Finding an Ace after all these years of reading


Ace Atkins has been around and writing rich crime fiction for a long time. I’m surprised at how long it has taken me to find him, or even hear his name during the time it takes to write 12 novels.

He’s a journeyman writer, weaned as a crime reporter for The Tampa Tribune, and he came close to winning a Pulitzer Prize for his 1990s investigation of a cold-case murder in the 1950s. He’s not flashy, as journalists are trained to not be, and he describes wonderfully, as good reporters are expected to do.

Atkins is a natural, the real deal. His new book, The Broken Places – released by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in hardcover this month – is the third in a new series of thoroughly accomplished page-turner mysteries featuring a well-drawn Quinn Colson. He is the freshly elected sheriff in his hometown of Jericho in the county of Tibbehah, Miss. – a wide spot in the road in a corrupt corner of William Faulkner’s Deep South. The title comes from Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places ...”

Quinn Colson recently returned to a hometown he never again wanted to see when he shipped out after high school with the U.S. Army Rangers and a few tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I read the two previous books in the Colson series after reading The Broken Places – The Ranger and The Lost Ones – to get a fix on why a career special-ops soldier quits a warrior job to which he’s suited to become sheriff in a three-deputy office in a two-bit, degenerate town. Atkins got Colson there without a stumble, and The Broken Places is the best of the three, with Quinn Colson a more completely formed character in his role as head honcho.

Atkins sets a location almost as well as James Lee Burke, yet his style of writing leaves the ambience behind for emphasis on the subtleties of personality and character development. He’s cast his play well, and he’s set his actors in motion with a story from the hardly civilized, poorest state in the country. Quinn Colson was raised in this fetid Southern town of Jericho, but in one lucid moment of youth he was smart enough to join the Army and lucky enough to have the gravitas for the Army to make him into a solid citizen.

He’s a guy I’d want backing me, but I’m not sure I’d want him fronting me had I overstepped some common decency. Common decency is an uncommon currency in Jericho, and the stolid Quinn Colson changes that.

You can’t help but enjoy this book; the story is intricate and Atkins is one of the best crime-fictions writers working today.

The Broken Places was shortlisted this year for the prestigious Edgar Prize awarded by the Mystery Writers of America. It’s a gem. I’m a new fan of Ace Atkins and you will be, too. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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