Bull Mountain

Bull Mountain

by Brian Panowich
Bull Mountain

Bull Mountain

by Brian Panowich



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Winner of the ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel

From a remarkable voice in Southern fiction comes 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.

“Panowich stamps words on the page as if they’ve been blasted from the barrel of a shotgun, and as with a shotgun blast, no one is safe from the scattered fragments of history that impale the people of Bull Mountain.”—Wiley Cash, New York Times-bestselling author of This Dark Road to Mercy

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698190641
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/07/2015
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 3,456
File size: 719 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Brian Panowich is an award winning author, a Georgia firefighter, and a father to four incredible children. His first novel, Bull Mountain, was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, ITW Thriller Award winner for Best First Novel, Southern Book Prize winner, and a finalist for both the Anthony and the Barry Awards. He lives in Georgia with his family.

Read an Excerpt

“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’s Gap come to life. This early, the sky was a purple bruise. The churning chorus of frogs and crickets was beginning to transition into the scurry of vermin and birdsong—a woodland changing of the guard. On frigid mornings like this one, the fog banked low over the veins of Kudzu like a cotton blanket, so thick you couldn’t see your feet to walk through it. It always made Rye smile to know that the clouds everyone else looked up to see, he looked down on from the other side. He reckoned that must be how God felt.

The sun had already begun to rise behind him, but this gap was always the last place to see it.

The shadow cast down from the Western Ridge kept this section of the mountain almost a full ten degrees cooler than the rest of it. It would be well into the afternoon before the sun could dry up all the dew that made the forest shimmer. Only thin beams of light broke through the heavy canopy of oak trees and Scotch pine. As a kid, Rye used to believe those rays of light warming his skin were the fingers of God, reaching down though the trees to bless this place—to look out for his home. But as a man, he’d grown to know better. The children running underfoot and the womenfolk might have some use for that superstitious nonsense, but Riley reckoned if there was some Sunday school God looking out for the people on this mountain, then the job wouldn’t always fall on him.

The old man sat and smoked.

The sound of tires crunching gravel soured the morning. Rye tamped out his smoke, and watched his younger brother’s old Ford flatbed pull up the drive. Cooper Burroughs climbed out and snatched his rifle from the mount on the back window. Cooper was Riley’s half bother, born nearly sixteen years apart, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them side by side. They both had the chiseled features of their shared father, Thomas Burroughs, but carried the weight of life on Bull Mountain heavy in the jowls, making both men appear much older then they were. Cooper pulled his hat down over his shaggy red hair and grabbed a backpack from the front seat. Rye watched as Cooper’s nine-year-old son, Gareth, appeared from the passenger side and walked around the truck to join his father. Rye shook his head and breathed out the last of the cold smoke in his lungs.

It’s just like Cooper to bring a buffer when there was a chance of tempers getting flared. He knows I wouldn’t put an ass whuppin’ on him in front of his boy. Too bad he can’t use them smarts when it matters.

Rye stood up and opened his arms. 

“Good morning, brother…and nephew.”

Cooper didn’t answer right away, or bother to hide his distain. He curled up his lip, and spit a slick string of brown tobacco juice at Rye’s feet.

“Save it, Rye, we’ll get to it soon enough. I got to get some food in me before I can stomach listening to your bullshit.”

Cooper wiped the sticky trail of spit from his beard. Rye dug his heels into the gravel, and balled his fists. The boy standing there be damned, he was ready to get this thing done. Gareth stepped between the two men in an attempt to ease the tension.

“Hey, Uncle Rye.”

Another few more seconds of stink-eye, then Rye broke his brother’s stare and squatted down to acknowledge his nephew. “Hey, there, young man,” Rye reached out to hug the boy, but Cooper shuffled his son past him and up the front steps of the cabin. Rye stood, dropped his arms, and tucked his hands into his coat. He took another solemn look out at the Sawtooth oaks and clusters of Maple, and thought again on his grandfather. Picturing him standing there doing the same thing Rye was doing now. Looking at the same trees. Feeling the same ache in his bones. It was going to be a long morning.
“You got to keep stirrin’ those eggs,” Cooper said, and took the wooden spoon from his son. He carved off a chunk of butter and dropped it into the bubbling yellow mixture. “You keep stirrin’ it ‘til it ain’t wet no more. Like this. See?”

“Yessir,” Gareth took the spoon back and did as he was shown.

Cooper fried some fatback and bacon in a cast iron skillet, and then served it up to his son and brother as if that pissing contest outside hadn’t just happened. That’s the way brothers do things. Gareth was the first to speak.

“Deddy said you killed a Grizzly out by this ridge back in the day.”

“He said that, did he?” Rye looked at his brother who sat shoveling eggs and fried meat into his mouth.

“Well, your Deddy ain’t right. It wasn’t no Grizzly. It was a brown bear.”

“Deddy said you killed it with one shot. He said nobody else could’a done that.”

“Well, I don’t reckon that’s true. You could’a took it down just the same.”

“How come you don’t got the head hanging up in here? That would sure be something to see.”
Rye waited for Cooper to answer that, but he didn’t look up from his food.

“Gareth, listen to me real good. That bear? I didn’t want to kill it. I didn’t do it to have something to see, or a story to tell. I killed it so we could make it through the winter. If you kill something on this mountain, you better have a damn good reason. We hunt for necessity up here. Fools hunt for sport. That bear kept us warm and fed us for months. I owed it that much. You understand what I mean by ‘I owed it’?”

