Summary and book reviews of Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Bull Mountain

by Brian Panowich

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the 2015 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award

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.

1.

"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.

The old man sat in a wooden rocker, slowly squeaking it back and forth on the worn and buckled pine slats of the cabin's front porch. The cabin was one of several hunting shelters his family had built all over Bull Mountain throughout the years. Rye's Grandfather, Johnson Burroughs, built this one. Rye imagined the elder statesman of the Burroughs clan sitting in that very spot fifty years earlier and wondered if his brow ever got this heavy. He was sure it did.

Rye pulled a pouch of dried tobacco from his coat and rolled a smoke in his lap. Ever since he was a boy, he'd come out here to watch Johnson&#...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel begins with the word "family," and the powerful scenes that follow signal the importance of familial bonds—and rifts—in this novel. Discuss the role of family in the story. To which characters is it most important? Is family defined by blood or by something else?
  2. There are two key female protagonists in the novel: Kate and Marion. What did you think of these two women? What were their most distinctive characteristics? How does each disrupt the balance of the Burroughs family?  
  3. Consider the narrative structure of Bull Mountain, which is told in chapters that alternate between characters and time periods. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in this way? Did the ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2015

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The biggest challenge I had with the book was that the time period changed from chapter to chapter, which made it difficult to follow at times. Bull Mountain is an absolute winner; I haven't enjoyed a novel this much in years. Readers who can tolerate violent scenes will find a brilliant story and top-notch writing buried under the gore. Highly recommended.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (777 words).

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Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal

Panowich has crafted a satisfying and smartly constructed book whose time-shifting sequences build suspense even as they parcel out telling revelations. Once events are in full play, there’s no turning back.

The New York Times Book Review

[Brian Panowich] pulls off [a] daunting undertaking with astounding success . . . The storytelling is mesmerizing, with virtually every chapter set in a different timeline and focused on a single character, but the sense of immediacy carries over into each era. And while the violence is shocking in its coldhearted brutality, it’s as aesthetically choreographed as any ballet.

The Huffington Post

[Panowich storms] onto the scene with an epic southern tale that establishes him as a new voice for southern writers. . . . An unabashed literary page-turner, Bull Mountain, takes readers along for a ride full of well timed twists and turns, and the shocking family secret that causes the inevitable climax. . . . one of the best multi-generational family sagas in years.

The Los Angeles Review of Books

Panowich’s Southern grit is stubborn and gets into every crevice . . . he tears apart the hardened, Southern man so popular in rural noir. Even more, he does so while maintaining that those characters have a moral, human center.

Atlanta Magazine

A brilliant debut novel . . . extraordinary.

Library Journal

[This] book will appeal to readers of Wiley Cash, Ron Rash, and ­Daniel ­Woodrell for the way in which it brings the landscape and culture of rural Appalachia to life.

Kirkus Reviews

Panowich deftly delves into 'something deeper than bone' between fathers and sons, between the land and its people.

Booklist

Starred Review. Dazzling...Read and recommend to anyone who follows country noir or savors delicious prose.

Author Blurb Wiley Cash, New York Times-bestselling author of This Dark Road to Mercy
This is a wonderfully rich and evocative debut novel that is steeped in both the history of Appalachia and well aware of the current challenges it faces.

Author Blurb C. J. Box, New York Times­-bestselling author of Endangered
Bull Mountain is a sprawling, gritty, violent, tribal inter-generational crime epic with a deeply rooted sense of place and an gut-punch ending I didn't see coming

Author Blurb Tom Franklin, New York Times - bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Holy cow, what a book! It moves like a bullet. Mr. Panowich knows his mountains, his whiskey, his dope and his meth. And boy, does he know his characters, who are drawn so vividly I can't forget them...First rate, first rate!

Author Blurb John Connolly, New York Times-bestselling author of The Wolf in Winter
The gripping, witty Bull Mountain is not only a fine debut, but a fine mystery novel, period. Panowich may even have carved out his own subgenre of hillbilly noir.  I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Author Blurb James Ellroy, author of Perfidia
Bull Mountain is a stone gas and a stone winner!  It's brother-versus-brother in the dope-damned South.  This first novel has it all: moonshine, maryjane and mayhem!  Read this book now – and succumb to a startling new talent.

Reader Reviews

Diane S.

Bull Mountain
Clayton Burroughs is the only member of his family not involved in its crime network. He instead became the Sheriff. His family had ruled Bull Mountain in Northern Georgia for generations first with moonshine, than marijuana and lastly meth. They are...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

In Bull Mountain, one of the main characters is a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commonly known as the ATF.

The seal of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives The ATF website states the organization is the oldest tax-collection agency in the United States. It was initially part of the U.S. Treasury and traces its roots back to 1789, when Congress voted to impose a tax on imported spirits to help pay debts left over from the Revolutionary War (at the time, there was no income tax, and so excise taxes such as this one were the primary means of generating funds for the government, and the Treasury Department was responsible for the collection of this revenue). During the Civil War years, Congress also authorized additional taxes on both ...

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