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Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: 'The Ranger'

By Ace Atkins
Crime fiction
June 2011
G.P. Putnam's Sons
ISBN: 978-0-399157486

Quinn Colson hasn't been to his rural Mississippi home in years. And by the time this visit is over, every reason he had to stay away presents itself.

The initial reason for his return is his uncle's funeral. Uncle Hamp not only was the county sheriff, he was the one who walked into the woods to find a young Quinn who was lost in them for two weeks. It isn't until after the funeral that Quinn learns his uncle killed himself. The new law, an old high school buddy of Quinn's, is ready to settle for that, but Quinn isn't. Neither is tomboy-turned-deputy Lillie.

The suspicions cannot help but grow when local would-be developer Johnny Stagg lets Quinn know his uncle pretty much signed everything over to him. To add pressure to get Quinn to finalize the land deal, Stagg has a new friend, an Aryan named Gowrie, and his Bible-thumping gang provide a few "time to move on" hints.

Quinn, of course, is not the kind to take kindly to that kind of hint. With only Lillie and his old friend Boom, who lost an arm in the war, on his side he takes on Stagg, who owns or controls about everything around, Gowrie with his tribe in single-wides up in the hills and Brother Davis, who preaches in the deserted movie house.

Added to the volatile mix are Lena, a pregnant teen Quinn plays Good Samaritan to; his mother, estranged from her late brother, telling people she and Quinn's long-gone stunt man father are divorced when no one ever bothered, loving Elvis and Jesus in equal measure and taking care of his sister's baby boy; and Anna Lee, the girl he loved in high school who dumped Quinn when he went overseas and who married the boy who stayed, now the town doctor.

Atkins is a master at revealing just what is needed, when it's needed, as these characters head toward their inevitable showdowns. The prose is spare but as bursting of miasmal heat, humidity and entanglements as any densely written Southern gothic tale. The Ranger satisfies as the story of a would-be loner being forced to take action. But that's like calling High Noon a movie about early retirement. Everything Quinn and the other characters reveal about themselves with what they say and do adds layers that show the inevitable clashes and sorrow. The way some characters succumb and others find a way to carry on is brilliantly depicted.

This is especially true of the protagonist. Quinn Colson is a character who is comfortable in his own skin, not afraid to reach out and definitely willing to stand up for others. He was content with his own company but, by the end of the book, there is his realization he will have to adapt to his new circumstances or change his life. All without a single scene of Quinn looking in the mirror talking to himself.

The Ranger is complete within itself but it would be even better as the start of an ongoing series. Atkins has written a novel that deserves breakthrough status.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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