Thursday, December 5, 2019

Hardcover: "Bull Mountain" by Brian Panowich

Hardcover: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich, 2015, 9780425282281.

Rural crime novel set in modern Georgia. I enjoyed the book but I thought it went a little off the rails at the end.

The dust cover lists this as Panowich's first novel. There are some blink-and-miss'em characters that just don't add much to the story but are there just the same. I wonder if this is one of those first novels that started out bloated so the author had to cut the story back and kept some of his favorite characters somewhere in the story. Or, I don't know what I'm talking about.

Anyhoo. Clayton Burroughs married young and did not follow the family crime business. One day his wife mentioned how the long-lasting and crooked County Sheriff was retiring. "Maybe you should run for the office."  "Yeah," thinks Clayton, "Fuck it. Why not?" and Clayton wins election. Clayton gets elected because everyone rightly fears his family's last name. But Clayton, unlike Nixon, really is not a crook.

Clayton's family has been making and running moonshine, marijuana, and meth for a century or so. But, with Clayton turning into a decent Sheriff who follows in the law there has been a bit of a territorial truce between him and his family. Bull Mountain is a massive tract of land now ruled by Clayton's older brother, Halford. That brotherly relationship has never been strong, Halford is ten years older, and Clayton was disowned by the family when joining the police. Halford controls the mountain and Clayton patrols the valley and towns.

The peaceful balance has lasted for several years. Their father died under questionable circumstances, likely killed by Halford, and the middle brother was just killed in a raid by the Feds. Clayton has let the Mountain run itself and the Feds periodically come in trying to clean the mountain up. The Feds always fail and go home and harbor deep suspicions about Clayton's integrity and familial loyalty.

In rolls an ATF agent (or is he DEA?) with a deal for Clayton. ATF Guy says, "I've got a deal. I'm looking to bust some Florida bikers who traffic with your bro. You get your bro to roll on these biker trash and he'll get a free ride. Your brother can retire in peace with no one trying to swindle or murder him."

Clayton usually stays out of the Fed V. Halford disputes but the ATF Guy gives a unique pitch and seems sincere. Clayton has not spoken to his brother in years and his appearance and the middle brother's funeral is very uncomfortable. The brotherly discussion is not brotherly and events start rolling along.

Spoilers ahead.
So, I think the book was pretty decent. But, like mentioned above it feels like an abbreviatd family crime epic.
  • There are longish flashbacks to Clayton's murderous father, grandfather, and Halford's viciousness and ruthlessness. (When Clayton is about 10-years-old halford brings Clayton along as Halford goes to murder a moonshiner working without the family's permission and does so by burning the man to death.) 
  • Those extra characters have lifelong ties to Clayton but flit in and out. 
  • ATF Guy turns out to be the offspring of a young prostitute who was deformed after beaten and cut by the dad in the early '70s.
 Give it a shot if you enjoy rural crime stuff, which I do. Hell, the novel won or was nominated for several fancy awards.

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