Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Books

Review: Mississippi sheriff wrangles a crime wave in Ace Atkins' 'The Fallen'

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Quinn Colson is not having a quiet day at work.

In the opening pages of The Fallen, Ace Atkins' seventh novel about the Mississippi sheriff, Quinn is wrangling two somewhat out-of-the-ordinary crimes. First, a couple of men carrying assault rifles and wearing Donald Trump masks burst into the bank in Quinn's hometown of Jericho and rob it with military precision. "Anyone moves and I'll grab 'em by the p-----," one yells at the cowering bank customers.

That's not all. "Sometime around two," Atkins writes, "Quinn got the call that Fannie Hathcock had beaten the s--- out of one of her patrons with a sixteen-ounce hammer. His dispatcher, Cleotha, was very specific about the size of the hammer, saying that Fannie had made the call herself and seemed proud of her accomplishment."

Just another day in Tibbehah County.

Atkins, formerly a reporter at the then-St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune, has since 2012 published two novels a year: one in the Colson series, one continuing the Spenser series created by the late Robert B. Parker. (The sixth of those, Little White Lies, came out in May.)

The William Faulkner-meets-Raymond Chandler world of the Colson books is Atkins' own creation. Born in Alabama, he has lived for the last decade or so in Oxford, Miss., and the books are steeped in the culture and landscape of the rural South. Quinn is a Jericho native who became a U.S. Army Ranger and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, then returned to step into the sheriff's job after his uncle, the longtime sheriff, was murdered.

Quinn has a rigorous work ethic, a bone-dry sense of humor, an Elvis-loving mama, a sister with a troubled past, a cool dog named Hondo, a checkered romantic history and a fondness for bourbon and cigars. (Really, why isn't there a movie yet?)

Those masked bank robbers get away clean, but Quinn hears from a federal investigator that they've robbed other banks in the region. Watching a video, the fed tells him, "If you weren't in law enforcement, I might suspect you as the main dude. You're about the same height, have similar training, and move in the same way" — meaning the robbers probably have military backgrounds.

They could turn up again. Guaranteed to continue to be a pain in Quinn's neck is Fannie Hathcock, a bombshell redhead who runs a diner, truck stop and strip club in Jericho. She's as tough as nails, as the hapless customer who tried to manhandle a pole dancer discovered when Fannie took that hammer to him (for reasons to be disclosed later).

Quinn will find himself in the amusing position of enforcing the county's law requiring Fannie's employees to wear panties, imposed by a crusading county supervisor named Skinner. When it comes to dealing with politicians, Fannie has skills at many levels, but Skinner has her flummoxed — susceptible to neither bribery nor seduction, he seems sincere in his mission "to make Tibbehah a more godly place."

Quinn's sister, Caddy, is conducting an investigation of her own, with the help of Quinn's old friend and fellow veteran Boom. Caddy, a recovering addict who runs a ministry, is searching for two vulnerable teenage girls who have disappeared — a search that leads to very dark places.

Meanwhile, those bank robbers are indeed still hanging around, and planning something big and ugly. Fortunately, Quinn has the backup of his tough assistant sheriff: "You never quite knew, or understood, what you were getting with Lillie Virgil. She loved you or she wanted to shoot you."

Quinn stays so busy with all that he hardly has time to pursue Maggie Powers, a childhood friend who's just returned to Jericho and is striking sparks with the sheriff. But he'll discover just how many of those separate threads of plot tie together, and in what disturbing ways. And once again he'll realize how handy Lillie's sharpshooting skills can be.

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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