“I think so.”

“I mean that I would have dishonored the life it led if I killed it just to have a trophy on that wall. That ain’t our way. We used every bit of it.”

“Even the head?”

“Even the head.”

Cooper piped up. “You hearing what your Uncle is telling you, boy?”

Gareth nodded at his Pa. “Yessir.”

“Good, ‘cause that’s a lesson worth learnin’. Now enough talking.  Eat your breakfast so we can get on with it.”

They finished the rest of the meal in silence. As they ate, Rye studied Gareth’s face. It was perfectly round, with cheeks that stayed rosy no matter the weather, peppered with freckles. His eyes were set deep and narrow like his father’s. He’d have to open them real wide just for someone to tell the color. They were Cooper’s eyes. It was Cooper’s face, without the calico beard, or the grit…or the anger. Rye remembered when his brother looked like that. It felt like a hundred years ago.

When their bellies were full, the two older men grabbed their rifles and stretched cold, morning muscles. Cooper leaned down and adjusted the wool cap on his son’s head to cover the boy’s ears.

“You stay warm, and you stay close,” he said, “You get sick on me, your Mama will have my ass in a sling.”

The boy nodded, but his excitement was setting in and his eyes were fixed on the long guns. His father had let him practice with the .22, to get used to the recoil and feel of the scope, but he wanted to carry a man’s gun.

“Do I get to carry a rifle, Deddy?” he said, scratching at the wool cap where his father had pulled at it.

“Well, I don’t reckon you can shoot anything without one,” Cooper said, and lifted a .223 rifle down from the stone mantle. The gun wasn’t new, but it was heavy and solid. Gareth took the weapon and inspected it like his father had taught him. He made a show of it to prove the lessons had stuck.

 “Let’s go,” he said, and the three of them took to the woods.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Bull Mountain

“Brian Panowich stamps words on the page as if they’ve been blasted from the barrel of a shotgun, and as with a shotgun blast, no one is safe from the scattered fragments of history that impale the people of Bull Mountain. From a conflict born of violence and loyalty, Panowich brings us a cast of remarkable characters who are linked by blood but severed by duty. 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.”—Wiley Cash, New York Times-bestselling author of This Dark Road to Mercy

“Brian Panowich had me at the first word of his spectacular debut novel, 'Family,' and he held me until the very last page.  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.  Expect to see Bull Mountain on the short-list of many 'Best First Novel' awards.”—C. J. Box, New York Times­-bestselling author of Endangered

“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. I can't recommend this novel enough—it will thrill fans of Daniel Woodrell and Larry Brown as well as fans of Dennis Lehane and William Gay. First rate, first rate!”—Tom Franklin, New York Times-bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

“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.”—John Connolly, New York Times-bestselling author of The Wolf in Winter

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.” –James Ellroy, author of Perfidia

Bull Mountain is a stunningly polished debut novel. Panowich’s tale of family, of land, of crimes large and small, of right and wrong, is so vivid that the reader can almost see the blood in the soil and smell the violence on the wind.”—Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times-bestselling author of Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot

"The resurgence of American heartland noir gets a strong new prose soldier with Brian Panowich's debut novel Bull Mountain, a tense, multi-generational tale of life on the hard side, a cops vs. bad guys story with subtly interwoven family sagas, romance and redemption. Panowich is a rising author to watch." —James Grady, author of Six Days of the Condor

"With echoes of Faulkner's Sanctuary and McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, Brian Panowich's debut novel is Cain and Abel for a sticky South.  Strong as bootleg whiskey, smooth as the action of a well-oiled pistol, Bull Mountain is a beautiful, harrowing debut—and so much fun, it ought to be against the law."—Aaron Gwyn, author of Wynne's War

“Dug into the landscape like a grave, Bull Mountain is a novel that resonates with a stirring combination of grace and brutality, of beauty and loss.  In the Burroughs family, Brian Panowich creates a clan with all the fire and depth of Faulkner’s Henry Sutpen storming through a Steve Earle song.”—Steve Weddle, author of Country Hardball

Reading Group Guide

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 structure enhance any particular part of the story for you (e.g., the suspense, characterization)?
4. Clayton Burroughs and Simon Holly have more in common than initially meets the eye, but they’re also very different men who choose divergent paths. What drove each man? Why did each make the choices he made, for good or for ill?
5. Brian Panowich brings to the novel a strong sense of place, and Bull Mountain becomes a character in itself, a dynamic setting that means different things to different people. What role does it play? What does the mountain mean to Clayton? What about to Kate, Simon, or Halford?
6. Clayton and Kate have the most functional romantic relationship in the novel, and yet even they have big ups and downs. How would you describe their marriage? How has being with Kate changed Clayton, and vice versa? To what extent does Clayton’s family influence their relationship?
7. In addition to the main characters, the novel is peppered with a rich and colorful cast of people, such as Bracken, Val, Scabby Mike, Choctaw, Cricket, and others. Which secondary character was your favorite, and why? Did any stand out to you for the humor or depth they brought to the narrative?
8. Through the course of the novel, several characters pursue a course of vengeance. How is revenge depicted in the novel? Is it worth it?  Is it ever just? How is it different for each character?
9. mBull Mountain contains elements of crime fiction, family saga, and Southern gothic. How would you categorize the novel? What fiction might it be compared to? 
10. mWhat did you think of the ending? Were you surprised?

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