Ace Atkins was a new to me author. But he was quickly added to my 'must read authors' list. His latest novel The Ranger (releases June 9th) is phenomenal!
Quinn Colson, an Army Ranger, returns to his hometown of Jericho in Tibbehah County, Mississippi. He's on leave to attend the funeral of his Uncle Hamp, who was the sheriff of Jericho. Quinn hasn't been home in almost seven years. As he reconnects with his past, the underbelly of Tibbehah County shows itself. Meth dealers, crooked politicians and wounded souls populate the county. Determined to hold on to a piece of family property, Quinn decides to stick around for a bit. Aided by his old friend Boom, back from Iraq minus an arm, and Lillie Virgil - a female deputy as tough as nails, Quinn goes head to head with the slime bent on taking whatever they want in Tibbehah County.
Atkins has put a great spin on the old fashioned western. Our heroes are those who have faced the horrors of war and have come home to find just as ugly a war on the home front. Racism, drugs and corruption are all coiled like a snake under the front porch, waiting to strike.
The dialogue is short and terse, with no unnecessary speeches to clutter up the action. It just adds to the overall tone of the book. Much is said by the words left unspoken. The characters populating the novel are all vividly drawn. The landscape and settings are just as stark and gritty. I had a clear picture in my head as I read.
Or rather, raced through the book. I literally could not put it down.The action is fast and furious. Secondary plots involving past relationships and new relatives do add a human touch to Quinn's character.
The ending is set up for the second book in the series - due out in summer of 2012. One I will be picking up for sure. 'Cause we all need a hero...
Fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher will find a new favourite character in Quinn Colson. This would also appeal to fans of Randy Wayne White and James Lee Burke where setting is such an important part of the book.
on June 26, 2011
I came to Ace Atkins through the announcement that he was chosen to continue the Robert B. Parker Spenser series. Prior to this, his work hadn't crossed my path. Then I bought the debut novel on Kindle of his new series called THE RANGER about an Army Ranger named Quinn Colson. I thought this would give me an inkling as to what to expect from an Ace Atkins Spenser novel.
First things first, THE RANGER does what a debut novel is supposed to do. It introduces the main character, the next tier of recurring characters and then those needed to flesh out the book for plot purposes. Atkins seems to be able to thread that needle in his sleep.
Next, he sets the scene with descriptions which are both vivid and minimalist at the same time. Elmore Leonard Lite. There are only so many plots so, in my view, it comes down to the execution of same.
The action is detailed and unyielding. You will root for the hero and those he protects. If body count makes you squeamish then read this and sleep with a light on.
THE RANGER is an excellent, entertaining debut effort for a new series. Not a whole lot of mystery but more thrills and twists than you can shake a stick at, if that's your idea of fun.
Worth your time and money. Treat yourself.
on June 9, 2011
Quinn Colson returns home for his Idealized uncle's funeral after six years absence and 10 years worth of Mid-East tours. He's an army Ranger aka a proven tough guy with wilderness skills. He can face almost anything....except maybe his high school sweetheart who dumped him and married his buddy while he was off fighting for his country. Oh and then there's his Elvis and Jesus obsessed mom and his drug addled younger sister. Other than that he's primed for a lovely home visit but as he travels from Fort Benning to the Oxford, Mississippi area he comes within inches of running down a pregnant teen who's dazedly wandering the back roads in search of her baby daddy. And our hero is still not home yet! He's not surprised that his mom and sister have skipped the funeral but the town's leaders, the three wise men, are there. They have a few drinks, toast the dearly departed, and swap war stories.
Then the action really picks up. Supposedly his uncle who was the (drunken) Sheriff committed suicide. Quinn doesn't buy it. As he starts to investigate he reunites with various friends and enemies from his past (and it's not always clear who falls into which category) he finds a hornet's nest of political and financial rivalries, prostitution, racism, religion and downright orneriness. Atkins does a swell job of bringing these folks to life especially against the backdrop of an isolated southern town that could almost be a throwback to the 1800's. From the first conversation you can almost taste the south. My only issue with Mr. Atkins is that he never once mentions home time Oxfordian William Faulkner. This is a great first installment in what promises to be a fun series.
on July 3, 2011
I finished this book but it took real discipline. The Ranger was a complete disappointment. Michael Connelly aside this was not the finest book Mr. Atkins has written. His White Shadow is an excellent crime novel. So I imagine that some glowing comments were more publisher directed then heart felt. As Sherlock Holmes would say 'the games afoot' .
