Book Review: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich


Author: Brian Panowich

Publisher: Head of Zeus

Release Date: July 2015


Clayton Burroughs is the Sheriff of Bull Mountain, Georgia, and his unexpected role in local law enforcement has seen him singled out as the black sheep of the infamous Burroughs clan. In the 1940s and 1950s, the family ran moonshine over six state lines, and in the 1960s and 1970s they farmed the largest marijuana crop on the East Coast. Now, they are the dominant suppliers of methamphetamine in the South. An uneasy pact exists between Sheriff Burroughs and his estranged brother Halford, but when slick federal agent Simon Holly shows up in Clayton’s office – with a bold plan to shut down Bull Mountain with the minimum amount of bloodshed – it reignites the simmering family feud and sets brother against brother.

Bull Mountain is a swaggering, violent novel that improbably evolved out of a pair of short stories that were published by crime fiction sites Shotgun Honey and the Flash Fiction Offensive back in October 2012. In truth, those stories – while undoubtedly great – barely scratch the surface of what Bull Mountain has to offer, which is darker, richer and more emphatic than any debut novel has a right to be. (Note: if you haven’t already read them, the aforementioned stories are best enjoyed after reading the novel!)

The characterisation is uniformly excellent, and the use of multiple timelines – which ricochet back and forth across the narrative like bullets in a confined space – is very well done. Further, the quietly crafty narrative wrong-footed me on several occasions, which is always a nice feeling as a reader!

At the tail-end of last year it was reported that Bull Mountain was being adapted for TV by Ed Bernero, the executive producer of hit show Criminal Minds. Hopefully the arrangement pans out, as Bull Mountain has a real televisual quality about it, and often reads like a raucous shotgun wedding between Justified and Sons of Anarchy.

A crash-course in dirty deeds and impressively clean writing, Bull Mountain is a tremendous debut novel, and one that fully deserves the plaudits that were heaped on it like dirt on an unmarked grave. Excellent stuff – highly recommended for fans of blood-splattered hillbilly crime sagas.

Reviewed by Tom Leins

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