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 heath, 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.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

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The Fallen by Ace Atkins

The FallenThe Fallen

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #7
eARC, 384 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: June 6 – 8, 2017

Each of the Quinn Colson books has 3 or 4 things going on (it really depends how you want to break things down): There’s a central crime story, a Quinn story, a wider Colson-family story (usually Caddy-centric — by the way, try writing about Caddy right after listening to a novel featuring Walt Longmire’s daughter, Cady, it’ll bend your mind), a story about goings-on in the wider Tibbehah County and Jericho area (typically criminal, but not necessarily part of the other crime story). Now, these blend into each other all the time, and are hard to strictly delineate, but that’s how I think about these books anyhow. Were a grade or degree on the line, I could define this better — but we’ll settle for this. Now, typically the central crime story is just that, central — it’s the driving force behind the novel and the other things happen around it. With The Fallen, however, it felt like the central crime story functioned mostly to give an excuse to tell the other stories — sort of a time frame to hang the rest on.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing — but it’s not a good one.

There’s a group of highly efficient, disciplined bank robbers on a spree through the south, and naturally they hit Jericho. They’re out of town in a flash, with Quinn and Lillie not able to do much. Still, this is a challenge that Lillie sinks her teeth into (and Quinn, too — to a lesser extent). The trio is not as amusing as the goofballs from The Redeemers, and thankfully, they aren’t has horrifying as some of the others (see The Innocents, for example). I could easily have spent some more time with them, though. Their story is pretty compelling and rings true.

Quinn is settling back into his job as Sheriff, with Lillie as his Assistant Sheriff . There’s a new county supervisor, Skinner, making life difficult for everyone, although Boom Kimbrough and Fannie Hathcock seem to be top of his list. But it doesn’t seem like anyone who doesn’t share his vision for Jericho — a halcyon 50’s vision — will have much of a chance against him. You get the impression even Johnny Stagg prefers his incarceration to dealing with Skinner. We’ll be seeing more of Skinner.

Caddy and Boom actually get the more interesting investigation in the novel — with some help from Lillie. Caddy’s looking for a couple of teen girls that she’s afraid have fallen into Fannie’s employment — but it turns out to be more complicated than that. What they stumble on is disturbing, at the least, and will push Caddy’s buttons in a way little else has. Once he learns about it, Quinn’s not crazy about what she’s up to — but when is he?

There’s a lot of movement in long-term arcs, and while it’d be wrong to say that nothing happens other than moving pieces around on the chessboard to set up for books #8 and on, it frequently feels like it. I’m not crazy about any of the things that did occur in this novel (matters of taste and how I want things to go for particular characters — Atkins nailed it all, it’s not on his execution) — but man, what it means for the next couple of books has got me ready to fork over money right now.

Still, while I found the main crime story wanting, and wasn’t crazy about the long-term arc developments, this was a good book. Atkins has infused — and continues to do so — this community and these characters with so much life, so much reality, that the reader gets sucked in and can’t help but care about everyone. It’s only when I stopped to think about and write about the book that I had these issues — in the moment, I couldn’t have cared less about what was going on in actual Idaho — Jericho, Mississippi was what it was all about.

Solid crime fiction from one of the best working today.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this..

—–

4 Stars

The Innocents by Ace Atkins

The InnocentsThe Innocents

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #6

Hardcover, 367 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: July 25 – 26, 2016

“I never met this girl or knew her family,” [Ophelia] said. “But, holy shit, this is a horror among horrors. I try to not focus on Old Testament stuff. But . . . I hope there’s some revenge out there somewhere. I don’t know if there’s another way to make it right.”

“You can’t make shit like this right,” Quinn said.

