All the devils are here in Ace Atkins’ ‘The Revelators'

The 10th book in his Quinn Colson series sees the Mississippi sheriff fighting back from severe injuries.
"The Revelators" is author Ace Atkins' tenth book about Mississippi Sheriff Quinn Colson.Penguin Random House
"The Revelators" is author Ace Atkins' tenth book about Mississippi Sheriff Quinn Colson.Penguin Random House [ Penguin Random House ]
Published July 10, 2020|Updated July 15, 2020

Update: On July 15, Ace Atkins announced that the Quinn Colson books are in development at HBO for a TV series.

When former Army Ranger Quinn Colson came back to his hometown of Jericho in northern Mississippi a decade ago, he was a man with a mission: to clean up corruption and crime.

As The Revelators, the 10th novel in the Colson series by author Ace Atkins, opens, it looks like crime and corruption might be winning.

Atkins, a former Tampa Tribune and then-St. Petersburg Times reporter, knows the territory of these books: He lives near Oxford, Miss., and evokes the landscape and history of the place vividly. (Atkins also has continued the Spenser series created by the late Robert B. Parker; the most recent of those, Angel Eyes, was published in November.)

The first chapter of The Revelators reprises what happened at the end of the last book, The Shameless, with Quinn near death after an ambush by racist militia members and a Choctaw hit man, rescued by his friend and fellow veteran Boom Kimbrough.

Almost a year later, as The Revelators begins, Quinn is still on leave from his job as Tibbehah County sheriff. Shot four times, he’s been through two surgeries and months of rehab, and Atkins portrays his injuries realistically — Quinn is a genuine tough guy, but he struggles with pain and, secretly, with a painkiller habit. He’s been kept mostly on track by new wife Maggie, a nurse who may be even tougher than he is and who is pregnant with their daughter.

The interim sheriff, Brock Tanner, at first just seemed like an inept showboat, but he’s making noises about wanting to keep the job permanently. On his often complicit watch, crime has bloomed even more vigorously than usual in the county, and its queen is Fannie Hathcock.

When Fannie first appeared earlier in the series, her chief business was running a strip club and brothel by the interstate, called Vienna’s Place after her grandmother. But she has proved to be as ambitious and ruthless as she is gorgeous. These days, along with prostitution, she also deals in stolen goods, runs a chop shop for hijacked big rigs and has built a deluxe version of a lake cabin that will be a very “private club for old men hopped up on Viagra and bourbon,” among them the state’s governor, Jimmy Vardaman, a charismatic, fake-religious bigot with plenty of criminal ties of his own.

Fannie’s most profitable new business, though, is virtual sex. She offers web hosting and related services to women who sell sexual performance online, and she’s delighted with both the ease and the profit margin of the enterprise.

Fannie is hardly the only problem Quinn is worried about. Jericho’s poultry processing plant is shut down after an ICE raid swept up most of its workers, immigrants who have, in many cases, lived in the town for years. It’s not that the plant’s wealthy owners have suddenly had an attack of conscience about their longtime habit of hiring undocumented workers — as Quinn’s sister, Caddy, points out, “They not only knew these people were undocumented, they cultivated this whole system.” It’s partly politics, and partly that they’ve found an even cheaper labor pool.

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The raid also leaves the workers’ suddenly parentless children vulnerable to a whole other kind of human trafficking. There’s a sweet tween romance between Caddy’s son, Jason, and a girl named Ana Gabriel; Jason’s attempts to protect her will put both their lives in peril.

Caddy is still running the River, her one-woman ministry for the poor. Back in her life is Donnie Varner, a slippery charmer who was a childhood friend of hers and Quinn’s. He’s been away for a while, serving a prison term for gun running, but he’s always been in love with her for her fierce compassion. “Caddy,” he thinks, “was like some kind of cross between Loretta Lynn and Mother Teresa. Ready to take the hand of some flaky leper or go straight to Fist City.”

Donnie wants a fresh start, but he gets an offer to make a gun deal, as in more than 400 assault rifles, for the Watchmen, the local militia group that ambushed Quinn. Donnie isn’t much impressed with them: “With all the scraggly beards and dark shades, they looked like the g--damn Oak Ridge Boys were back on tour.” But he has reasons for making the deal.

Those various criminal enterprises might seem unconnected, but as Quinn and Boom continue their unofficial investigation, the web of corruption becomes clearer. As a new Battle of Jericho looms, they might need a small army of help, or the equivalent: Lillie Virgil, Quinn’s former deputy, now a U.S. marshal.

The Revelators is dedicated to the late, great Charles Portis, author of True Grit, and with its raucous humor, unflinching view of human weakness and arc of redemption, it’s a fitting tribute.

The Revelators

By Ace Atkins

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 400 pages, $27