My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Continuing with the Mississippi theme in my summer reading, I turned to Ace Atkins' Southern noir series featuring former Army Ranger, now county sheriff, Quinn Colson.
Colson is the sheriff of fictional Tibbehah County in Northeast Mississippi, a place somewhere near Tupelo, birthplace of King Elvis. He heads a seven person police force, aided by his chief deputy, Lillie Virgil. From the county seat of Jericho, they do battle with the forces of evil in Tibbehah County, which seems to be a hotbed of sin and moral turpitude, not to mention political corruption.
Jericho and Tibbehah County are still recovering from a recent killer tornado that came close to leveling the town, but progress is being made, and, in some cases, the new Jericho being built is a great improvement over the old destroyed town.
Much of that improvement has come through the efforts of Johnny Stagg, District Supervisor and local businessman and, not incidentally, redneck crime lord. Stagg is behind much of that aforementioned sin, moral turpitude, and political corruption. But it can't be denied that he has aided in the rebuilding of the town.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Colson and Deputy Virgil are being investigated because of a big shootout that occurred at the end of the last book. (It does pay to read these books in order.) Colson's enemies see this as a chance to either get him out of office or to control him while he's in office, and there's another election coming up. It's all politics, but that doesn't make it any more palatable.
Into this frothy mix of disaster recovery and political intrigue comes news that a very bad guy, leader of a motorcycle club that created havoc in the town thirty years before, is about to be released from federal prison after serving his time. This is especially bad news for Johnny Stagg who sees the man as a mortal enemy and fears that when he returns to town he will try to take over from the current redneck crime lord.
Thirty years before, in 1977, something terrible happened in Jericho. Two young teenage girls were abducted along a county road. One was raped and both of them were shot. The younger of the two died. Law enforcement did not catch the man who did it, but shortly afterward, a black man, a stranger in town who had been living rough in the nearby national forest, was taken up by vigilantes, beaten and lynched. He was unknown. His name was never discovered. The vigilantes had convicted him of the abduction, rape, and murder.
Later, the surviving victim saw the man who had actually committed the crime in town. The vigilantes had murdered an innocent man.
At the time of these crimes, the sheriff's office only did a half-hearted investigation, but now, the whole thing has been brought to light again because the surviving victim has talked to Sheriff Colson. He and Deputy Virgil are determined to get to the bottom of these very cold cases.
Johnny Stagg has become one of the most interesting characters in this series. He runs a "family restaurant" with a notorious strip club and truck stop located out back. He's trying to build up a drug pipeline, working with some of the Memphis mafia, and he has his fingers in every pie being baked in Tibbehah County. He's a sleazebag and a small town manipulator, masquerading as just another "good ole boy." He keeps looking for the key that will allow him to lock up control of the sheriff and his staff. If he can find it, he will have a totally free hand in building his crime empire.
Locking up Quinn Colson won't be easy though. He lives by the code he learned as an Army Ranger. He is the epitome of incorruptibility and morality. He has a lot of frustrations with the nuances of police work, but fortunately his excellent deputy has his back there. They make a good team.
Ace Atkins writes very knowledgeably about the area where these stories are set. It's an area I know well and I can attest that the language used by his characters and the opinions and attitudes expressed here are spot on. It all makes for a very noirish mix and an entertaining summer read.
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