As he established in his Thriller Award-winning "Bull Mountain" (2015), Panowich continues the saga of the Burroughs family, who for generations has controlled the region located in northern Georgia's Waymore Valley. The Burroughs empire has grown through the decades, built on moonshine, marijuana, meth and money laundering.
Now only Clayton — the youngest Burroughs — remains. His brothers and father are dead. The family's criminal enterprise continues under trusted lieutenants who aim to take the nefarious business to another level and form partnerships with other gangs. They want Clayton to be involved with the Burroughs' expansion, but he wants no part of it. Always the black sheep of the family, Clayton also is McFalls County sheriff, committed to staying out of the lawlessness that has defined the Burroughs.
But Clayton is, almost against his will, drawn into the criminal side when another crime family tries to move into Bull Mountain and threatens Clayton's wife, Kate, and their toddler son. While the plot revolves around the warring criminals, Clayton's complicated persona forms the heart of this enthralling story. Violence erupts frequently, yet Panowich never uses it gratuitously.
Characters in "Like Lions" are a product of their environment that offers both protection and peril, especially for Clayton. There is no doubt that Clayton is a good man who respects the law. But he also must deal with his volatile side over which he seems to have little or no control. This has led to situations that have left him physically and psychologically impaired.
"Like Lions" brims with well-designed dichotomies. Clayton knows that his deceased brothers' second in command is a ruthless outlaw while also acknowledging that the man can be "good people." Clayton abhors his outlaw roots, yet in many ways he may be more violent than his kin. He is at once fearless and frightened, violent and tender. As much as he tries to distance himself from his past, he, in a way, embraces it.
"Like Lions" moves at a brisk clip, leading to a stunning, yet believable, finale.