With his Edgar nominated The Ranger, Ace Atkins gave us Quinn Colson, an Afghanistan war vet who returns to Mississippi ready to clean it up by any means necessary. He was was an updated version of a hero that walked off a seventies southern drive-in screen. Atkins mixed subtle social commentary with pulp crime and a touch of classic western themes, creating some of the smartest escapism between two covers. With his follow up, The Lost Ones, he tells us the fun’s just started.
We now find Quinn as a newly elected sheriff of Tibbehah County, dealing with a black market baby operation run by a Mexican cartel. The cartel is being supplied with guns, thanks to recurring villain Johnny Stagg (picture a more dangerous version of Boss Hogg with less charm). Operating between Stagg and the cartel is Donnie Verner, an old running buddy of Quinn’s who’s back from the war and looking for action.
One can argue that the title refers to the returning soldiers catching up to a world that kept turning when they left. Quinn sees Donnie as someone he could have been if the wind blew him a different way. He also shows understanding for his one-armed buddy Boone who is getting into drunken brawls (and winning) by getting Boone a steady job and purpose. Quinn himself has to adjust to law enforcement being less direct than his military background. They are all three looking for the feeling and odd clarity combat gave them.
While Atkins incorporates those themes, as well of issues of family, he never forgets he’s writing a two-fisted hero novel. We get realistic and harrowing shoot-outs, a gorgeous federal agent, a rogue gallery of villains that can be as funny as they are formidable, several blues and Elvis references, and banter Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed would have loved to have had. It’s thrilling and rare to read a book where you feel the joy the author had in writing it. When Donnie uses an eighteen-wheeler for some gear-shifting action, I knew Ace had to be smiling while he was hitting the keys.
Ace Atkins has a talent for creating worlds. His Tibbehah County grows in color with each book. It’s a fun place to visit, just always be ready to duck.
MysteryPeople welcomes Ace Atkins to BookPeople Today, Wednesday, June 6 at 7pm to speak about and sign The Lost Ones, as well as his new Spenser novel, Lullaby.
Tight prose style – check
Well executed fist-fights and shoot-outs – check
Smart aleck asides – check
Bad guys, both honorable and heinous – check
Sexy lived-in relationship with Susan Silverman – check
Great banter with Hawk – check
Macho yet sensitive knight errant of the streets back in prime – double check
In Lullaby, Ace Atkins has brought back everything we love about Robert B. Parker’s Boston P.I. Spenser, and he makes it look seamless and easy. Friends of Ace’s were excited when Parker’s widow, Joan, picked him to continue the series. I can’t think of a bigger fan or a better author with the necessary skills to pull it off. Ace gives us Parker’s voice without being a mimic.
Lullaby starts with chivalry. Spenser is hired by a fourteen year-old, foul-mouthed Southie girl to find out who really murdered her mother four years ago. In true Spenser form, he charges her a dozen doughnuts. The case puts him smack the middle of an alignment of organized crime, involving one of his major nemeses, The Broz family.
Atkins has a knack for creating worlds both real and legendary, many times overlapping the two. He gives us a feel for Boston that Parker’s sparse approach sometimes failed to convey. Ace even lifts part of infamous Southie gangster Whitey Bulger’s true story for part of the plot. It’s the world of Spenser he truly brings out with a twist, bringing out classic cops and crooks like Captain Martin Quirk and Vinnie Morris. Hawk is his usual bad ass and we learn something about his past. Through them and the changes of Boston scenery, he gives pathos to both heroes and villains trying to find footing in changing times.
And another thing- Food. Atkins has Spenser cook up a Andouille sausage and grits recipe I can’t wait to try out.
Ace Atkins takes the reins of the Spenser series with self-assured ease. He’s not out to prove anything, just to tell us a solid hard boiled tale with a hero many readers love. He not only gives us a voice that reminds us of the kind of book Parker wrote in his prime, like Judas Goat or Early Autumn, he also proves he’s the right man for the job. I’m looking forward to seeing him put Spenser and Hawk back on the streets next year.
MysteryPeople welcomes Ace Atkins to BookPeople to speak about and sign Lullaby and his new Quinn Colson novel The Lost Ones on Wednesday, June 6, 7p.