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Book Author: Brian Panowich

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.


HARD CASH VALLEY by Brian Panowich: Book Review

Returning to McFalls County, Georgia is a painful experience.  So much crime, so much brutality, so much pain.  But Brian Panowich’s brilliant writing makes the visit worthwhile.

Dane Kirby is a former sheriff and former arson investigator who is still in love with his late wife.  Gwen and their daughter were killed in an accident for which Dane blames himself, although no one else does.  Although he’s retired from the two posts mentioned above he is still active in law enforcement, working part-time for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  He’s enjoying being behind a desk for the first time in his professional life, rather than being out in the field, but that respite ends with a call from the county’s new sheriff.

A body has been found in the woods, and it looks as if the murderer has been found right away.  It’s Ned Lemon, Dane’s former best friend, whom he hasn’t seen in ten years.

Back at the opening of Hard Cash Valley, a low-life criminal is congratulating himself on cleverly escaping with half a million dollars.  Arnie Blackwell has carried the cash onto a plane, taken a taxi to a motel, and is nervously feeling better and more confident by the minute that he has eluded the men who want to capture him and his money.

That feeling remains with Arnie until he checks into the motel and is getting ready for a much-needed shower.  When he opens the door to his room, expecting the bellboy delivering the towels he requested, he sees his worst nightmare in the doorway.  As one of the men standing there tells him, they never even had to look for him.  “We never lost you.  All the way from that farm.  We were sitting behind you on the plane.”

Arnie knows he has only minutes to live, and he gives up the name of his partner who is holding the other half of the money.  He asks only one thing of the men.  “Please don’t hurt Willie.”

Hard Cash Valley has multiple plot lines–murders, cockfighting, marital issues, debilitating illness, autism–but the brilliant writing of Brian Panowich pulls it all together.  There are many bad guys, some worse than others; the not-always-cooperative relationships among local, state, and federal agencies; a man who cannot seem to leave his first marriage behind him to the detriment of his new relationship; and how even the sleaziest man can demonstrate caring for someone one more vulnerable than himself.

Hard Cash Valley is Brian Panowich’s follow-up to Like Lions; similar to that novel it’s a story that will tug on your heartstrings while keeping you turning the book’s pages as quickly as possible.  A mystery, a love story (or more than one), a glimpse into the lives of children with autism–it’s all that and more.  To sum up, it’s another outstanding work by a gifted 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.


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.