My first problem with The Ranger is with the ranger. Quinn is a static character....it's hard to work up any feeling for him. Quinn is supposed to be a highly trained ranger with a boat load of skills including discipline and leadership abilities. I am glad that was mentioned because I would not have known from the story itself. The first violent encounter hinted that he was lethal and fearless but after that it was just ho hum stuff.
The way around a bland hero is to surround him with some outstanding secondary characters who can challenge him to hell and back until we begin to appreciate his restraint. That duty usually falls to the villain, in this case he's a drug addled psycho who quickly becomes tedious. He's vile enough but you don't really feel the menace.
The other characters who do get page time are ambiguous at best. Good guys, bad guys who knows. Nor does it help that all of these uninteresting people are placed in a plotline that is a bit inane and worse.........annoying.
Settings can help or even make a series in many cases but there's no help here. There is little sense of time and place. Even the psycho villain expresses distain for the town telling a women in the local bank to " smile sometime. Son of a bitch, this old town is sad." Son of a bitch .....he's right.
So what kept me reading on? The hope that there would be a pay off. I bought this one. I also bought a good wine that had turned. I still drank it.
Why two stars? Because two characters actually emerged. Shackelford, a badly burned vet with a propensity for making serious mistakes and Ditto (his name in the story and he's also called 'the pig faced boy' ) were only marginal characters but they held more real promise then anyone else including Quinn, the pregnant teenager, the tomboy deputy and typical locals who were some of the most irritating people I've had to associate with in a long time.
Some advice to the publisher of The Ranger, this author is a much better writer then this book shows so something went off the rails. Maybe he was presented with the premise by an editor and lost his way. But before you went on an advertising binge The Ranger should have had a major rewrite. Fresh characters and a better location.
This is basic stuff here not Shakespeare, but a book like this needs to rip through it's pages like a freight train not a hand cart.
on November 3, 2011
I'm usually more of a mystery fan, but every so often I'll venture into crime fiction when it presents an interesting plot or captivating setting. Plus, I'm a past Ace Atkins fan, so I was willing to give his new Quinn Colson series a shot (no pun intended).
Quinn Colson is a thirty-something Army Ranger and multi-tour veteran. He returns to his small Mississippi hometown of Jericho for the funeral of his uncle, the town sheriff and something of a father-figure to a young Colson. As he reunites with old friends in town he learns some shocking news: not only did his uncle commit suicide, but he also cozied up to corrupt town officials in an effort to pay off a string of gambling debts. In an effort to better understand just what sorts of ugly forces are at work in Jericho, Colson begins to kick down some doors - literally and figuratively -- and before long he uncovers a twisted mess of debts, drugs, racsim, and corruption that leads back to former friends and some shady characters set to run Jericho into the ground.
As a character Colson is something of a modern day Wyatt Earp or John Wayne who unsuspectingly discovers that he needs to be both the voice of morality and the hand of justice in a town mired in corruption. Atkins hints at Colson's back-story (a distant father, an unrequited love, difficult deployments, etc) but for the most part Colson is pretty one dimensional. He wants to see the bad guys gone and he is alright with knocking some heads and shooting some arrows in order to see this accomplished. Colson seems more like the nineteenth century Texas Ranger than a highly trained, tactically-minded twenty-first century Army Ranger. Indeed, the story reads more like a western than a crime novel. The end of the book actually sees Colson and his ramshackle "posse of good" confronting the band of criminals on deserted Main Street, guns drawn. Unfortunately there aren't too many tumbleweeds blowin' around in northern Mississippi these days so the scene feels a little incomplete.
Atkins manages to create a more nuanced story by introducing some competing story lines. However, while these stories offer some interesting characters (Lena, the pregnant teenager with little education but a lot of street smarts, was by far the most intriguing of Atkins' characters), the novel gets to be a little muddled when the author tries to tie all of these threads together at the end. The book either needed to be a couple chapters longer or some of these extraneous story lines needed to be reduced in order for the plot to be a little tighter.
All in all, I enjoyed the atmosphere that Atkins created through succinct prose and smart dialogue. And, I like Colson enough to see if the next novel finds him doing more than just running bad guys out of town at the end of a shotgun. However, Atkins should give the man a horse to complete his cowboy image or at the very least, a Ford Mustang.
on June 15, 2011
I moved Ace Atkins onto my must-read list of authors after finishing WHITE SHADOW, a crime novel based on an unsolved Tampa, Florida murder that occurred in the 1950s. He has remained firmly ensconced upon it ever since, through three subsequent historical crime novels, each better than the last. His new one, THE RANGER, is a contemporary work that carries with it the implication of being the first of a series. I hope that it is; it's a book that explodes, crackles and hums right along from page to page.
