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Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Ranger, by Ace Atkins (hardcover, $25.95)

Ace Atkins has been around for a while. He wrote the Nick Travers series, about an ex-football player who knows about the blues. He also recently was picked to continue Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. A big high-five to him for that honor, and it is well-deserved because Atkins can keep an audience entertained.

The Ranger is neither a Travers nor a Spenser book. It feels like the start of a new series. In which case, I'd say Atkins' plate is falling-over-the-edges full.

Quinn Colson has returned to the small southern town where he grew up. His uncle, the sheriff, has died. Quinn is shocked to learn that his uncle's death has been declared a suicide. With prodding by deputy Lillie Virgil, a friend he hasn't seen for years, Quinn is determined to find out if he had been murdered instead.

Quinn has been in the Army since he was 18. He is 29 now, has seen quite a bit of action, is a member of the elite Ranger unit, and has many psychological skeletons buried in Tibbehah County, Mississippi. Although he is on a short leave from being an instructor at an Army base, he vows he will not leave town until he has unraveled what caused his uncle's death.

Former friends and acquaintances come out of the woodwork to either help or hinder his investigation. Old hurts are revisited; old lives mourned as new lives move on. What Quinn finds is that his sleepy valley has been hijacked by some unsavory characters. 

Quinn turned his back on the town years ago, so what right does he have to stir things up now, some people wonder. He makes people move way outside their comfort zones. His ultimate contradiction is that he is a trained killer who thinks of killing only as a last resort. It would have been a way shorter book if he just had taken care of the bad guys when he had the chance. But that's not what Quinn Colson and Ace Atkins are about.

There were times that I grunted in disgust as one of his characters did something really stupid. I had to remind myself that real people do stupid things, and, once again, it would have been a much shorter book had I been allowed to choose my own adventure, as it were. I weathered the attack on the cows, dog, barns, trailers, low-lifes, high-lifes, a pregnant woman, and assorted bozos and yahoos. The end result was that I would like to see another Quinn Colson adventure. (Maybe with fewer than the cast of thousands in this book.)

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