A cowboy mystery! Or at least, that’s what I thought when I saw the nominee’s name (Ace Atkins) and the title of his book (The Ranger). After reading two previous nominees with a strong sense of place (1222‘s Norway and Suspect X‘s Tokyo), I anticipated a novel set in the past. In Wyoming. I guess I was confusing “ranger” with “range,” because what I got was something much different. For one thing, it’s set in present-day Mississippi. For another, it features Army Ranger Quinn Colson. And I guess Atkins can’t help being named Ace.
A former Pulitzer-prize nominated journalist, Atkins is great at setting the scene and the character at the same time. Here’s a sample: “Quinn headed home, south on the Mississippi highway, in a truck he’d bought in Phenix City, Alabama, for fifteen hundred, a U.S. Army rucksack beside him stuffed with enough clothes for the week and a sweet Colt .44 Anaconda he’d won in a poker game. He carried good rock’n’roll and classic country, and photos from his last deployment in Afghanistan, pics of him with his Ranger platoon, the camp monkey “Streak” on his shoulder, Black Hawks at sundown over the mountains.”
Quinn’s on leave due to a death in his family – his uncle, the county sheriff, has killed himself. Or did he? The criminal culture in rural Mississippi is long and runs deep, with payoffs, mob ties, meth labs, a religious cult, and one outsider – a pregnant teen come to town to find the low-life boyfriend who abandoned her. Add in a comely, feisty female deputy and you have a mystery that offers fascinating characters doing interesting things. The plot is twisty enough to satisfy those who want intellectual stimulation, and has enough fast-paced action for those who seek testosterone. I’m always looking for relationships and characterization, and The Ranger‘s good for that, too.
I expect this is the start of a new series for Atkins, and it’s a measure of my enjoyment that I’ll not only be looking for more Quinn Colson books but exploring the Ace Atkins backlist.
But how does The Ranger stack up against the other nominees? On plot, I’d put it behind The Devotion of Suspect X, but ahead of 1222. For voice, it’s even-steven with Devotion. In terms of characters, its #1 of the three. Here’s the LL final ratings to date for the MWA Edgar Allan Poe Awards, Best Novel: