“The Lost Ones: A Quinn Colson Novel”
Author: Ace Atkins
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Price: $27.50 (Cloth)
Ace Atkins has been working harder than ever, simultaneously writing two detective/action series. He was chosen to write the Spenser novels after the death of Robert B. Parker and in 2011 began the Quinn Colson series with “The Ranger.”
Colson, in his debut appearance, comes back after ten years at war in the Middle East to his home town of Jericho in fictional Tibbehah County, Mississippi, just south of Oxford. Anna Lee, his Mississippi Penelope, the love of his youth, has not waited for him. She has married the town doctor. His Uncle Hamp, the sheriff, has died and the county is a stew of meth labs, vice, corruption and violence. Colson goes to war with the bad guys and, for the most part, prevails.
When this second novel opens Quinn has been elected sheriff. He has a feisty deputy, Lillie, who will be his love interest once he is smart enough to realize it.
Quinn also has an ally in a high school buddy and fellow veteran of the anti-terror wars, a one-armed African-American named Boom. Six foot five, 260 pounds, Boom, who lost the arm in Fallujah, suffers from PTSD, drinks too much and loves to fight. Spenser fans will recognize Boom as a variant on Spenser’s sidekick Hawk.
Early in the story Quinn retrieves Boom from Club Disco 9000, a juke joint in the county’s black section, called “Sugar Ditch” and described as “[not] much more than rusted tin and scrap wood.”
The main problem in this novel is not Boom, of course.
Colson is called to the Torres place to investigate a report of child cruelty. The couple has fled. Outside the house Quinn discovers a dozen starving, filthy, flea-infested dogs, some near death.
Janet Torres, we are told, “had made a bundle by selling Chihuahuas crossed with miniature poodles on the internet, some at five hundred dollars apiece.” She called them chi-doodles.
Quinn and his people check out the house, which has a putrid smell from the “trash, rotten food and busted toys” left behind. Mr. Torres’ room is filled with the porn he was selling. One deputy warns, “You got to walk knee-deep through garbage to get to [Mrs. Torres’] bed.”
Searching further they find “a shoe box, showing off thick rolls of cash bound with rubber bands” and then, to their horror, thirteen empty cribs.
The Torres family, we soon learn, had “bought” babies in Mexico and were selling them in Mississippi, all of which, it turns out, is not as illegal as one might think.
On the hunt for the missing babies, Sheriff Colson soon learns there is also a gun smuggling operation in his county, connected to the cartels, with the weapons bound for Mexico. This operation is run by another high school buddy, Donnie Varner.
Tibbehah County seems to have a strong magnetic attraction that makes it hard to get away and stay away.
I can’t imagine why. There are no real restaurants, few stores, nothing you might call arts or culture, and the landscape itself is bleak and barren, scrub pine and gullies.
A subplot that runs through “The Lost Ones” is the return of Quinn’s addicted, troubled sister Caddy, who had left her illegitimate, mixed-race baby, Jason, with Quinn and his mom, while she worked as a pole dancer in Memphis. (The Colson novels are thick with Faulkner references, perhaps too thick. Early in the novel Colson remembers a day when Boom pulled him “out of a frozen creek. Boom built a fire and dried out Quinn’s boots while Quinn sat there chattering and shaking in Boom’s dry jacket.” Faulkner fans will recall a similar episode in “Intruder in the Dust.”)
We learn through flashbacks what terrible trauma was inflicted on Caddy as a girl, and this does increase our sympathies for her.
“The Lost Ones” has plenty of fighting and shooting and it has pace. It is, simultaneously, a page-turner and oddly depressing.
Readers in cold, bleak Sweden may wonder why we find Swedish mysteries fascinating. Maybe they, in turn, find the Mississippi hill country strange and exotic, a kind of rural noir.