Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series has helped me get through the pandemic. I’ve read books 2-6 since covid broke out across the country. They’re easy, gritty southern crime tales that don’t patronize the audience nor do they often give into the familiar tropes of post-western Tough Guy fic.
I had this one on the shelf for weeks but I kept putting it off for a very obvious reason: it’s just tough to read about law enforcement right now. Don’t get me wrong, I read plenty of mysteries that feature police officers (though I prefer private eye tales). I’m aware of how these books, well-intentioned though some may be, often contribute to white supremacy. So I kept making excuses not to read it.
However, I really needed a guilty pleasure read and these books have consistently done it for me since I discovered them this year. So I decided to stop making excuses and read it.
I liked it, despite the fact that Atkins grapples with racism here with decidedly mixed results. I can’t say much without spoiling but again, considering all that’s going on, you might want to skip this one. I would have save for the goodwill this series has built up this year. Atkins has always done a decent job for a white writer creating black characters that feel realistic and don’t give into the bigotry of low expectations. However, we’re at a crucial moment in our nation with black people’s relationship to law enforcement. So this one is tough.
It also deals with rape. Atkins is clearly drawing on a famous scandal, which again I won’t say due to spoilers. I thought he handled it well but again, your mileage may vary.
Most of the story itself works though I think in large part because Quinn isn’t the main focus…and that’s a good thing. I like Quinn a lot but Atkins has done a great job in building up other characters in this series and integrating new ones. Here he does so almost seamlessly and the book is fine. Frankly, I’d probably enjoy the series more if it was an ensemble one.
Also, this book is a reminder for future ones which are guaranteed to annoy me: I don’t understand why Lillie can’t just be the sheriff. She taught Quinn investigating, she’s a good officer in her own right. The only thing she seems to have going against her is she’s bad at PR and I mean…she’s the sheriff of a backwoods Mississippi county, not head of the freaking NYPD. Who cares? I get it, she’s a woman, there are rumors about her sexuality that don’t fly in that place, etc. But that often feels like narrative obfuscation.
It’s so weird that there’s a lot that annoys me about this one, including the sheriff thing and how badly Atkins is handling Quinn’s love life (which is again why he should be reduced as the main character) but the whole really felt greater than the sum of its parts with this one.