice twist or two in the story to keep things interesting. I really loved the author's writing, and I was already a fan of the subject material (I love southern lit and stories about Appalachian mountain families and the like). The jumping back and forth between different perspectives and time periods can be tricky to navigate, but you settle into the format and it does get easier as the story goes on. There is nice tension and suspense, a couple of twists and turns, some colorful characters with some very good character development. However one area I felt it fell short was in the character development of Agent Holly. This book is going to make it to my "Best of 2015" list. I loved it!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

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