Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Southern Justice

The Forsaken 
by Ace Atkins 

4 out of 5 chicken fried steaks.

If the FX network is looking for another book series about rural crime to develop into a TV show to replace Justified after its upcoming final season, it could do a helluva lot worse than buying the rights to Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series.

As Tibbehah County tries to recover from a devastating round of tornadoes, Sheriff Colson and his chief deputy are being investigated for their actions in the previous book. Corrupt county commissioner and redneck kingpin Johnny Stagg is behind this investigation as part of his effort to control Quinn and use him for his own purposes. This connects to the leader of a biker gang Stagg fears who is about to be released from prison. The gang has returned in force to pave the way for his return, and all of it ties back to a crime that occurred in 1977.

Atkins scores again with another great tale that sees Quinn unearthing some ugly secrets tied to his family history. I especially enjoyed how Johnny Stagg has gradually been built up into the Boss Hogg of this series. As a sleazy local politician who likes to claim the moral high ground even as he runs a strip club and is trying to build a drug pipeline, Stagg has become one of the most interesting characters in the series. He’s a sidewinder, never coming at Quinn directly, and he’s a master of small town manipulation. The series has subtly become an on-going cold war between Stagg and Quinn, and the more we find about the history of Tibbehah County, the more we realize that Stagg has been a cancer rotting it out for some time.

Quinn remains the steady moral center of the series with his code of a former Army Ranger mixing with the rural good manners of a Southern gentleman. It’s a nice touch that Colson remains more soldier than lawmen, often leaving the nuances of police work to his chief deputy, Lillie. His growing frustration with the locals who are often too stupid or too blind to recognize what Stagg also seems to be fitting for a guy who finds himself back in the small town he swore never to return to.

Like the last book, this one leaves a fair number of plot threads dangling, but it’s clear that Atkins is doing this deliberately as part of telling a larger story about the secret history of his fictional patch of Mississippi.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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