Panowich’s follow-up to Bull Mountain (2015) is a story of buried lucre and hidden feelings.
For his sophomore effort, Panowich has written a violent, gruesome, sharply focused tale. The drug dealing Leek clan, from Florida, faces off with troubled Sheriff Clayton Burroughs of Bull Mountain, Georgia. The Leek crew wants to move stolen OxyContin from Florida through Georgia to Tennessee and North Carolina. They ask Burroughs to offer safe passage through the mountains where he officiates. But even if Clayton’s family has its own history of drug-dealing, he draws the line at going along with the Leeks' scheme. The Leeks, meanwhile, want even more from the Burroughses: Somewhere on Bull Mountain the sheriff’s family stashed millions of their ill-gotten dollars. The two plotlines tether the reader even if the action sometimes plays out in too-familiar moments: The sheriff’s baby is imperiled in a burning house, after which thugs brutalize his wife. Panowich compensates for the melodramatics with dimensional characters, punchy dialogue, and a palpable sense of place. Clayton Burroughs is a psychologically and physically wounded man struggling to deal with shooting to death his drug-dealing brother. The sheriff’s relationship with his wife, Kate, is troubled, an inarticulate conflict his drinking riles. Backing the couple is a slate of characters who display chilling capabilities for good and evil deeds. After confessing to murder and ordering the burning of Clayton’s father’s barn, a woman gives the sheriff’s infant son a blanket she crafted. Panowich salts his tale with evocative detail, like the jars of vienna sausages, the Dinty Moore Potted Meat, and the Zippo-type lighters bearing Confederate flags for sale at Pollard’s Corner Gas ’n Go. Off-putting, though, is the author’s penchant for using the four-letter vulgarity for excrement, which turns up on page after page. He can do better, as he otherwise shows.
Action and reflection are skillfully balanced in a vigorously written, trenchant tale.