Author: Ace Atkins
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Price: $27.00 (Hardcover)
The productivity of some writers is simply hard to believe. Ace Atkins, Auburn graduate and football hero, has published 4 true crime novels and 4 Nick Travers novels. Since taking over from Robert B. Parker there have been 7 new Spensers and now we have “The Sinners,” the eighth Quinn Colson novel.
Colson, 39 years old, arrived back in fictional Tibbehah County, Mississippi, 100 miles south of Memphis, after ten years as an Army Ranger.
The county was rife with corruption, crooked lawmen and politicians, drugs, including homemade meth and bootleg opioids, a wide-open full-naked strip joint/brothel called The Booby Trap run by local kingpin Johnny Stagg. Colson went to work and sent Stagg to prison, but the club, now called Vienna’s, is run by the ferocious Fannie Hathcock, who keeps her license by agreeing to have the pole dancers wear g-strings.
There is still a thriving business in marijuana and “lately folks had been dipping into some mind-corrosive crap called bath salts. You could inject it, smoke it, snort it, or all three,” available in the local convenience store.
Colson wonders sometimes: “nearly ten years [he’d] been back and he wasn’t sure he’s made a damn bit of difference.”
But he has.
His sister, once a stripper in Memphis, is now running a Christian refuge for the homeless, including battered women and migrants, Tibbehah’s economy is slowly improving, and Quinn is about to marry his sweetheart, Maggie.
Atkins clearly amuses himself by creating disgusting, vile rednecks and he has outdone himself with the Pritchard brothers, Cody and Tyler. Atkins revels in the bizarre T-shirts these vulgar creatures wear, some actual, some invented. They live on fried chicken and boiled peanuts, support their racing career by growing and selling marijuana, the best.
Life is fine until their uncle Heath gets released from Parchman Prison after 23 years. It is fun to watch Uncle Heath’s astonishment: Jericho has a Chinese buffet, Oreos come in many flavors and seeing the theater marquee, he asks, “What the hell is a goddamn Transformer?” A tattooed, violent monster, he commits his first murder within hours of his release, and is essentially the catalyst for the action, inspiring his nephews to take over as drug suppliers to Memphis.
This enrages the Dixie mafia, also known as the Cornbread Cosa Nostra, down in Biloxi, and interferes with the smooth transporting of drugs and human trafficking by the Sutpen Trucking Co.
Atkins is amazingly literary and wry for a crime writer. There are homages to Faulkner everywhere: Quinn’s sister is named Caddy, the medical Examiner is a Bundren, and there are Vardamans.
He also inserts, very quietly, odd remarks into the mouths of his characters, remarks a reader might notice or not. Quinn doesn’t care for Mayor Skinner and asks his sister “What kind of man shows up to the polls on Election Day riding a horse?” Did prison mess up Uncle Heath? Quinn’s sister says: “I doubt he was a stable genius to begin with.” Tyler, the weed grower, is disappointed with U.S. Government policy, saying “If that jug-eared midget from Alabama hadn’t gone to Washington, we’d be just about to be on the legal side.”
These humorous bits lighten the mood a little and that is a good thing. Atkins arranges the various forces, criminal and law enforcement, like armies, and there is an apocalyptic showdown as they all clash at the Pritchard corral with all the action any reader could want or need.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.