Scott’s Top 10 Debuts of 2015

– List compiled by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Usually I only pick five novels in this category, but this was such a great year for new voices, the list needed to be expanded. I even had to cheat a little and allowed two to tie for the top.

978039917277997803991739671. Where All Light tends To Go by David Joy & Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Both these authors proved there is still a lot of life in rural noir. Writing with the skill and emotion of seasoned pros, they bring the mountains of South Carolina and Georgia to vivid, poignant, and painful life with their tales of fate, family, and violence.

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Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

Crime Fiction Friday: “Ceiling Fan In My Spoon” by Brian Panowich

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

Anybody who has stepped into the store recently has heard me rave about Brian Panowich’s debut novel Bull Mountain. Brian is a former musician and the book has as much in common with Johnny Cash and Steve Earle as it does with his literary influences. Signed copies of Bull Mountain are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. This story, featured in Shotgun Honey, has all the feel of a dark country murder ballad.

“Ceiling Fan In My Spoon” by Brian Panowich

“I’ve been here fourteen years.

Today’s the day.  Sammy brought me a steak.  He’s a pretty good guy, I hope he gets the fuck outta here before this place kills him on the inside.

I deserve to be here. Day in, day out, twenty-three hours in this box, and thirty minutes in the yard.  I did the math once, it added up to a hundred and six days of daylight.  Less than a year of fresh air to show for my adult life.  I never complained though, like I said, I deserve to be here.  I killed a little girl.  A beautiful little eight-year-old girl named Stacy.  I know she was beautiful from her pictures in the paper and the photos they showed in court.  I shot her and her old man point blank with a shotgun loaded with double aught buck.  I don’t remember doing it, but I’ve heard the playback so many times over the past fourteen years of courtroom reenactments that I can recite every detail…”

Read the rest of the story.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Brian Panowich

Brian Panowich joins us Saturday, July 11, at 5 PM on BookPeople’s second floor for a Happy Hour celebrating the release of his debut novel, Bull Mountain. Panowich is joined by special musical guests The Dan Adams Band, who will perform a song written for the novel.


Interview by Scott M.

Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain is an attention-getting debut dealing with two brothers on the opposite sides of the law. Brian will be joining us for a discussion and signing of the book on July 11th and was kind enough to accept this opening barrage of questions.

MysteryPeople: Family plays a big part in Bull Mountain. What did you want to explore with that idea?

Brian Panowich: Mainly that family, not only relationships between fathers and sons, but mothers and daughters, siblings, and even husbands and wives inform your every decision, whether you’re aware of it or not. It’s the strongest bond imaginable between any group of people, and simply deciding to not be a part of where or who you come from isn’t nearly as easy as it may seem. Even that decision was informed by blood. Especially in the South, where a family’s heritage is entrenched into the land they live on. A family goes way beyond just its name and traditions, and this book digs deep into how those bonds can blur the lines–and in some cases completely erase them–between what is considered good and evil. What one person thinks of as evil, may very well be what another thinks is the right thing to do by their family.

MP: Does family take on something different in the place you write about?

BW: I think so. I’m an army brat and my small family of four was like a satellite circling the rest of my relatives who were spread out all over the country, but after meeting my wife, a native of North Georgia, and setting root here, I was fascinated at how interconnected her kin were with the area they’re from. The sense of pride and belonging to something that is just for them is overwhelming in the South. It’s unlike anywhere else I’d ever lived. The idea of leaving, or not being a part of the place they love isn’t even an option to them. Home is absolutely not where you hang your hat. Home is the familiar dirt and land that has sustained them for decades. As a kid, I never lived anywhere for more than two years at a time. I’m not in touch with a single person I’ve ever known from the years before my father retired in Georgia, and just the idea that my wife not only knows, but still remains close, to people that were born in the same room of the same small county hospital as her is mind-bending to me.

MP: Clayton Burroughs is such an interesting character in the sense, he has the possibility of going any direction. What was the trick to writing him?

BW: The appeal of writing Clayton was that the conflict he struggled with was never about him wanting to “do the right thing” or “to right his family’s wrongs”. His internal conflict came from knowing he wasn’t cut from the same cloth the rest of the Burroughs clan were. He knew he was a disappointment to his father. He knew he couldn’t do the things his brothers were capable of doing to preserve their way of life. He’d known it since he was a boy, and that guilt of not living up to the Burroughs name forced him to make hard decisions that would eventually put him at odds with the same people that reared him. I don’t even think Clayton was drawn to the law as a way to make amends for his family’s sins as much as it was a way of sticking it to them, like getting the last word. That non-allegiance to either side made him unpredictable and volatile, and that’s the kind of character I wanted to write.

MP: This being a debut, did you draw from any influences?