But before we get to the horror, we get one of the funniest openings that Tibbehah County has given us — a meth-head steals a shotgun and a four-wheeler, and is apprehended by the acting Sheriff, Lillie Virgil(!!), in a very effective, but not that orthodox a manner. And then, of course, after Atkins gets you chuckling he introduces you to the murder victim. It’s not unheard of in a crime novel, but we spent a decent amount of time getting to know her before she died in one the worst ways I remember reading. Reading as many Detective/Crime/etc novels as I do, I’ve read some evil ways to kill some one, and some really sick things — see Val McDermid, Thomas Harris, Stieg Larsson –but this ranks up there with the worst. And it felt real, like something that could happen down the road, not the victim of diseased mind like the psychos those listed above write about. In fact, Ophelia Bundren, the coroner (who, incidentally has some of the best lines in the book — and not just what was quoted above) spoke for just about everyone in the county there (including some of the least-upstanding members of the community who will echo her). It’s a good thing that Tibbehah County has their most capable law enforcement officer in forever at the helm (and she hires a certain former Sheriff as temporary help).

It took no time at all to know how did it (or at least who was largely responsible) — actually, pretty sure I’d identified the perpetrator and the motive before the killing — but that didn’t stop this from being one of Atkins’ most compelling crime stories.

Along with all that, there are plenty of other goings on . . .

Lillie Virgil is acting as Sheriff, and isn’t dealing well with the politics. She deals well with the policing, but that’s it — between being a woman, having almost no people skills and not backing down when people want her to, things aren’t going too well for her. Which is a shame, still, it’s nice to see her in the spotlight.

Johnny Stagg’s in federal prison, and learning just who his friends are. Not surprisingly, there are fewer than he’s used to. Someone else has taken over the Booby Trap, given it a better name (finally!) and a make over. All in all, it’s a better class of strip club and the owner appears slightly less despicable.

Jason Colson has a new pipe dream and he looks to be sucking Quinn into helping out — honestly, my patience with this character is pretty low — I think the only person in the world who likes him less is Quinn’s mother, Jason’s ex. He’s not as destructive a force as the storm that just about wiped out the town a couple of years ago, but it’s a close race.

And things with Anna Lee are in a pivotal spot. That’s enough about that.

Quinn’s still in that same period of decision after losing the election a year or so ago — the man needs a little direction in his life and hopefully he gets it soon.

The power of small-town High School football, convenient racism, small town crime, Real World Evil, friendship, and personal history — as usual, Atkins brings it all and delivers it with skill, charm and aplomb. I thoroughly enjoyed this trip to Mississippi and look forward to my next trip there.

—–

4 Stars

The Redeemers by Ace Atkins

The RedeemersThe Redeemers

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #5

Hardcover, 370 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons , 2015
Read: August 7 – 10, 2015

The first thing you want to do after being shot is make sure you are not shot again.

That sentence just makes me grin. Which, honestly, is not something that someone spends a lot of time doing while reading a Quinn Colson novel. But The Redeemers is not your typical Quinn Colson novel.

We start off with Quinn on one of his last days as sheriff — Johnny Stagg, the man Boss Hogg wanted to be, finally worked his magic and got the election result that he worked so hard for — Quinn’s out and a man of his backing is in. Most readers are going to instinctively prefer Colson. and want to not like his successor, Rusty Wise. Rusty was most recently an insurance salesman, although he did work as a police officer for a time (nothing to noteworthy in his career — or at least not that Stagg didn’t bury). The problem with being anti-Rusty is that he’s actually a decent guy (sorry, Johnny), who honestly thought he could do a better job than Colson — and gets thrown into the fire on his first day (hours before it, really). Now, we all know — and Lillie Virgil will tell you — Wise is no Colson, not even close. But he’s trying.

On the other end of the spectrum, are a few idiotic criminals — you’ve got the so-called master safe cracker and his University of Alabama Football-obsessed nephew/apprentice, hired by a local to help he and his friend get revenge on a crooked businessman. I’m fairly certain these criminals had noticed that they had no place to live without Elmore Leonard, so they dropped by to see how they’d fare in Tibbehah County. Short answer: they were better off before. If you don’t chuckle at these numbskulls at least one, call your doctor and get your funny bone checked. Lille and Wise have the lead on this investigation, but the wife of their victim gets Colson to check into it a bit, too.

