The Innocents by Ace Atkins is the 6th book in the Quinn Colson series and a gritty, darkly comic tale of greed, violence, and unexpected redemption (Available July 12, 2016).
Having just finished reading my first Ace Atkins novel with Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn, I was curious to experience Mr. Atkins’s own voice. While I appreciated his adept handling of famed Boston sleuth, Spenser, and the fresh angle he brought to it, proceeding within Parker’s world must have been confining. I had no measurable sense of the kind of chops Mr. Atkins packed—but now, all that has changed since poring over The Innocents, his latest Quinn Colson novel.
Jumping right into it, eighteen-year-old Milly Jones can’t seem to get her life started, after having been a star cheerleader in high school, and she decides to work at Vienna’s Place—a gentlemen’s club where fondling a woman’s breasts is acceptable but anything south of that border is strictly prohibited…well, unless the patron is a good tipper, then maybe it’s permissible.
Vienna’s is operated by (gotta love this name) Fannie Hatchcock. She’s a tough bird, but for extra muscle, she employs the Born Losers motorcycle gang to give the heave-ho to anyone who decides to let their fingers do the extended walking. And, apparently, other dirty deeds that Fannie won’t stoop to do herself.
When Milly has a falling out with Fannie, the proprietor sends in the hoods to teach her young, impertinent employee a lesson. In a horrific scene, a truck driver happens on the aftermath of what is assumed their handiwork in the middle of the road:
The body was small and frail, with bright red skin beyond belief. Never a praying man, Jack began to pray over and over, call out to Jesus on the main line, or whoever was listening, to help this screaming, crying little mass. It had no hair and not much of a mouth. Words, or something like it, were coming out between the screams. There were eyes in all the burned flesh staring right at him, trying to say something.
The reader is not only god smacked by the sobering use of words, but because Mr. Atkins spent a healthy amount of space developing Milly’s character—we feel her pain. We knew Milly was headed for trouble, but after being invested in her future, we are left as mortified as the first responders. Fannie is the chief suspect, though it appears she never imagined that the Born Losers would go so far in dealing with Milly. Cue our protagonist.
Quinn Colson is the former sheriff of Jericho, Mississippi, and he begins assisting the current sheriff, Lillie Virgil, on investigating the terrible crime. He is an ex-Army Ranger who still travels to countries like Afghanistan, where he had recently sojourned for a year, to train the local police (not as a contractor it is clarified, but duly appointed by a US government agency overseeing reconstruction).
Colson has preferred living abroad, where he feels he’s making a difference—especially after being fired as sheriff. Though, one reason for coming back to Jericho is to reestablish a relationship with Anna Lee Stevens, someone he’s known since dating in high school, but she’s married with a child and in the middle of separating from her husband.
Rounding out his eclectic brood is a seemingly always scheming, moonshine drinking father named Jason, who lives with him and whose latest pet project is developing a nearby property for a dude ranch. Jason was a stuntman and palled around with the likes of Burt Reynolds back in the day, though it’s probably fair to say he embellishes much of his past.
Quinn’s mother Jean, who cries after repeatedly watching Elvis Presley’s final performances, is a sounding board for Quinn, and he first mentions his intention of marrying Anna to her.
His sister Caddy, a recovering drug addict, now walks the straight and narrow path of Christianity while raising Little Jason.
And, his good friend Lillie has been enforcing the law around Tibbehah County, where there are plenty of criminal elements blowing about town.
Quinn has to be the most refreshing New York Times Bestselling series character (there are numerous unsung independent publishing protagonists just as worthy) that I’ve come across in quite some time, and I’m hard pressed to name others that compare on this level—and, holy hell, that’s an invigorating statement to make.
It’s not just the eclectic group of characters surrounding him, but the way he conducts himself, speaks, and handles situations. There’s a human being here that is 2016 and not aping Chandler or Hammett. Supporting minority characters’ dialects Mr. Atkins has down pat without being cliché.
As a graduate from Auburn College in Alabama and a resident of Oxford, Mississippi, Atkins obviously knows of what he writes. A ne’er-to-do-well named Sammi sums up this world:
He ran his hand over his face like an old man, not a kid who hadn’t turned twenty-one. “Come on,” he said, “You don’t know? Nobody gets out of that Miss-i-ssippi, right? This is a place to live till you die. And then they just scrape you off the highway like a fucking animal.”
An avid aficionado of crime fiction for forty years, I have seen the medium go from the loner detective sniffing out clues (Travis McGee, Lew Archer, Miss Marple) to today’s forensic led investigative approach, which, honest to Scarpetta, I’ve become bored with to the point of skipping any book series that relies too heavily on the science. Does that make me a Luddite?
Regardless, what I appreciate about The Innocents, beyond the skillful style that Mr. Atkins possesses, is how Quinn proceeds like they did in the good old days—with solid interviews, in harm’s way investigating, and bold intuitive reasoning. Yes, modern police methods are used, but the narrative isn’t numbed by all that technical CSI lingo.
If you like Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Longmire or Bill Crider’s Sheriff Dan Rhodes mysteries, then you will understand what I’m getting at and appreciate Quinn Colson. Just the right balance.
There are five other Quinn Colson books dating back to 2011’s The Ranger. If you are like me, then I suggest we get busy and play catch-up.
Need a few other testimonials? Men’s Journal states: “The Deep South’s True Detective.” Megan Abbott says: “The best series in crime fiction today—and so much more.” Lee Child chimes in: “Quinn Colson is my kind of guy. I would follow him anywhere.”
What else is there to say…read The Innocents by Ace Atkins. It’s literary crime fiction worthy of the hype.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
David Cranmer aka Edward A. Grainger is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP books and author of The Drifter Detective #7: Torn and Frayed. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.