Book Review: The Revelators by Ace Atkins
By Doreen SheridanAugust 10, 2020
The Revelators by Ace Atkins is the 10th novel in the Quinn Colson series, where the sheriff returns to take down a criminal syndicate that has ravaged his community, threatened his family, and tried to have him killed.
Sheriff Quinn Colson barely survived the ambush that was meant to take him off the board in the dangerous game that’s being played to take control of Tibbehah County, Mississippi. Sheer stubbornness along with rehab and the loving attentions of his nurse wife, Maggie, have Quinn up and walking again, but his enemies have only strengthened their positions in the 10 months since he’s been sidelined. Corrupt Governor Jimmy Vardaman has installed a venal interim sheriff, Brock Tanner, to protect the interests of the Syndicate that Quinn was working so hard to dismantle, while local crime queen Fannie Hathcock has maneuvered her way into strengthening her grip on the county without being beholden to outside interests. Quinn is going to need all the help he can get in order to face these opponents on a level playing field, much less if he’s to have any hope of bringing them to justice.
Fortunately, he’s got a whole slew of trusted associates, including federal agent Jon Holliday, U.S. Marshal Lillie Virgil, and Nat Wilkins, an undercover agent embedded in Fannie’s crew, lined up to assist. Family and friends are also on his side, from his Elvis-loving mom, Jean, to his ministry-running sister, Caddy, and his mechanic and ex-soldier best friend, Boom Kimbrough. Patience and perseverance are their watchwords, but when a local poultry plant is raided by ICE, the incident sets off a chain reaction with long-lasting repercussions for our heroes and their beloved Tibbehah.
In the immediate aftermath of the raid, Caddy’s church takes in as many of the now-homeless minor children of arrested immigrant workers as it can. Given the good-ole-boy nature of Tibbehah’s political climate, Caddy doesn’t understand why the rich backers of the processing plant—one of the county’s largest moneymakers—didn’t pull strings to protect it. Labor activist Hector Herrera is quick to disabuse her of the idea that the raid was somehow bad for business. It was, in fact, more convenient for the owners to get rid of troublesome workers (whom they also wouldn’t need to pay for services rendered).
“I helped many women at the plant with a class-action lawsuit.” he said. “One woman that had moved too slowly was hit with a broom handle. Another woman, this one at a plant outside Jackson, was accused of stealing and forced to a strip search. There are so many humiliations. And so many things the plant doesn’t want known. All I can say is don’t eat the chicken from that place. If you knew all the practices, it would turn your stomach.”
“Why didn’t they get you?” Caddy asked.
“They would like nothing more,” Hector said, reaching down and absently touching the large cross on his neck. “And have tried in other ways. Legally, they can’t touch me. I was born and raised in Houston. I am an American. I have a voice and can speak loud.”
One of the charms of the Quinn Colson series is how it encourages good, decent Americans to stand up for what’s right, to use our voices and speak loud. Ace Atkins takes aim at the racism, corruption, and exploitative practices endemic not only to the Deep South but to all of today’s America, showing how a coalition of good can work together to combat the rot that is threatening to take over our country’s soul. His ripped-from-the-headlines plot twists only serve to highlight how urgent the need is for ordinary Americans to remember that the point of this nation is to serve the interests of all its people, not merely the rich who, to add insult to injury, cynically fan the delusions of the poor they look down on in order to divide and keep conquered.
Another strength of Mr. Atkin’s writing is in the multi-dimensionality of his characters. Nat going undercover provides a great example, as does the evolution of perpetual thorn in Quinn’s side, career politician Clarence Skinner. I was a big fan of jailbird Donnie Varner throughout this novel, too. Perhaps the most fascinating character here, however, is Fannie, the exploited child who clawed her way to the top of the criminal underworld, mixing legal businesses with those less so. A villain through and through, she’s also very much a savvy businesswoman of the 21st century.
She had to give herself credit for expanding into the internet market. She made more damn money from dipshits sending tokens to her girls online than a month of Sundays over at [her strip club]. She’d actually contemplated shutting down the bar for a while and building some cribs out on Choctaw Lake or somewhere out in the county to keep up with the demand. That electronic click and whir of tokens coming through online was sweet music to Fannie’s ears. All she had to supply was a laptop and an Internet connection.
The 10th book of the Quinn Colson series ties up a decade’s worth of storytelling in a way that even I, as a newcomer to the series, found wholly satisfying. While Mr. Atkins writes each of these books to be able to stand on their own, I can see how much I’m missing out by having this be my introduction to the series. I’m looking forward to someday having the free time to dive into the back-catalog that led to the epic showdown of The Revelators, as I’m sure it can only enhance the enjoyment I’ve already taken from this timely call to justice.