The Shameless by Ace Atkins: Tibbehah County’s Dark Past, Present and Future Combine for Atkins’ Strongest Novel Yet

The ShamelessThe Shameless

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #9
Hardcover, 446 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: July 23 – 24, 2019

This just feels like too much of a novel to do an adequate job with. It’s been a week and a half (at the time of writing), and I’m still thinking about this book and everything Atkins did in it. I’m honestly not up to the task of doing it right. But I’ll give it a shot, with the up-front caveat that I’m missing a lot. You just need to read this.

Twenty years ago, when Quinn was in High School, a student a couple of years older than him went missing in the woods while hunting—and everyone came out in droves to look for him. For weeks the town, the media, and the Sheriff’s Department (under Quinn’s uncle) devoted every waking hour to finding him. They eventually found his body near his rifle and ruled it a suicide. But no one was satisfied with that finding. Now, two New York journalists have arrived to re-open the case, look at things from a new perspective, and hopefully come up with enough material (and, better, a satisfying conclusion) for the next season of their podcast about missing people.

Quinn’s new wife, Maggie, had been the boy’s girlfriend and initially helps the podcasters out a lot. The boy’s family isn’t united about this new search for answers, but most people are willing to help (while being suspicious of the two). A lot of old secrets, old prejudices, and unanswered questions and qualms are brought forth from the recesses of the collective memory of the community. A tragedy that had shaken the county decades previously is doing the same thing again.

These two are in town for months, stirring up trouble, stirring up gossip, stirring up emotions (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not), and generally being a distraction for Quinn. He’d frankly love to devote energy, time and attention to solving a cold case, but there’s a bigger, more dangerous, and frankly, very contemporary threat—Senator Jimmy Vardaman. Vardaman’s been on the fringes (and frequently closer) to the problems around Tibbehah County for quite some time, but now he’s running in the gubernatorial primary and is doing much better than expected. If he wins this, he’s a shoo-in for the actual election. Tapping into a false sense of nostalgia for the Mississippi that never was, a healthy dose of racism, and empty platitudes—and a healthy dose of Syndicate cash—Vardaman’s doing better than anyone expected.

There are a number of crimes that Quinn strongly believes are tied to Vardaman, but he can’t find enough proof. Every time he comes close, something prevents it from happening—he has a few opportunities here to bring Vardaman down before primary and devotes all his energy toward them. One of the strongest themes running through this novel is the intersection of crime and politics, and how that affects both enterprises. Too often (in fiction and reality), politics boils down to the influence of and lust for money and power—which is pretty much what crime (particularly the more organized forms of it) is. Vardaman’s not the only example this series or this novel has of it, but he’s the current exemplar in Atkins’ world.

Meanwhile, Fannie Hathcock is still running the show when it comes to illicit materials and licit (but not fully-clothed) women in Tibbehah County. Recent events have left things shaky for her, and Vardaman’s ascent (and those he owes favors to) will make things shakier. We don’t see much of what that means in this book, but I think we will soon. I don’t think Fannie is a woman to be taken lightly—the power structures on both sides of the law may be less-than-welcoming to a woman—and I don’t expect her to go quietly (if she goes at all).

My biggest complaint is about Boom Kimbrough. Yes, Quinn’s best friend and staunchest ally (no offense to Maggie or Lillie), is a presence throughout—but is absent from the major story, and his subplot doesn’t get that much space. Boom’s primarily recovering from—to some extent—the events of The Sinners, and that’s about all we see from him. He and Caddy spend a lot of time together, but if he has more than one conversation with Quinn, I’d be surprised. I should’ve taken notes on that front (but who’d have thought I’d have to?). I assume we’ll see more of him in future books—I just don’t want to wait.

Using the podcast—and the stir it creates—to revisit many of the characters’ storylines, see how they got to where they are now (possibly to look at them in a different light)—is a brilliant move and Atkins uses it very effectively. There are moments recalled because of this podcast that I’d forgotten about or hadn’t seen in relation to the greater story arcs. Also, it’s a great way to help the reader see that other parts of the county may not see Quinn’s actions the same way the reader has. By using the podcast, Atkins is able to create drama with this as well as avoiding several dull information dumps.