Quinn Colson is the Ranger of the title, an Army Ranger who has been fighting the good fight in Afghanistan for several years. When he returns home to the hill country of Northeast Mississippi on bereavement leave, he is a bit stunned to find that corruption has taken hold. He's home to attend the funeral of his Uncle Hamp, the local sheriff, who died of a gunshot wound that was supposedly self-inflicted.
Colson slowly acquires doubts, and before long --- accompanied by the few remaining friends he has --- he begins to investigate his uncle's final weeks and days, attempting to determine who would have the most to gain from his uncle's death. At the top of the list is a shady local entrepreneur and real estate developer, who claims that Colson's uncle had defaulted on a loan secured by a homestead owned by Colson's family for generations. The manufacture and sale of crystal meth has also taken hold in the area, and there is the possibility that Hamp's efforts to root out the evil had made him an inconvenience to the local drug kingpin: a white supremacist for whom an anticipated race war is a side project.
Colson's life is further complicated by the presence of the ex-flame who threw him over while he was in the service and who is now married to the town doctor; she is making a none-too-subtle effort to throw herself back at Colson. But the real danger to Colson is coming from several different and unexpected directions. His Ranger training holds him in good stead, but it may not be enough. His safest course of action may be to return to the base and forget his hometown; as will be seen, however, Colson never takes the easy way out. And as THE RANGER heads toward its violent and explosive climax, it is doubtful that anyone will emerge unscathed.
I picked up THE RANGER during one of the saddest weeks of my life; while it didn't make everything all better, it certainly moved me temporarily to another, better place, which is all that I could ask for. It's pitch- and letter-perfect every step of the way, told in a voice that will put you in the mind of James Lee Burke (yes, it's that good) while retaining its own originality.
Go ahead and read the first paragraph or two, and if you can find it within yourself to stop before you hit the end, then you have more willpower than I do. And the final 70 pages or so will crawl into the crevices of your memory and lodge there like a wood tick in your ear canal. As for the characters, I felt as if I was on nodding acquaintance with at least half of the people who populate the book. If you don't think they are true to life, you have never stopped for gas in Hattiesburg off of Interstate 59. But don't take my word for it. Get your own copy and start reading. By the time you're done with THE RANGER, you will have read Atkins's best work to date. Don't miss it!
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
on June 10, 2011
On duty in Afghanistan U.S. Army Ranger Quinn Colson returns home to Jericho, Mississippi to attend the funeral of his beloved role model Uncle Hampton Beckett. Quinn is stunned when he arrives home to learn his uncle the town's former sheriff committed suicide.
Long time friend Deputy Lillie Virgil rejects the notion that Hampton shot himself. She believes he was murdered. Knowing Lillie is not a person to pull punches, Quinn makes inquiries into his uncle's death only to find official and unofficial opposition. He learns that while he was serving his country, meth deals own Jericho. Though threatened with violence, Quinn with Lillie covering his back fights the drug dealers and corrupt officials closing their eyes on chemical cooking.
This is an exciting violent homecoming filled with non stop action as Quinn finds Mississippi burning as much as Afghanistan. Fast-paced though following the classic theme of a lone cowboy cleaning up a corrupt outlaw town (see Bronson's Mr. Majestyk and Ladd's Shane), the freshness comes from a subplot in which Quinn muses about what he would be if he never left Mississippi. Readers will not be able to put down Colson's return to Jericho.
Most of the book has mean unlikeable characters doing things that are not interesting to watch. Most of the characters were poor and uneducated. Their thoughts and actions were not entertaining. No one intrigued me. There was no one to root for.
The two main good guys are Quinn and Lily. Quinn is an army ranger who came home for his uncle’s funeral and is investigating his uncle’s death. Lily is a sheriff’s deputy. It was not fun or special watching them solve the mystery. There wasn’t anything interesting about their relationship. Anna-Lee is supposedly a good character. Her husband is in danger so she begs Quinn to find him. Quinn risks his life to help the husband. Then Anna-Lee is rude and dismissive to Quinn. She doesn’t even thank him. Her actions make her unlikeable, and she’s one of the good guys.
There were two action scenes that were missing key parts. Quinn creates a diversion to enter the enemy compound and rescue hostages. He gets inside to the hostages and says lets go. Then the story skips to the next day. We don’t see how they sneak off and run while the bad guys are shooting. Did any bad guys follow them?
The other scene: Two guys A and B are taking a long car drive. They end up in an ambush with bad guys surrounding them. All of a sudden two good guys C and D are hiding in the nearby woods and shoot the bad guys so A can get away. How did C and D know to be hiding in that place? Were they following A’s car? I don’t know.
