My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It begins with a prison break. Three inmates from Mississippi's notorious Parchman Prison manage to abscond from the place. One in a big truck goes through the gates, while two others escape on horseback.
The two on horseback cut their way through the wire fence around the prison farm and manage to find a car to steal. Then they are on their way to North Mississippi, Tibbehah County and the little town of Jericho, where they plan to confront the man who they believe has the money from an armored truck robbery they pulled off before they were caught and sent to prison.
Meanwhile, in Jericho, Quinn Colson, the veteran of the war in Afghanistan who returned to his home town and was elected sheriff, is, one year later, still adjusting to his new life after several years as an Army Ranger.
His latest challenge is an ex-con named Jamey Dixon who was convicted several years before of killing a local woman. He had made use of his time in prison to earn a degree from a seminary through distance learning. Dixon has been pardoned by the outgoing governor and has returned to Jericho claiming to have been cleansed by Jesus from all his sins. He's trying to establish a ministry in the town, using an old barn as the meeting place.
The family of the woman that Dixon was convicted of killing still think he's guilty and unworthy of a pardon, but many seem to believe in his redemption. One of those, to Quinn Colson's chagrin, is his younger sister, Caddy, a troubled young single mother of a five-year-old son who has been trying to clean up her act and turn her wasted life around for the sake of her son. She completely believes in Dixon and they are planning a life together.
Colson's own love life is not exactly a paragon of rectitude. In fact, it is quite messed up as he continues an affair with his high school sweetheart who is now married to a local doctor with whom she has a daughter.
So, we have a typical small Southern town where everybody knows everybody and everybody's business and most of them are related in some way.
Ace Atkins is a talented writer and he has a genuine ear for North Mississippi speech and for human relationships there. I speak as one who grew up in the area. I recognize these people and I could hear their voices in my ear as I read The Broken Places.
This was the third installment in Atkins' Quinn Colson series and it is definitely my favorite so far. All of the books have been very well written, but this one shows an even stronger sense of place than the earlier two. Moreover, the plot is well conceived and the action is non-stop. It is a real page-turner, one that you don't want to put down once you are into it.
The story of the escaped convicts and their quest to regain their ill-gotten loot moves along briskly with a few dead bodies littering their progress, but then, in the middle of it all and in the middle of law enforcement's search for the killers, a massive storm hits the little town of Jericho, almost destroying it. The search for the hardened criminals takes a back seat to an emergency situation that requires all the resources that the town, the state, and nearby communities can provide.
The miscreants couldn't care less about an emergency situation. They just want their money and a way to get out of town to freedom. It all heads for a showdown - bad guys against good guys.
After all the complications of the plot, Atkins provides the reader with a satisfying climax, and still manages to keep us in suspense as to Colson's fate following the showdown, giving us a reason to look for the next book in the series. His strategy sure worked on me.
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