My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In Ace Atkins' fictional county of Tibbehah in North Mississippi, Quinn Colson, the ex-Army ranger, has just lost his re-election as sheriff. The corrupt money in town had backed his opponent, an insurance salesman, and that won the day for the man.
In Colson's last few days in office, he is still trying to find a way to bring down his main nemesis and the purveyor of corruption, Johnny Stagg. Stagg is well-entrenched in the halls of power in the county and the state and putting him behind bars will not be easy.
Colson is aided in his quest by his estimable assistant, Lillie Virgil. Lillie is one of the few - maybe the only - truly virtuous characters in this southern noir suspense novel. Most of the characters, including the sheriff who is carrying on an illicit affair with his former high school sweetheart, are flawed in the extreme.
As the novel begins, Quinn and Lillie are in Memphis waiting outside a house of ill repute for the appropriate moment to go inside and bring out Quinn's sister, Caddy. An extremely troubled woman with a history of addiction, she had gone off the rails again following the murder several months before of the man that she loved. Quinn and Lillie are able to extract her and take her home to be admitted to a rehab center in Tupelo.
Then, Quinn settles down to see out his last few days in office and to concentrate on Johnny Stagg.
In his efforts to bring Stagg to justice, he has the clandestine help of an undercover federal agent, also a former Army ranger. But right smack dab into the middle of their plans comes a quartet of inept thieves and housebreakers, three of whom manage with great difficulty to steal a safe from the home of a local businessman.
The safe contains almost a million dollars, plus jewels, homemade porn tapes, and books which outline the illicit transfers of funds to corrupt politicians in return for favors. The books incriminate the businessman as well as Johnny Stagg and powerful state politicians. Although by this time Quinn is no longer the sheriff, his lover, who is the niece of the businessman's wife, asks him to investigate.
Ace Atkins is a talented writer and this book, as all of his books do, shows a professional at work. He is from the area that he features in these Quinn Colson books, as, in fact, I am, and I can attest that he vividly brings to life the atmosphere of the small town and rural community where everybody knows everybody else's business. He has an ear for the speech cadences of the area and I have no trouble hearing the voices of his characters as I read.
That being said, there are things about the voices of his characters that I began to find extremely annoying after a while. I don't think I am any more prudish than your average reader, but I got really, really tired of reading the references to boobies, titties, shitheels, pussies, poon hounds, cornholing, etc. that are liberally sprinkled on almost every page of the book. Such language seemed like a lazy shortcut that the writer was using to create certain images in our minds.
Those images are well-known stereotypes of ignorant and sex-obsessed Southern characters. I'm sure the language and the stereotypes that it sketches have strong appeal to some readers, but a little of it goes a very long way with me and after a certain point, I find it offensive. Frankly, I do not think that I am the reader that Mr. Atkins seeks.
This is the fifth book in this series. The last couple of books had shown growth in some of the recurring characters, but this one just seemed like a step backwards to me.
And what's up with all those subtle hints at a possible romantic relationship between Colson and Lillie Virgil? Is that where this is headed? I'm not sure Colson deserves such a highly intelligent and capable woman. He seems inexorably drawn to quite a different type.
Overall, I guess I'm just a bit disappointed in the character of Quinn Colson and in the direction in which Atkins seems to be taking this series. Maybe it's time for me to quit it for a while and move on to something else.
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