Albert “Val” Valentine knows of what he speaks, as the fate of the Valentine family has been intertwined with that of the Burroughs clan since as far back as anyone can remember. And the more things change in the Burroughs fiefdom of Bull Mountain in North Georgia, the more they stay the same.
The Burroughs have been making their living off the mountain and the vices of men for generations, first by running moonshine, then branching out into marijuana, and most recently by moving meth. Throughout it all, the Burroughs and those who serve them have existed in their own world up on Bull Mountain, isolated and insulated from outsiders, including the law.
Sure, attempts were made over the years to bring whoever was in charge of the clan at the time down, but no one has ever been able to conquer the Burroughs, or Bull Mountain.
What outsiders have never been able to accomplish, however, may finally be on the verge of happening thanks to a Burroughs himself. Clayton Burroughs, tired of the family’s seemingly never-ending cycle of criminality, boldly chose to walk a different path—Sheriff. This choice understandably set him at odds with the family and its reigning patriarch, his brother, Halford. And while Clayton has made the conscious decision not to pro-actively get into Halford’s business—as long as it doesn’t spill down off the mountain into town—Clayton’s presented with a unique opportunity when Federal Agent Simon Holly shows up in his office.
Holly, a hotshot up-and-comer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, tells Clayton that Halford has crossed a line the ATF can’t ignore, having aligned himself with some first-class bad hombres down in Florida. It’s the leader of that gang the ATF really wants, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, including burning down Bull Mountain and going through Halford if necessary—an assault the likes of which Bull Mountain has never seen is coming. With Clayton’s help, however, Holly assures him there’s a way it can be done not only peacefully, but where Halford gets to walk away, stay on Bull Mountain.
Then again, things have never come easy on Bull Mountain…why should that change now?
Told via a multigenerational narrative that seamlessly cycles through several different characters’ perspectives over a nearly seventy-year time frame, Bull Mountain, the debut novel from author Brian Panowich, is a study in pitch-perfect dialogue, wonderfully evocative descriptions, and not even the hint of a wasted beat. Every scene stitches together a rich tapestry of loyalty and betrayal, innocence and evil, redemption and revenge. Never once does Panowich take the easy way out, resort to trite takes on morality or reduce his North Georgia characters to caricatures. Far from it. Bull Mountain takes place in a world where morality is as foggy as the clouds that shroud the top of the mountain, the characters undeniably authentic in their complexity and struggles.
Bull Mountain is, quite simply, stunning. It’s the kind of novel most authors would be lucky to work up to and produce just once in their career, and that Panowich has come roaring out the gate with this as his first full-length work—he’s the author of numerous critically acclaimed short stories—is a jaw-dropping accomplishment. Bull Mountain is not only easily one of my favorite reads of 2015, it has more than earned a spot on the top shelf amongst my favorite reads ever. Yeah, it’s that good.
Bull Mountain is available from G.P. Putnam’s Sons (978-0399173967).