I've been spending a lot of time in Mississippi lately. Last week it was Yoknapatawpha County with William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!. This week I've been in Tibbehah County with Ace Atkins' Quinn Colson. It turns out that the two counties have a lot in common and the main thing they have in common is secrets. Secrets that can wreck lives, destroy families, and sometimes get you killed. The thing is, the "secrets" are often known by everybody in the county!
We met Quinn Colson in Atkins' previous book, The Ranger. He was an army ranger, fresh out of serving in Afghanistan and he had driven over from Fort Benning to attend his uncle's funeral. His uncle had been the sheriff of Tibbehah County and, in this entry, Quinn has followed in his footsteps, being elected sheriff in a special election to fill the post. He has swept the sheriff's department clean, firing most of the staff who had been involved in some corrupt practices. But Lillie Virgil, the tough chief deputy, is still there to give Quinn on-the-job training and watch his back.
Corruption in county government is still a problem that Quinn has to confront, but that has to take a back seat for a while. There are bad things happening in Tibbehah. It starts with a report from the local doctor of injuries to a baby that look like abuse. The investigation of child abuse leads Quinn and his deputies into the sordid world of human trafficking, a bootleg baby racket, and extreme animal abuse. If that isn't enough, there's a Mexican drug cartel making inroads in the area. They've come to purchase guns and it seems that Quinn's boyhood friend, Donnie Varner, who runs the local gun shop and shooting range, may be involved. Things get even dicier when it looks like the bootleg baby racket, the drug cartel, and the gunrunning may all be intertwined.
(I find it very interesting that the characters Donnie Varner and his father Luther, who owns a store, have the same last name as a family in some of the Faulkner books - The Long, Hot Summer and The Hamlet spring to mind - the patriarch of which owns a store. Coincidence? Unlikely, I think. An homage, perhaps.)
Ace Atkins has a genuine feel for and understanding of small town Mississippi and he portrays his characters with an empathy that helps to make them real for the reader. He's particularly good about emphasizing the role that the military and respect for all things military play in these communities.
In this book, too, we get to know a little more about Quinn and his relationship with his younger sister, Caddy, and their childhood together. Caddy is back in town and trying to walk the straight and narrow for the sake of her son, Jason. This insight into the family relationships helps to humanize Quinn and lets us understand him a bit better.
Atkins has created an interesting world, as rich in its own way as Yoknapatawpha County. I look forward to visiting there again.