Something that I don’t particularly enjoy—but respect and appreciate—is the way things ended. I’ve seen several people call it a cliff-hanger of an ending. I don’t really see it that way, but I can see where they’re coming from. Now, I’m not going to get into the details for obvious reasons (for one, I’m not a monster), but I can say that it was a very noir ending. Which fits, this is a dark series—fun, sometimes funny—but a real Southern noir. This is Colson at the noirest, particularly the last chapter. It was a perfect ending to a great book—so don’t take my not particularly enjoying as a complaint. I’d prefer an ending where justice triumphs, evil is vanquished, and Quinn rides off into the sunset. That ain’t the world we live in, that’s not the world of Tibbehah County, and this novel is better at showing us than the others have been (not that things like a tornado wiping out huge parts of the county are exactly rainbows and unicorns, either).

Can this be read as a jumping-on point? I actually think it can—it easily serves as a “Where We Are Now/Where We Have Been” novel. But just know that you’re going to want to go back and read the others to understand everything talked about (much of which is alluded to, rather than explained—the way you’d talk to an old friend about something that happened four years ago). Obviously, the best thing to do is get The Ranger and work your way up to this point, but this would be the best jumping-on point since The Ranger.

The Shameless is the longest novel in the series, easily the most ambitious, and very possibly the best (I can’t think of a better one, but I’d have to re-read them. Which isn’t a bad idea, actually.). It feels like a change in the series—which is hard to describe without spoiling, but if Chapter One was Quinn’s struggles against Stragg, Chapter Two would be everything up to this book until Stragg went to prison, and then Chapter Three is whatever comes after The Shameless. Something tells me this small-town sheriff is missing the days when his biggest problem was Stragg.

I really can’t recommend this enough—Quinn Colson and Ace Atkins are some of the best in the genre today and The Shameless is the best proof of that.

—–

5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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Nero Wolfe on Taxes

seems like a good day to post this…

Nero Wolfe Back CoversA man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse. But it is permissible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds. A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend. The last is much the shabbiest. It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial proportion of this great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for that last shabby reason.

–Nero Wolfe
from And Be a Villain

My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly: Bosch and Ballard Team Up in one of Connelly’s best

Dark Sacred NightDark Sacred Night

by Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch, #20/Renée Ballard, #2

Hardcover, 433 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2018
Read: October 31 – November 1, 2018

In a series that’s over twenty books long, there’s a lot of character development, recurring faces and names, and the like — there just has to be. But on the whole, there’s not a lot of connective tissue between the books, most of what happens in one book stays in that novel, and the next very likely won’t even mention those events. Which is really kind of odd, when you think of it. But that’s not the case here — this picks up the action from Two Kinds of Truth a few months later and the central case of this novel is one that Harry had reopened in it. This really is a sequel to Two Kinds of Truth in a way that Connelly really hasn’t given us since The Poet/The Narrows.

LAPD politics has moved Lucia Soto off from the case that Harry asked her to pick up — a murder of a fifteen year-old prostitute, Daisy Clayton — so she can devote time to something more pressing, but Harry doesn’t have to play that game. His own work on that cold case brings him back to the Hollywood Station, where he tries to look at some old files (without anyone knowing what he was up to). He’s caught by our new friend, Renée Ballard. Renée being the curious type quickly figures out what he’s looking into and pushes her way into the investigation — unlike Soto, she has time; unlike Harry, she has standing; it’s really the best thing that could happen for the case.

While she’s poking into this cold case and developing some sort of relationship with Harry Bosch — Renée has her own active cases, and regular Late Show duties to perform. I really like the way we get several little cases along the way with her in these two books — sure, there’s the big murder mysteries, but there’s also a robbery, a rape allegation, and other crimes that she has to deal with. This adds variety to the book (as it did in The Late Show), a touch of realism, and gives the readers multiple ways to see her in action.

Harry also has an official investigation to pursue — a cold case in San Fernando is heating up thanks to Harry’s work uncovering a witness. His prime suspect is now a high-ranking member of a pretty serious gang and the consequences for this witness are potentially huge — and things go quickly wrong with this case. So wrong that Harry’s future with SFPD — and his own safety — are in jeopardy.

There are so many balls in the air in this novel that it’s a testament to Connelly’s skill that they never get confused, he devotes time to each as he should, in a way that does justice to each storyline and the book never feels over-populated. If Dark Sacred Night had nothing else going for it, just the construction would be enough to commend it. But there’s so much more to commend the novel, too. There’s a little levity, a lot of darkness, a lot of solid procedural material, a couple of bent rules, and some satisfying story telling — just to name a few of the commendable things. I’m leaving a lot off that list, if only for reasons of space and time.

There’s one criminal here — I’m trying not to spoil anything — who spouts off about his victims not being anyone, of not counting. He’s the philosophical opposite of Harry’s “Everyone counts” mission. It’s an excellent way to highlight just what makes Harry — and maybe Renée — tick and what separates them and some of the gray areas they walk in from those on the other side of the law. We have multiple murderers in this book for whom their victims are just tools, just objects, things go be used. While for Harry, Renée, and those like them — these are people with hopes, dreams, pain and suffering that need to be protected, defended and avenged.

A downside for me was how little non-case work time we got with Renée. Harry had time with Maddie, Cisco and Elizabeth in addition to all the police. Renée got almost no time with Lola, nothing with her grandmother, and only a little time with anyone outside of the Hollywood Station that wasn’t involved in a crime she was investigating. I liked her non-police world just as much as I like Harry’s and wish we’d have gotten time in it.

Like many, I knew that Bosch and Ballard would team-up eventually. But no one expected it so soon. Before reading this, I’d said that I would’ve liked another book or two just to get to know Renée a bit more before bringing Harry in. However, having read this — I’m glad it happened now (still, wouldn’t have minded the other). Having the two of them together emphasizes the non-Bosch-ness of Renée, which is good. Also, it gives her someone she can count on, not overly-influenced by her history, department politics, or any of the nonsense that will follow her for the rest of her career. This also gives Harry a way away from cold cases and San Fernando. Altogether, it’s a smart move on Connelly’s part. Now I guess we just wait on the inevitable involvement of Mickey.

Between the merging of the two worlds, the strong emotional tie Harry has to Daisy and her mother, the upheaval the other case brings to his life, and the continued development of Renée Ballard as a character — there’s just so many positives to this book that it’s hard to enumerate them all. I think this is the best book that Connelly has done — in any of his series — in years. It’s been ages (if ever) that he’s had a clunker of a novel, but this one seems more effective, more entertaining than most. It’s just so well done. This is a must-read for Bosch fans, Renée Ballard fans, Connelly fans or anyone who likes seeing one of the masters of the genre at the top of his game.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Happy Birthday, Archie!

My annual tribute to one of my favorite fictional characters (if not my all-time favorite).

On Oct 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Archie Goodwin entered this world–no doubt with a smile for the pretty nurses–and American detective literature was never the same.

I’m toasting him in one of the ways I think he’d appreciate most–by raising a glass of milk in his honor.

Who was Archie? Archie summed up his life thusly:

Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it.” (Fourth of July Picnic)

Long may he keep it. Just what was he employed by Wolfe to do? In The Black Mountain he answers the statement, “I thought you was a private eye” with:

I don’t like the way you say it, but I am. Also I am an accountant, an amanuensis, and a cocklebur. Eight to five you never heard the word amanuensis and you never saw a cocklebur.

In The Red Box, he says

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.

In Black Orchids, he reacts to an insult:

…her cheap crack about me being a ten-cent Clark Gable, which was ridiculous. He simpers, to begin with, and to end with no one can say I resemble a movie actor, and if they did it would be more apt to be Gary Cooper than Clark Gable.

I’m not the only Archie fan out there:

  • A few months back, someone pointed me at this post, The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Goodwin. There’s some really good stuff here that I was tempted to steal, instead, I’ll just point you at it.
  • Robert Crais himself when writing an introduction to a Before Midnight reprint, devoted it to paying tribute to Archie. — one of the few pieces of anything written that I can say I agree with jot and tittle.

In case you’re wondering if this post was simply an excuse to go through some collections of Archie Goodwin quotations, you wouldn’t be totally wrong…he’s one of the fictional characters I like spending time with most in this world–he’s the literary equivalent of comfort food. So just a couple more great lines I’ve quoted here before:

I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I’d have to try it.

I looked at the wall clock. It said two minutes to four. I looked at my wrist watch. It said one minute to four. In spite of the discrepancy it seemed safe to conclude that it would soon be four o’clock.

Description:I shook my head. “You’re flattering me, Inspector. I don’t arouse passions like that. It’s my intellect women like. I inspire them to read good books, but I doubt if I could inspire even Lizzie Borden to murder.”