BW: I have no doubt I incorporated a ton of what I’ve learned by reading other people into this book. I don’t think it’s possible not to. Elmore Leonard’s books taught me so much about dialogue, world-building, and how to make every word on the page necessary, so I’m sure my love of his books will come through to his readers, and the epic scale that I wanted to convey in Bull Mountain is clearly drawn from my love of Cormac McCarthy and James Ellroy. I’m sure there is a lot more of my influences in there too, folded and stirred into what I wanted this book to be, but the end result I think is uniquely me, and uniquely Georgian. I also think as long as I continue to read great writers, great writers will continue to help me refine my own voice.

MP: Each of your chapters come off as these well-crafted short stories. How did you approach constructing them?

BW: I knew the first chapter and the last before I even sat down to write the first word. I made a one page outline committing a sentence or two to each chapter in between those bookends as a road map, and then I just let the rest of it unfold as I went. If I thought the story needed to go back in time, I wrote a chapter from that era. If I thought someone else I hadn’t originally planned to expand on had more to say, I wrote a chapter from that person’s perspective. I really didn’t follow any rules. I wasn’t even sure what the rules were. I’m still not sure I know now. I just wrote the story the way I thought it should be told. Not a lot of the process was spent on compiling it them right way. Of course my agent, Nat Sobel, and my editor, Sara Minnich, came on board and helped streamline the narrative and flesh out some back story and I’m incredibly grateful to have them on my team. They are the best there is in this business.

MP: You play with time in the book, dipping into the past several times. Other than allowing reveals to strike at the right moment, what else did the non-linear method allow for the story?

BW: Believe it or not, the only way I was able to allow the reveals in the book to unfold the way I wanted them to was to write it the way I did. Before I sent the book off to my agent, as an experiment, I took all the chapters and rearranged them in a linear sequence according to the timeline and it was a completely different book. It wasn’t the book I wanted to put out there. I wasn’t sure if the format I decided to go with would work or not, but it felt like the only way to get across to people what I needed them to know about the Burroughs family. So I went with my gut, and sent it as I originally wrote it. I’ve read a few complaints from a few reviewers about it being a tough book to follow, but I’ve had a lot more people say it’s one of the book’s strengths. I suppose we’ll see.

MP: It seems like you are the latest in a wave of rural noir authors. What makes the South a great setting to explore the darker side of our nature?

BW: I think the vast amount of unexplored terrain and endless string of backroads that lead to unknown places lend itself to that mystique. Violence and darkness have almost come to be expected in an urban setting, it’s par for the course, but it’s entirely different in the woods. Where the rules don’t apply. Things could be fine at the end of that dirt road, or it may get very ugly, very quickly. It’s beautiful here for sure, but at the same time can be fierce on a moment’s notice. That balance makes a remarkable setting to tell stories like this one, and it’s nice to see the South being represented by all these amazing authors I have the honor of being bunched in with.

I think for the most part, the south gets a bad rap. Considering the way TV (especially reality TV) and film have perpetuated the myth of the toothless hillbilly over the years, it was important to me that Bull Mountain showed the world that wasn’t the case. Not even close. The Burroughs clan may be fictional, but the folks that reside in the foothills of North Georgia have been in the same game other places like Kentucky and Virginia are famous for…without ever getting caught. They have managed to stay under the radar for decades, because family was the point. Not the fame. And I think that speaks volumes about the intelligence and strength it must have taken to pull it off.


You can find copies of Bull Mountain on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Click here for additional event information.

MysteryPeople Review: BULL MOUNTAIN by Brian Panowich

bull mountainBrian Panowich joins us Saturday, July 11, at 5 PM on BookPeople’s second floor for a Happy Hour celebrating the release of his debut novel, Bull Mountain. Panowich is joined by special musical guests The Dan Adams Band, who will perform a song written for the novel.


Post by Scott M.

Rural noir seems to be the debut genre for 2015. David Joy’s Where All Light Tends To Go and Jamie Kornegay’s Soil have already earned much deserved accolades with their darker sides of North Carolina and Mississippi. Now we go to Georgia with Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain.

The story centers on the relationship of two brothers. Halford Burroughs keeps his family’s outlaw tradition, lording over a small meth empire that started with moonshine generations ago. His brother, Clayton, is the white sheep of the family, becoming sheriff in an adjacent county.

“Bull Mountain is a brilliant piece of brutal poetry.”

An ATF agent tells Clayton that he’s after a biker gang Halford is doing business with and will give his brother complete immunity if he flips. Wanting to save his remaining family member (his other brother recently shot down in a standoff with the law). Clayton treks up Bull Mountain to meet up with his brother, getting himself up for one hell of a fall.

Brian Panowich’s writing is a great example of craft meeting art. He constructs each chapter as its own well-crafted short story, often moving deftly and clearly between past and present. He expands past Clayton and Halford’s relationship to look at different shades of family and ideas of honor tied to it. The result in a narrative mosaic that builds in drama and emotional punch, the clearer the full picture becomes.

Bull Mountain is a brilliant piece of brutal poetry. It takes its characters on their own terms and allows us to understand them and the cycle of violence they generate. Pretty much cemented my belief that rural noir genre has many unseen places to go.


You can find copies of Bull Mountain on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.