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LIKE LIONS by Brian Panowich: Book Review

There are two interesting facts about Clayton Burroughs:  first, he’s the sheriff of a rural North Georgia county; second, his family is the most notorious crime family in that county.  Even the name of the area, Bull Mountain, is enough to set the scene of the novel.

The prologue of Like Lions is chilling.  A young mother of three sons is trying to escape her brutal, abusive husband.  She’s almost out the door of their house, carrying their baby in her arms, when her husband confronts her.  She pleads for her life and to be allowed to take the infant with her; he permits her to leave, but she is forced to leave the boy behind.

Fast forward to the present day, some thirty years later.  Clayton has a lot on his mind.  He’s thinking of his two dead brothers, the constant pain in his leg where he was shot a few months earlier, and his pain-reliever and alcohol problems that are spiraling out of control.

A group of gangsters from another part of Georgia attempt to rob The Chute, a gay bar owned by a man named Tuten.  Everyone knows that the bar is a “cash cow” for the Burroughs’ family and that there would be drugs and money in Tuten’s safe.  But the robbers get an unpleasant surprise by the reaction of the bar’s patrons and its owner; one of the thieves is killed and the others are taken prisoner.

The next morning Clayton gets a call from a member of the Burroughs’ gang, Scabby Mike.  He meets Mike, a man named Wallace, and JoJo, a teenage member of the criminal band who tried to rob The Chute.  Clayton learns that this gang has plans to gain control of the county and use it as a conduit for expanding the drug route through this part of the state.  The sheriff, however, is less than impressed, saying that he’ll deal with the problem when it happens, and starts to leave the scene.

Then JoJo starts to talk trash, vicious trash, to Clayton. He tells him how his Deddy (sic) is going to kill them all (the Burroughs gang), that he knows that Clayton is the man who shot and killed his own brother, that he’s just a drunk cripple who can’t fight any more.  All that the sheriff is able to ignore, but when the teenager starts to brag about how he’s going to deal with Clayton’s “pretty wife,” that’s more than Clayton can handle.

He takes the boy down to the muddy pond on the site and holds his head under water for several seconds. When he’s satisfied that that’s sufficient punishment, he asks the two men to “pull him back some”  and then take him home.  Clayton leaves, and when Mike and Wallace turn around to pick up JoJo, they discover that he has suffocated.

Like Lions is a story filled with violence and love, trauma and redemption.  It’s a story about Clayton Burroughs, who grew up in a family and an area that would corrupt anyone and his fight to redeem himself and his county from the past.  The plot will keep you reading and breathless until the end, when a totally surprising conclusion will make you realize you are in the hands of an outstanding mystery writer.

You can read more about Brian Panowich at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.