When young Quinn Colson came back from duty as an Army Ranger in the Middle East to his hometown of Jericho, Miss., he didn't expect to end up as sheriff of Tibbehah County.
He also didn't expect to find almost as many firefights there as in Iraq or Afghanistan, but that's what happens in The Lost Ones, the second in a series of novels about Colson by Ace Atkins.
Atkins, formerly a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times (then the St. Petersburg Times) and the Tampa Tribune, has had a very busy spring. Early in May, he published Robert B. Parker's Lullaby, the 40th novel about Boston private eye Spenser and the first one written by Atkins, who was chosen to continue the series after Parker's death in 2010.
The Lost Ones was published May 31. Going forward, Atkins and his publishers plan to release a Spenser book each spring and a Colson in the summer.
In Lullaby, Atkins nailed Parker's style and Spenser's unique voice. The Lost Ones has its own style, one that partakes of William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler but is set in a 21st century version of the mean streets and the Mississippi hill country.
Colson got his sheriff's star in The Ranger, the first book in the series. Between his military training and his lifelong knowledge of the turf, he's taking to the job pretty well.
Not that being a country sheriff is particularly idyllic these days. Atkins, who lives near Oxford, Miss., draws a vivid picture of a community trying to hang onto its traditions amid a fractured economy and the incursions of large-scale crime, like the gang of gunrunners disguised as carnival workers Colson finds himself dealing with in this book.
He's also dealing with family upheaval. His deeply troubled sister, Caddy, has come back home. She moves in with their mother, who has been raising Caddy's toddler son, Jason. (Daddy, a stunt man who looked like Burt Reynolds, is long gone.) Caddy has a history of addiction and erratic behavior; Quinn is exasperated by it and, on a much deeper level, guilty. He and Caddy are the only ones alive who know about a terrible event that scarred both of them as children.
The book's title refers to that and also to a terribly abused little girl, the same age as Jason, brought to a hospital by a local woman. She isn't the child's mother, just a foster parent with a passel of other kids in a double-wide out in the country. By the time Quinn and his deputies get there, she and her husband are gone, leaving behind 13 empty cribs, mounds of trash and a hellish puppy mill crammed with filthy dogs.
Colson has his hands full trying to find the lost children and the illegal gun shipments, as well as dealing with two old friends who are fellow veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and coping with their experiences in very different ways. He's also trying to figure out the intentions of a couple of gorgeous women, one a steely but sexy federal agent, the other a gunrunner's girlfriend of complex loyalties.
Atkins is adept at creating believable characters and capturing the telling details of a world where good old boys meet Mexican cartels and no one can quite predict the consequences. And Quinn Colson is a character I look forward to meeting again.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435.