He gets pulled in because that woman is the aunt of Anna Lee — who has definitively left her husband, who has definitively left town, so she and Quinn can definitively do something about their old flame. Which is just one of the balls that Quinn has to keep in the air on the personal side — his father’s moving into Quinn’s house and bringing his horses on to Quinn’s land; his sister Caddy has fallen way off the wagon again; and Quinn’s unemployed — unless he wants to get a job at the new Wal-Mart, he’s going to have to do something about that. There’s an element of “oh, this again?” with Caddy’s struggles with drug addiction. But what do you want from that kind of thing? And with Quinn’s father, I felt a strong, “ugh, how long are we going to out up with this guy?” (I think Quinn agrees with me),

You have to ask (and people do), why does Quinn stay in Jericho? For that matter, why does Caddy (not just because Quinn drags her back), why does Lillie? Part of it is because it’s where they grew up, where they are home. Part of it, is hard to pin down, but Quinn touches on it while talking with the federal agent, undercover in Stagg’s business:

“There’s more to the place than the ugliness,” Quinn said. “Maybe someday I can take you out hunting and fishing and you can know more than just that . . . truck stop. Get out on Choctaw Lake and out into the National Forest.”
“I’d like that.”
“Folks like Stagg and Cobb haven’t ripped all the guts out of the place,” Quinn said. “There’s still a lot left.”

I do fear that Assistant Sheriff Lillie Virgil is given short shrift again. Yes, every time she’s used, she’s: competent, dangerous, smarter than most people in the room with her. She just seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to story, to emotional arcs, and the like. I want more for her — professionally, personally, and narratively. Now, along the same lines, but perhaps more importantly: can someone arrange a novel/short story/something where Lille and Vic Moretti team up? Yes, it’s possible that would be just too much feminine toughness and gunplay for audiences. But surely, it has to be tried.

For the most part the book keeps trudging along — interesting, occasionally funny — but nothing special — Stagg’s up to his thing, Quinn’s figuring out his next move, the Leonard refugees are seemingly trying to get caught. But nothing that really grabs you. Until you get to the last 60± pages, that is. After lulling the reader into a false sense of security, Atkins packed a while lotta happenings, and loose ends being tied up and bodies being dropped into these pages. Action, and emotion, and a dream sequence that seems straight out of Craig Johnson.

In interviews, Atkins states that the next novel is going to be dark (which is part of why this is so light) — I’m a little worried about what that means. I’m pretty sure the only one who’s safe is the guy who’s name is in the series title (though it wouldn’t surprise me if he got really banged up — but he’ll survive).

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

How did I get so far behind that I haven’t written anything on The Forsaken yet? Ugh. When I get behind, I get behind.

—–

The Forsaken (Quinn Colson, #4)The Forsaken

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #4
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Hardcover, 384 pg.
Putnam Adult, 2014
July 29 – 30, 2014

Atkins is at the point now where these Quinn Colson books seem automatic. Don’t mistake me — these are well-crafted, carefully plotted, richly detailed — Atkins’ labor is more than evident. But there’s something inevitable about the result of that effort. You don’t even have to wonder what you’re going to get anymore. If it’s Quinn Colson, it’s going to be good.

This also tends to make it hard to review these books, but I’ll give it a shot.

This time out Colson and Virgil are asked to investigate a cold case from a year or two before Colson was born, and when his less than ethical Uncle was Sheriff. Two teen girls walking home from Fourth of July festivities in Jericho were raped and one was murdered. Two days later, a black man, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the perpetrator was lynched for the crime. Decades later, one father’s guilt and the mature strength of the survivor ask the now honest (at least when it comes to his job) Sheriff to find the man truly responsible. To say that this makes anyone involved unpopular in Jericho would be an understatement of the first degree.

Which is a shame, because right now, both Deputy and Sherriff could use some popularity. Colson’s feud with Johnny Stagg is getting hotter, a new election is on the horizon, and Stagg’s framing of Virgil for murder is looking stronger and stronger every day. On the other hand, one of the few men in this world that Stagg fears is about to be paroled and is likely to return to Jericho and rekindle their rivalry. Maybe Stagg could use a determined and honorable man in office after all.

Surrounding this is the town and people of Jericho, and their recovery from the recent devastating tornado. Colson’s sister, Caddy, has really seemed to find herself in her leadership in this area. It’s hard to recognize the woman from the first two books in what we see now. Even Colson’s having to admit that there might be something to his sister’s current state of sobriety and responsibility. Their father’s name came up in the course of his investigation, and for the first time in a very long while, Quinn Colson’s being forced to think about the man who abandoned his mother, sister and himself so long ago. Naturally, this is where the real heart of the novel is — the rest of it is merely the life around Quinn, this is Quinn’s inner life, his identity.

Not only are all of these strings in one way or another being woven together now, we begin to see that there might be ways in which they were tied together before and around that fateful Independence Day.

We don’t get a lot of resolution and closure to things in this novel — not unlike life in that regard, but we get to see some trajectories on most fronts, and that’s good enough. Character, setting, story, mood — all of it is just right for this story and this series. Atkins may be getting attention and sales from his Spenser novels, but his strength is here with Colson and the rest.

—–

4 Stars

The Broken Places by Ace Atkins

The Broken PlacesThe Broken Places by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #3
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember reading a review of one of the new Jesse Stone author’s books, where the reviewer wished that Atkins had taken over Stone as well as Spenser, wondering what that would’ve been like. Well, I don’t think we need to wonder–Quinn Colson is Atkins’ Jesse Stone.

The catch is, Colson’s Jericho, MS isn’t Stone’s Paradise, MA.* It’s poorer, everyone knows everyone’s business, everyone’s — criminal and not alike — a bit more open about everything (to an extent); and everything seems bleaker — more hopeless — more real?

I’d say something like how the stakes haven’t been higher for Colson and his county, but that’s pretty much a given — Atkins keeps upping the stakes, the tension and the action each time out. The violence — at least the scale of it — is toned down here. It’s a sign of skill and confidence that, Atkins doesn’t feel compelled to have major armed confrontations in each novel. In addition to three escaped convicts coming to Colson’s county, there’s a recently pardoned murderer trying to show that he’s worth the pardon (despite a lot of warranted cynicism from Jericho’s citizenry). Naturally, the escapees have unfinished business with him — and are going to do whatever they can to make him hold up his end of the bargain.

Oh, did I mention that Colson’s troubled sister is romantically involved with the newly pardoned man? Yeah, there’s plot complications a’plenty there. Throw in other personal and political storylines that have been building and developing since the first book, and there’s a good deal for Colson and his associates to deal with.

What’s best about this — both daring and inventive — is throwing a natural disaster in the middle of the action. It keeps the story from playing out as the reader expects, creates hurdles for all the characters, and gives a couple of people the chance to show their true colors.

I have no idea how Atkins is going to pull off the next book — at least I hope he limits it to one book, some writers might stretch it out — the fallout from this one is going to be messy. But I can’t wait to read it.

—–

* And Colson’s a better soldier than a cop, and…it’s not a perfect analogy. Roll with it.

Dusted Off: The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins

Well, while I enjoy my time in Tibbehah County, Mississippi with The Broken Places, figured I’d dig this one out of the archives

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The Lost Ones (Quinn Colson, #2)The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #2
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atkins’ has left me cold with his Nick Travers series and I’m still trying to figure out how positively I feel about his take on Spenser (pretty sure it’s very), but there’s no doubt that this series about Quinn Colson just plain rocks.

This time, Colson’s been elected to sheriff, but he’s still learning the ropes, still more soldier than cop. He and his childhood friends (now mostly employed by Colson) have a lot to deal with: a recent Afghan war vet running drugs, a Mexican drug cartel, a child-abusing/selling family, not to mention a few more federal agents than Colson’s comfortable with. Plus a bunch of personal stuff (current and past), and the corrupt local government that Colson started wrangling with last time out.

Tense, fast-paced, morally murky…Atkins has really nailed this. Can’t wait for the next one.