Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: The Sinners

The Sinners The Sinners by Ace Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

The Pritchards are just some good ole boys, never meaning no harm. Making their way the only way they know how. That’s just a little bit more than Sheriff Quinn Colson will allow.

Ah, damn it. I think I owe Waylon Jenning’s estate a royalty payment now.

This one starts out way back in the prehistoric days of the 1993 with Tibbehah County Sheriff Hamp Beckett finally nailing his nemesis, a hell-raising pot-farmer named Heath Pritchard, with enough weed to send him to prison for a long stretch.

Twenty five years later the nephews of both men have gone into their respective family businesses. Quinn Colson is the sheriff while Tyler and Cody Pritchard grow some of the best pot around, and they use the money to fund their love of dirt-track auto racing. The lady who runs the *ahem* gentlemen’s club, Fannie Hathcock, is also the local representative of the Dixie Mafia, and she suspects the Pritchard boys might be cutting into her profit margin with their higher quality weed.

This is a powder keg getting ready to blow, and the fuse is lit when Heath Pritchard gets out of jail and inserts himself into his nephews’ lives. While Tyler and Cody just want to make enough money to pay for cars and Jack Daniels their uncle thinks that he should be able to resume his place as the stud duck of Tibbehah County with no regard for the law or the criminals currently running the show.

As this is going on Quinn’s best friend, Boom Kimbrough, has taken a job as a long-haul trucker, but he discovers that his company is a critical part of the supply chain hauling all kinds of illegal stuff across the South. As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, Quinn also has to get ready for his upcoming wedding.

I’ve enjoyed every book of this series, but this is my favorite of them so far. Ace Atkins has built up each character and the setting so that Tibbehah County is its own vivid world now. While each novel has its own self-contained story there’s also been a complex overall arc going on in the background. One of the more interesting aspects is the way that the nature of crime itself is evolving in rural Mississippi over the last ten years. When the series started the ruling redneck kingpin was a good ole boy county politician who engaged in more traditional forms of small town corruption. Now the game has changed with politicians more focused on trying to roll back the clock as cover for far more ambitious schemes then just milking the county’s expense budget. Money seems to be flowing everywhere except to people looking for good jobs, and this includes expansion by organized crime who want to move drugs by the truckload instead of just letting a couple of good ole boys sell a little weed.

I also really like what Atkins did with the Pritchards. He’s sprinkled references to other works in his books like a subtle homage to True Grit into one of his Spenser novels. Here, the Pritchards obviously seem to be inspired by The Dukes of Hazzard TV series.

If this was Atkins winking at the reader and playing this as a jokey reference, it’d just be a gimmick. However, what’s he done with this idea is pretty clever. Bo and Luke Duke were just a couple of redneck Robin Hoods fighting corrupt local officials. However, the Pritchards aren’t running moonshine, they’re growing high end weed, and their enemy isn’t the comical Boss Hogg, it’s an entire murderous criminal syndicate. Similarly, their uncle isn’t a lovable old rascal with a talent for making shine who doles out good advice. Heath is a strutting criminal with poor impulse control who pisses off everyone he deals with by acting like it's still 1993, and that he's the biggest swinging dick around.

In short, the Dukes are the fantasy of the good-hearted Southern boys who like to raise a little hell, and there ain’t no pickle they can’t get out of by driving fast and jumping over the nearest creek. That won't help when facing an organized system that has far more resources and no hesitation about killing off anyone who might cost them a nickel.

Everyone in the book is getting squeezed by the powers that be in some fashion. Frannie has made a fortune for her bosses for years, but the second they think she’s got a problem in her operation they start questioning her capability and start making moves to muscle her out. Boom is just trying to mind his own business while making a honest living, but he finds himself caught up in the schemes of criminals and the demands of law enforcement. Quinn is under pressure from shitbird politicians more concerned about checking the immigration status of anyone who isn't white rather than dealing with the growth of organized crime in their backyard.

That’s the effective theme that Atkins is working with here. It’s the collision of the dream that all a country boy needs to survive is a can of Skoal and his trusty shotgun vs. the cold hard realities of the 21st century, and it makes for a helluva read.

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