Written by Ace Atkins — Army Ranger Quinn Colson is coming home. Home from Iraq. Home from Afghanistan. Home to Jericho, Mississippi, and his uncle’s funeral. Hampton Beckett was the County Sheriff until he put the barrel of a .44 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Colson finds that six years is a long time to be away. His mother doesn’t show up to her brother’s funeral. His sister has disappeared, leaving Mrs Colson to look after her young mixed-race son. The hills and forests of Tibbehah County, never at their best in December, have been scarred and trashed by relentless logging, and Jericho itself has gone into terminal decline. Hamp Beckett has left his farmstead and land to Colson, but the soil has hardly settled on his uncle’s grave before he discovers that powerful local people have an unhealthy interest in getting their hands on the property.
Atkins introduces us to a diverse cast of characters. There is the feisty young runaway, Lena. Heavily pregnant, she is looking for the father of her unborn child, who has gone to ground somewhere in the the vicinity. Anna Lee, Colson’s sweetheart from his teenage years is as lovely as ever, but is married to the town doctor. Lillie Virgil is another woman from Colson’s past, but now she is Sheriff’s Deputy and shares his disquiet about the true circumstances of Hamp Beckett’s death. Johnny Stagg is the county’s Mr Fixit, with business interests everywhere, while Judge Blanton may not be the wise, white haired good ol’ boy that Colson remembers from his youth.
The pages bristle with violence and the winter scenery is as raw and uncompromising as the action. We go from white supremacist training camps, via windswept truck stops where underage hookers ply their trade, to the silent forests and gullies of the Mississippi badlands. We meet one of the Aryan Brotherhood’s finest in the psychotic and relentless shape of Gowrie, and even allowing for the literary convention that all small town preachers in The South have to be repulsive, Brother Davis is more loathsome than most. As Colson goes about the business of trying to understand how Hamp Beckett really died, the number of people he can trust is slowly whittled down, and the roots of corruption seem to go deeper and deeper.
It’s almost impossible not to compare Quinn Colson with another laconic and indestructible ex-military man who takes on evil and corruption, usually in tumbleweed towns in rural America, while disposing of his opponents with fists, boots and a range of deadly weapons. To be fair, Colson is less of an oddball loner than Jack Reacher. He struggles to conceal the embers of affection for Anna Lee, and the pain he feels at his sister’s descent into darkness is sharp.
Atkins gives us just a few twists and turns; we know, or strongly suspect, who the bad men are from the word go, all that remains is to see how successful Colson is in his pursuit of them. The grim winter landscape, denuded and trashed by the greed of the timber companies, the junk food diners of the little towns and gas stations, and the trailer park lives of some of the characters, are all described with a brutal honesty. The characterisation is detailed and the subtly-changing relationships between Colson and the folks he left behind are deftly described. Although the final scenes may strike some readers as rather too cinematic, this is a relatively uncomplicated action thriller which I can heartily recommend to fans of the genre.
The book has been out for some time in the US already, where another Quinn Colson novel, The Lost Ones, is also available. Atkins has written two novels using Robert B Parker’s character Spenser, and you can read our review of Lullaby here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars