Book review: Bull Mountain

THE reference to ‘Bull’ in the title, the epitome of the male species, is perhaps a clue to the storyline, because, if there is an opposite of ‘chick lit’ — lets call it a ‘male scéal’ (or tale) — then ‘Bull Mountain’ is it.

Book review: Bull Mountain

Brian Panowich

Putnam Books €11.50

This is, in essence, a story about men — tough, violent, gun-totin’, moonshine-makin’, drug-dealin’ hillbillies from Georgia in the US of A.

You won’t ever want to see these characters lying on your sofa, except when safely confined to the pages of this entertaining book.

Meet the Burroughs — in fact meet three generations of the family, each generation learning their sociopathic violent behaviours from the previous.

The Burroughs control the Mountain whose forest canopy provides the base for their illegal trades.

The earlier generation made moonshine, graduated onto marijuana, with the latter making and dealing in methamphetamine, becoming the dominant supplier of the drug in the southern states.

They consort with other characters similar in nature; as we navigate the pages we encounter a litany of ugly and almost sub-human beings, such as ‘Pinky’ (Pinkerton) and his gun- and drug-dealing biker friends, Pepe the pimp, and Wilcome the ‘business man’.

Loyalty between family members doesn’t count for much; ironically, hatred amongst them is paramount; it is their loyalty to the mountain that is supreme.

It is only when a federal agent comes to shut the business down that they start, out of necessity, to acknowledge others in their infamous bloodline, with turbulent results.

There is one Burroughs — Clayton, the sheriff — who has turned his back on the family’s illegal affairs and, notwithstanding, until the feds turned up, a blind eye on their business. Clayton is a quintessential ‘good guy’.

He meets a relative that no one knew existed — the man turns up unexpectedly under a bizarre circumstance — incidentally making gripping reading — and I sense the question of nature versus nurture enter the fray.

Even though the relative had been brought up away from his bloodline and had never before been on Bull Mountain, he still has the cruel and killing instinct that Clayton does not.

Of the three female characters, two have been victims of horrific male violence from a young age, almost doomed for the continuance of the pattern into their adult life. They remain acutely scarred, both physically and mentally.

Kate Burroughs, the other female, in contrast, is one of the more normal characters we meet in the book, but she can gun tote with the best of them.

Living on Bull Mountain, especially as a woman, you need to be able to look after yourself.

Besides the violence and thirst for power, there are some main themes running throughout the book. Almost all of the characters witnessed acute brutality and disregard for human life at a young age, and although hateful, we have an insight as to why they have become what they are.

Panowich does not strive to condone their evil ways; the story is more of an investigation into what makes them behave the way they do.

As Stig Larson’s work has been dubbed ‘Swedish Noir’, comparable to Donal Ryan and Eimear McBride who have created our own brand of Irish Noir (albeit with a twist — swop the weapons for the rosary beads), Panowich has been described as having carved out his own ‘subgenre of Hillbilly noir’.

So, if you like reading about the darker side of human nature, and enjoy a rip-roaring gun-totin’ tale from a remote and lawless mountain in Georgia, this book is for you.

If you can do without the violence — well then, leave it on the shelf.

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