She turned back to me, graceful as a big cat, and stood there straight and proud, not quite smiling, her warm dark eyes as curious as if she had never seen a man before. I knew damn well I ought to say something, but what? The only thing to say was ‘Will you marry me?’ but that wouldn’t do because the idea of her washing dishes or darning socks was preposterous.)

“Indeed,” I said. That was Nero Wolfe’s word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else’s hide, even Nero Wolfe’s.

If you like Anglo-Saxon, I belched. If you fancy Latin, I eructed. No matter which, I had known that Wolfe and Inspector Cramer would have to put up with it that evening, because that is always a part of my reaction to sauerkraut. I don’t glory in it or go for a record, but neither do I fight it back. I want to be liked just for myself.

When a hippopotamus is peevish it’s a lot of peeve.

It helps a lot, with two people as much together as he and I were, if they understand each other. He understood that I was too strong-minded to add another word unless he told me to, and I understood that he was too pigheaded to tell me to.

I always belong wherever I am.

When Archie Met Lily

80 years ago today, Archie Goodwin — one of my top 5 All-Time Favorite Characters — met the only woman who could keep his attention for more than a few months, Lily Rowan. Lily shows up several times in the series and threatens to steal every scene she appears in (and frequently succeeds). Check out this post from Today in Mystery Fiction for the details — one of my favorite scenes, from one of my favorite books in possibly my favorite series — (I think I have 3 or 4 copies of it), so I had to say something.

How they met 80 years ago, when Archie’s only in his mid-30’s, is beyond me. But Math was never my strong suit, I’m sure it makes sense, surely Charlie Epps (or Larry or Amita) could explain it to me.

The Sinners by Ace Atkins: Atkins’ take on the Dukes of Hazzard(??) is another stellar installment in the Quinn Colson series.

The SinnersThe Sinners

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #8


Hardcover, 365 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018

Read: September 4 -5, 2018

They sat there in silence for a bit, enjoying the warm breeze, the empty, quite sounds of the hot wind through the trees. He and Boom could be together for a long while without saying a damn word, same as it had been hunting and fishing when they were kids. They didn’t feel the need to fill that silence with: bunch of empty-headed talk.

“This place is a lot different from when you got back,” Boom said.

“People in town said for me to burn the house down,” Quinn said.

“Took us two days just to clear out your uncle’s trash,“ Boom said. “Nothing good in here but some old records and guns.”

“And a suede coat and a bottle of Fine bourbon from Johnny Stagg.”

Boom nodded, silent again for a while. Quinn drank his beer watching Hondo, now just a flitting dark speck among the cows as he worked them a little, letting them know who was in charge. Nearly ten years Quinn’d been back and he wasn’t sure he’d made a damn bit of difference.

On the one hand, it’s easy to argue that with Quinn — even just one of the seven preceding novels would tell you that. But, it’s easy to see where he’d get to thinking that way — Tibbehah County is a very much poster child for The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same Club. The Sinners is full of nice little moments like this — quiet, reflective moments with Quinn and Boom, Quinn and Lilly, Quinn and Maggie. While it’d be easy (and understandable) to focus on the storylines featuring the Pritchards or Boom Kimbrough — the heart of this novel is in these moments. You want to know what Quinn Colson, or this series is about? Focus on these conversations, the quiet in the midst of the storms.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the storms.

The first story (not in the book, but here) focuses on Boom Kimbrough, Quinn’s oldest friend. Unwelcome at his old job keeping the Sheriff Department’s vehicles running (among other things), thanks to the county supervisor we met in last year’s The Fallen, Boom’s moved on to doing some interstate trucking. Convinced (wrongly?) that a black man with one arm isn’t going to be hired by anyone else, he’s stuck with one particular company. And once he becomes suspicious about the cargo he’s sometimes carrying, he’s ready to quit — but despondent and frustrated about what he’ll do as an alternative. His boss doesn’t want him to leave — and uses a couple of tough looking employees to convey that to Boom (Boom’s not the only one they’ll threaten — Fannie Hathcock is also a target). Clearly, they don’t know enough about Boom, and before you know it, Quinn is informed about it all. Which brings in FBI agent, Nat Wilkins (more about her in a second). Things get hairy from there. This is the secondary story — and gets that kind of space — but it’s really the more interesting of the two major plots, mostly because it’s what forces Fannie and the Dixie Mafia toughs to get involved in the other story.

