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Brian Panowich is one of the best shared world authors out there. He as mined a lot out his McCall's County and it's Bull Mountain where the criminal family the Burrough's reign The citizens hold to code and battle demons and occasionally find the angel in them, no matter what side of the law they work. In NOTHING BUT THE BONES, he goes into a story in the county's past before his first book dealing with the Burroughs. He also introduces us to one of it's more heartbreaking people.

Nails McKenna works as an enforcer for Gareth Burroughs, the patriarch of the clan in the nineties. A hulking young man with a large deformed hand, dismissed as slow and the product of an abusive father. He was a town outcast the crime lord took into his service as a teen in exchange for extricating him from an unfortunate event involving Gareth's son Clayton.

One night at the local bar, Nails encounters Dallas, a alluring girl passing through. When another-out-of towner gets abusive with her, Nails intervenes and accidently beats him to death. He and Dallas go on the run.

Gareth instructs Nails to meet some guys he knows in Jacksonville Florida who will get him out of the country. What he has really arranged is to have him killed so none of the the Burrough''s secrets will leak out if he gets caught. Clayton knows this his father will do this and goes after him/ Also on the hunt is the deadman's connected brother who appears more interested in Dallas than revenge.

Panowich gives Nail's and Dallas' journey the feel of an alt country ballad. Even though the story expands to include the tension between Clayton and Gareth, as well as few minor subplots that either support the plot or play into the Bull Mountain world, he keeps the relationship of these two people battered by life as the throughline. He tells their story in a simple unvarnished tone and mood with his heart connecting directly to yours all the way to the last sentence that knows the right note to end on.

The people in Brian Panowich's stories occupy the same plane as Bruce Springsteen's Darkness On The Edge Of Town. They traverse their badlands grasping for acceptance, understanding, and humanity. It will be some time when Nails and Dallas' song will leave me.

-review by Scott Montgomery


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