I’m not sure how I feel about the narrator Jeff Woodman. I wonder if his interpretations made some characters more unlikeable than I would have made them if I were reading the physical book. All the characters are Mississippi locals so he speaks with southern and hillbilly accents - like sit-shee-aa tion (for situation). It was a little too much southern for me. But that may be personal preference.
Narrative mode: 3rd person. Unabridged audiobook length: 8 hrs and 56 mins. Swearing language: a few strong words including religious swear words, but not often used. Sexual content: No specific sex scenes, but some were referred to as having happened. Setting: current day small town in rural Mississippi. Book copyright: 2011. Genre: crime mystery suspense.
Ace Atkins' introduction of his new character Quinn Colson is excellent. Colson, 10 years in the Army Rangers, returns on leave to his Mississippi hometown to attend the funeral of his uncle, the county sheriff who has died under murky circumstances.
Colson finds his family's property the target of seizure by a powerful and corrupt local man. Seeking to counter it and determine why his uncle died, he peels back layers of corruption, encountering seemingly every lowlife between there and Memphis, to uncover a local meth ring and a more complex situation than initially met the eye.
And he finds he can't trust anyone except a girl he went to high school with who's now a deputy, and his best friend growing up, who lost an arm in Afghanistan.
And his momma. And his uncle's dog.
Atkins' writing is strong and his sense of realism intense - depressing yet keeping you turning the pages because the action moves so well.
His portrayal of smalltown, scrubland Mississippi is totally depressing. It's wracked by poverty and economically dead. Clearcutting has scarred its countryside as beautiful and primitive woodlands have been scraped flat to squeeze the last dollar out of the land. Its culture does not rise much beyond storefront churches, truckstop strip joints, junk-food gas stations and greasy spoon diners. The meth ring's Aryan Brotherhood-type members are some of the filthiest losers you'll meet in a mystery novel;a after passages set in their filthy compound, you want to take a shower.
And a string of marginal young women Colson encounters - strippers and one knocked-up teenager searching for her baby daddy at a local jail - are among the most pathetic characters you'll find.
I credit the author with not romanticizing this setting, and it'll ring true to those familiar with the rural South.
Colson's own character, as he struggles with the skeletons in his own family's closet, and his relationships with those he trusts are a light against the darkness.
Quinn Colson hasn't been to his rural Mississippi home in years. And by the time this visit is over, every reason he had to stay away presents itself.
The initial reason for his return is his uncle's funeral. Uncle Hamp not only was the county sheriff, he was the one who walked into the woods to find a young Quinn who was lost in them for two weeks. It isn't until after the funeral that Quinn learns his uncle killed himself. The new law, an old high school buddy of Quinn's, is ready to settle for that, but Quinn isn't. Neither is tomboy-turned-deputy Lillie.
The suspicions cannot help but grow when local would-be developer Johnny Stagg lets Quinn know his uncle pretty much signed everything over to him. To add pressure to get Quinn to finalize the land deal, Stagg has a new friend, an Aryan named Gowrie, and his Bible-thumping gang provide a few "time to move on" hints.
Quinn, of course, is not the kind to take kindly to that kind of hint. With only Lillie and his old friend Boom, who lost an arm in the war, on his side he takes on Stagg, who owns or controls about everything around, Gowrie with his tribe in single-wides up in the hills and Brother Davis, who preaches in the deserted movie house.
Added to the volatile mix are Lena, a pregnant teen Quinn plays Good Samaritan to; his mother, estranged from her late brother, telling people she and Quinn's long-gone stunt man father are divorced when no one ever bothered, loving Elvis and Jesus in equal measure and taking care of his sister's baby boy; and Anna Lee, the girl he loved in high school who dumped Quinn when he went overseas and who married the boy who stayed, now the town doctor.
Atkins is a master at revealing just what is needed, when it's needed, as these characters head toward their inevitable showdowns. The prose is spare but as bursting of miasmal heat, humidity and entanglements as any densely written Southern gothic tale. The Ranger satisfies as the story of a would-be loner being forced to take action. But that's like calling High Noon a movie about early retirement. Everything Quinn and the other characters reveal about themselves with what they say and do adds layers that show the inevitable clashes and sorrow. The way some characters succumb and others find a way to carry on is brilliantly depicted.
This is especially true of the protagonist. Quinn Colson is a character who is comfortable in his own skin, not afraid to reach out and definitely willing to stand up for others. He was content with his own company but, by the end of the book, there is his realization he will have to adapt to his new circumstances or change his life. All without a single scene of Quinn looking in the mirror talking to himself.
The Ranger is complete within itself but it would be even better as the start of an ongoing series. Atkins has written a novel that deserves breakthrough status.