I was a little skeptical when I first heard that the Robert B. Parker estate had chosen two writers to continue Parker’s popular Stone and Spenser series. It is not that I had anything against either author chosen for the jobs; in these situations, I always fear that the original work will somehow be tainted by what follows an author’s death. When I saw that one of the writers (who was new to me at the time) has a name that sounds more like a character from a Spenser novel than a writer, I really started to wonder. No more. Ace Atkins is a writer, a good one, and he proves it here in his second Quinn Colson novel, The Lost Ones.
Quinn Colson, a former Army Ranger, is the new sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi. To call Tibbehah County “backwoods” would not be stretching the point. Sheriff Colson and his small group of deputies have to deal with more than outright criminals; they have to find ways to overcome the rampant cronyism that taints the way public funds are spent there. The county’s good old boys are experts in the art of scratching each other’s backs, and they want to make sure nothing hinders them.
But now, the Tibbehah County Sheriff’s Department has much bigger problems. A Mexican drug cartel is setting up shop in rural Mississippi and is, at the same time, shopping for military-grade weapons to ship back to Mexico. Almost simultaneously, Quinn learns that a baby-selling operation involving imported Mexican babies has also taken root in the county. When the two investigations begin to intersect, and it appears that one of Quinn’s childhood friends is a key player in the gunrunning, things get complicated.
Ace Atkins does a fine job of developing characters and their interrelationships by including enough backstory to explain how they became the people they are. Particularly effective is the revelation of what happened to Quinn and his sister, Caddy, when they were just children – an event so traumatic that Caddy still fights the demons that were created that day. She has come home – yet again – and wants Quinn to talk about what happened all those years ago but he cannot force himself to revisit that part of his past.
The Lost Ones is filled with memorable characters, good guys and bad guys. In addition to Caddy, there are Chief Deputy Lillie Virgil, a strapping young woman who is pretty much training Quinn on the job; Boom, Quinn’s one-armed, veteran friend, a black man battling demons of his own; and Caddy’s mixed-race son for whom Quinn is gladly serving as father-figure. Along the way, too, we learn about Quinn’s uncle, the now deceased County Sheriff who helped the children cover up what happened to them. Other interesting characters are Donnie Varner, the old running-buddy of Quinn’s now involved with the cartel; a seductive FBI agent with whom Quinn “bonds;” and County Commissioner Johnny Stagg, the man who still runs Tibbehah County as if he owns it.
This is good stuff, and luckily for those of us just becoming aware of Quinn Colson and his crew, we have only missed one previous book – and, with luck, there are many to come.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)