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NOTHING BUT THE BONES by Brian Panowich: Book Review

You might think that describing a crime novel with words like “beautiful” and “compassionate” is a bit of a stretch.  But after you read NOTHING BUT THE BONES, you will understand.

McFalls County, Georgia is a place you’d want to drive through and put in your rear view mirror as quickly as possible.  It’s run by Gareth Burroughs and two of his sons, and they control almost everything in the county.

When the novel opens, a group of teenagers is standing by the town’s pond, with Nelson “Nails” McKenna being bullied by two other boys.  In a moment the scene turns from the boys tormenting Nails, who is developmentally disabled, to one boy holding a girl in the group and threatening to cut her for defending Nails.

Suddenly all seven-foot-plus Nails is hurtling through the air, punching the other boy and breaking his nose.  He continues the assault, pummeling the boy until he’s no longer moving.  Finally his friends are able to pull him off, but that’s just the beginning of Nails’ troubles.

Gareth Burrough’s son Clayton was one of the group of friends who tried to stop Nails’ attack.  In order to clean up the mess that Nails’ fists inflicted, Clayton feels he must call his father to deal with the situation.  After Burroughs takes charge, forcing the town’s sheriff who arrives on the scene to ignore the boy lying bloodied on the ground, Burroughs recruits Nails to be one of his enforcers and has his henchmen remove the corpse.

That’s where the matter stands for nearly ten years until a fateful night in the Chute, the town’s toughest bar, when Nails is drinking his usual, a glass of apple juice.  Along with everyone else in the county, The Chute’s owner pays tribute to Burroughs, and although he has an enforcer on hand to be alert for problems, that man is no match for the men who have come into the bar looking for trouble or action, depending on whom you ask.

So when three men take the girl who had been trying to talk to Nails at the bar into the men’s  room, Nails is pretty certain they mean trouble.  He pushes his way into the bathroom, deals with two of the men, and hears the girl pleading with the third man, the one who forced her into the stall, saying “I don’t want to do it.”  A red rage comes over Nails, and then the man he attacks is dead on the barroom floor.

Nails’ uncontrollable temper has gotten him into trouble again.  This time the word comes from Gareth that Nails has to leave McFalls County and never return.  Nails given eight thousand dollars, the name of a man and a phone number in Jacksonville, Florida and told to get out of town, that this is beyond Gareth’s ability to cover up.

Confused by the way his life has been upended in just a few minutes, Nails goes to his car to begin the drive south.  As he opens the driver’s side door, however, he hears a sound from the back seat.  It’s the girl he rescued from the sexual attack in the bar’s rest room, and now she’s begging him to let her go with him.  He thinks to himself that he’ll give her a ride to the nearest town and that whatever happens to her afterward is her problem.  How wrong he is.

Nothing But The Bones is an absolutely spellbinding crime novel, brilliantly told.  The characters are wonderfully drawn, the plot is truly suspenseful, and Nails is a masterful creation.  Brian Panowich has written another winner.

You can read more about the author at this site.

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


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