Even though Quinn Colson got booted from the post of sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, two books back, law enforcement seems to be a job he just can't get away from.
In The Innocents, Ace Atkins' sixth novel about the former Army Ranger, Colson has just returned to his hometown of Jericho from his 13th trip to Afghanistan, where he has been training police forces as a nonmilitary government employee.
Voters showed Quinn the door after he stood up a little too firmly to corruption in the county's power structure. Now his old friend and former deputy Lillie Virgil is the acting sheriff, and she's doing a fine job. She knows her clientele well, we see when she takes a theft report from a local widow:
" 'How many folks do you know riding four-wheelers without shirts and sporting a tattoo of Hank Junior?'
"Lillie grinned at her. 'In this county?' she asked. 'About every other son of a b----.' "
Quinn isn't looking to get his old job back; he has been drawn home for domestic reasons. He wants to keep an eye on his Elvis-loving mother, Jean, and his recovering addict sister, Caddy, and her young son. And since Quinn's father, Jason, a former Hollywood stunt man, moved back onto the family farm Quinn now owns and loves, Jason has been scheming to turn the place into a dude ranch — an idea Quinn resists.
There's also the matter of his unresolved romance with first love Anna Lee Stevens. Even though Lillie, Jean and Caddy all roll their eyes at the mention of her, Quinn intends to propose.
But, in spite of his intention to stay out of the criminal doings in Jericho and let Lillie do her job, trouble finds him, and before the book is half over he's back on the force.
About five years ago, Atkins (a former reporter who wrote for the then-St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune) took over writing Robert B. Parker's bestselling, Boston-based Spenser series just about the time he started a new series of his own about Colson, set in William Faulkner country near Atkins' home in Oxford, Miss. He has since written five Spenser novels, in fine style, as well as building a compelling series about Quinn. Despite turning out one of each per year, Atkins has maintained distinctive styles and high quality in both series.
In the last Colson novel, The Redeemers, Quinn finally took down his longtime nemesis, Johnny Stagg. The former owner of the Rebel Truck Stop and the Booby Trap Bar (which was just what it sounds like), as well as owner of pretty much every local politician, the corrupt, ruthless Stagg is now serving federal time.
Stagg's more or less legitimate businesses have been taken over by someone who might turn out to be even more formidable than he was. Fannie Hathcock, a stylish beauty in her 40s and "a true and authentic redhead cap to cat," has rechristened the bar the Vienna in an attempt to make it a little more classy. But don't mistake her for a nice person: She keeps a local biker gang, the Born Losers, on hand as enforcers, and she rules even them with an iron hand.
Her most recent hire is Milly Jones, an 18-year-old from the nearby hamlet of Blackjack. A freckled, blond former cheerleader, Milly has a gift for applying her gymnastic skills on the stripper pole, and Fannie has high hopes for her as a moneymaker.
But Milly has no intention of sticking around. Her family fractured after her brother's suicide a few years back. Her mother has thrown her out, and she hates living with her racist, indolent father. She has two desires — to reveal the truth about why her brother died, and to get out of Jericho — and she only plans to strip long enough to make them both happen.
Meanwhile, a black teenager named Ordeen Davis has been arrested "hotboxing around the Square with a baggie full of pills, enough weed to choke Matthew McConaughey, and a loaded pistol on the dashboard," and a gangbanger friend in the car. There's pressure on Lillie to give Ordeen a break, not just because his mother is a pastor but because his former football coach, Bud Mills, comes to the sheriff to personally vouch for the kid. Gentle Ordeen does seem to have promise, but his friend, Nito Reece, is another story. And just why the coach takes such an interest is an open question.
Then an appalling murder is committed, one that the town's coroner calls a "horror of horrors." It's a deeply shocking crime, and Quinn and Lillie find themselves with way too many suspects — just about everybody in town but Quinn's mama.
The path to solving the murder will lead through more violence and stunning revelations — and end in unexpected alliances.
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.