Hillbilly noir goes literary in Panowich’s debut, which is part crime fiction and part family saga.
As an outcast from his family, Sheriff Clayton Burroughs knows "The world is a broken place sometimes." Above northern Georgia’s Waymore Valley, where Clayton patrols, generations of Burroughses have ruled Bull Mountain, keeping the family whole with moonshine, then marijuana, and now meth. Bull Mountain is a kingdom, its ruler the sheriff’s brother Halford, clad in his own "warped sense of honor." The uneasy truce between Clayton and Hal fractures when Special Agent Simon Holly of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms arrives. Holly wants Clayton to persuade Hal to rat out his connection to a Jacksonville motorcycle gang, soldiers for a gun-running, meth-chemical supplier masquerading as a reputable businessman. In return, Hal won’t be prosecuted. Thus unfolds a Shakespearean tragedy, a bloody family implosion. In the fast-moving narrative, shifting from Burroughs to Burroughs over the past half-century, Panowich chronicles murders, hijackings, and gory beat-downs. Haunted by family sins, Clayton once lived in the bottle, which was creating "a fine layer of rust slowly decaying and dissolving his marriage." Clayton’s wife, Kate, steel-hearted and loyal, declares "I will not let some cop…drag you down a hole you can’t climb out of to help a man who doesn’t want or deserve your help." A one-time Burroughs enforcer, Val, "a hulk of a man," reminds Clayton, "It was your grandfather let loose the demons on this mountain." However, there’s a dark secret (a twist handled nicely by Panowich) that pulls Hal, sawed-off shotgun in hand, down from Bull Mountain. Ever true to his theme, Panowich then moves to a bloody, and believable, reconciliation.
Panowich deftly delves into "something deeper than bone" between fathers and sons, between the land and its people.