The major plotline involves the anti-Bo and Luke Duke. Tyler and Cody Pritchard are a couple of good ol’ boys concerned with racing their stock car, women, and growing/selling the best weed in The South. Things are going fine for them, by and large: they race, they grow and sell, which funds the racing, enabling them to attract women. Sure, they’ve double-crossed Fannie a bit, but that’s really nothing major. Until their Uncle Heath gets out of prison after doing 25 for his part in laying the groundwork of their marijuana growing. Heath, too, is an anti-Duke. He got caught, for one, and he’s not in the habit of keeping his nephews out of trouble, in fact, he makes things worse for them and spurs them into bigger and worse crimes than they’d been accustomed to.

Now, long-time readers will have done the math here — Heath did 25 years, Quinn’s been around for almost 10, having taken over for . . . that’s right, his Uncle, Hamp Beckett. Hamp and Heath apparently were quite the cat and mouse for a while (Hamp perhaps being spurred on by his “Boss Hogg,” Johnny Stagg — I swear I’m done with the Dukes now) until he finally got the goods on Heath and sent him away. That story kicks off this book and is a great way to open. To say that Heath has got a chip on his shoulder toward Hamp and his nephew would be understating things a wee bit.

So we’ve got Heath dragging his nephews into bigger and badder felonies, making them targets for the Dixie Mafia, who are having troubles with things at Fannie’s, and one of their transportation venues is being scrutinized thanks to Boom. Oh, yeah, and Quinn and Maggie are a couple of weeks away from tying the knot and Quinn’s mother is becoming a pest about the ceremony and reception. It’s set to be a good time in Tibbehah.

This is told with Atkins’ typical skill, eye for detail, good timing and atmosphere. It’s hard to find something new to comment on. One thing I really appreciated was how clever he had Quinn act when it came to putting the pieces together. We’re all accustomed (especially in film or television) for the police to be close to figuring things out, but needing a vital piece of information from an unconscious, unavailable, or non-communicative witness until the last second. By the time the unconscious witness woke up and started providing the clues and identities needed to put anyone away for their crimes, Quinn had already sussed it out and was in the middle of making the necessary moves. One more Hazzard reference, I lied, get over it — Quinn is very much the anti-Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.

I spent so much time feeling bad for Tyler and Cody — they aren’t characters I’d typically like. There’s little to commend them — they’re not that bright, not that talented, not that nice, I can’t imagine why any woman would want to spend time with them (not that we have proof that any do), and seem destined to lead quiet little lives of no consequence. But once their uncle forces them into things, I just wanted them to find a way back to their petty little pot farm.

I spent more than a little time worried for Fannie, too. She’s as despicable as they come, too, but as characters go, I like having her around. The way she’s treated by her superiors shows how tentative her situation is — and Quinn could be facing someone worse than her or Stagg pretty soon.

Speaking of worries — I spent most of the novel very concerned about the health, well-being and longevity of a character that’s been around since The Ranger. I don’t think for a second that Atkins feels the need to keep any one of these characters alive. Frankly, it’s be easy to make the Quinn Colson novels the Tibbehah County Chronicles or the Lilly Virgil novels — no one is safe, including Quinn. Making it very easy for me to spend a lot of time worried about someone I like. Obviously, I won’t tell you how right I was on that front — but I wasn’t wrong.

Naturally, Atkins gets the characters right. You know from the beginning how worthless Heath Pritchard is, how nasty the Dixie Mafia toughs are, how lame the Pritchard boys would be without prodding (lame, but amusing). We meet new federal officer here — Agent Nat Wilkins. I’m glad that Quinn isn’t wholly dependent on the DEA Agent (whose name escapes me for the moment) for outside support anymore. But more than that, I’m glad that Wilkins is who we get to see in this role. She’s brash, she’s smart, she’s fun — she really isn’t like any Law Enforcement type we’ve met in this series to date. I’m sure we’ll see her again, hopefully soon. I’m not saying I need to see her next year, but if I don’t see her again by 2020, Atkins can expect me to lead an online riot.

It was good to spend time back in this troubled county, checking in with our old friends and some new ones (I’m really liking Maggie, and hope she sticks around). As much as I enjoyed Atkins’, Old Black Magic, I think this is his better work this year. As satisfied as I was with the story, I’m already impatiently waiting for the next installment — between how much I liked The Sinners and the way that Fannie’s last line promised to make the next book a doozy, it can’t come soon enough.

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4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge