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Posts Tagged ‘small-town Mississippi’

THE RANGER by Ace Atkins: Book Review

Almost as exciting as it is for me to read the debut mystery novel of an author is finding an established author whose books I haven’t read. I’ve found the latter in Ace Atkins, author of The Ranger.

Although Atkins is a mystery writer with eight books prior to this one, I wasn’t familiar with his work until I read that he had been chosen to continue the Spenser novels.  But in reading The Ranger, the first of a new series, I’m delighted to have discovered him now.

Quinn Colson is a member of the Army’s elite Rangers. He’s come home to northeast Mississippi for the first time in six years for the funeral of his Uncle Hamp, sheriff in the rural town where Quinn grew up.  He’d been very close to his uncle, especially after Quinn’s father deserted the family and his parents divorced, and he’s finding it hard to believe that his uncle put a .44 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  But that’s what everyone tells him.

When Quinn enlisted in the Army, he knew he wanted to be a Ranger.  He also wanted to leave as much of his past behind as possible–his missing father, his mother’s obsession with Elvis, his drug-addicted sister, his high-school sweetheart who jilted him while he was in Afghanistan.  But, of course, much of that is waiting for him when he returns to Jericho, Tibbehah County, Mississippi.

Quinn’s father is still nowhere around; his mother still plays Elvis’s songs night and day, except when she’s listening to gospel; his sister is turning tricks to pay for her drug habit and has left her toddler son with their mother; and his former sweetheart is married to the town’s very successful doctor.  It’s no wonder Quinn stayed away as long as he did.

But things will get even worse before they get better. The land that Hamp owned, which has been in the family for generations, is being claimed by Johnny Stagg, a bully with lots of seedy businesses.  Stagg shows Quinn a scrap of paper with Hamp’s signature on it that allegedly makes Stagg the owner of the land in lieu of repayment of a loan.  Quinn doesn’t believe that the document is valid, but even if it is he’s determined not to give the land away.  “I’d rather burn the house and timber,” he says.

Since Quinn’s father’s disappearance from his life, his uncle had been his mentor and guide.  It’s painful for Quinn to hear that corruption had flourished so blatantly while Hamp was sheriff, that he ran up huge gambling debts that he was unable to repay, and that the sleazy Stagg is now a power to be reckoned with in Jericho.  What had Hamp been thinking and doing while Quinn was away?

The characters in The Ranger are fascinating. As in real life, some have overcome and some have failed to overcome their problems, and the most sympathetic ones continue to fight to improve their lives.  The ones who don’t succeed, like Quinn’s sister, can almost break the reader’s heart when attempt after attempt fails.

Ace Atkins’s second book in the Quinn Colson series, The Lost Ones, has just been published, and you can read more about it on his web site.