Being a steadfast fan of the wonderful Ace Atkins for many years, I always relish a new book from this gifted and compelling crime writer. I am pleased to report that `The Ranger' does not disappoint and, in my ever so humble opinion, marks the start of what I believe will be a superlative series featuring Quinn Colson, a man who would be more than capable of giving Jack Reacher a good old run for his money!
When the book opens Colson has returned from Afghanistan and is at a crossroads in his Army career, so along with attending his uncle's funeral is using the time back home to reassess his future career. It becomes evident that there is a lot more to his uncle's apparent suicide, drawing Colson into the crosshairs of a community with more than one secret lurking beneath the surface. What Atkins does so well is draw together aspects of Colson's upbringing within this community, and how the loyalties of the past must inevitably fall by the wayside in his search for the truth. Colson's immediate family is put under the microscope what with the reckless and selfish actions of his errant sister, and the gradual unveiling of his uncle's troubles with the most powerful members of this community. This is world of trailer parks and meth labs, and another reviewer tags this book as `redneck noir'. Entering into the fray are a small violent band of typical backwoods criminals, highly reminiscent of the criminal fraternity in `Justified', who also have Colson in their sights, but it soon becomes clear that the last thing you should do is underestimate this tough and uncompromising soldier. The plot is gripping and action packed throughout and although largely unsentimental in tone is, at times, punctuated with some more emotional scenes as Colson uncovers betrayal from some unexpected quarters, which adds a good balance to the overall story arc. It isn't just simply a thriller as you will discover for yourselves...
The characterisation is absolutely pitch perfect as Colson is an archetypal tough guy who through his Army training is well-honed and resourceful in his defence of those he seeks to protect, and is no stranger to physical violence. He exudes an air of morality and is not adverse to expressing his finer feelings, and with this combination of traits makes him an extremely attractive character to male and female readers alike. He is supported by a perfectly drawn cast of characters from his brilliant sidekick Boom, to local deputy Lillie Virgil and the rapport and interaction between these three in particular engages throughout. Likewise, Atkins surrounds them with a cast of typical Mississippi folk, no strangers to violence, but also just trying to get along the best they can. The baddies are great- inbred and for the most part stupid- and whenever they enter the story I heard a distant echo of duelling banjos as they are continually thwarted by Colson's actions and his dogged determination to bring them to book. The dialogue is taut and slick, with many an interaction suffused with the natural sassy wit of this region's inhabitants, and the natural intonation of the South sings from every page.
As I made reference to at the beginning, `The Ranger' marks the start of a series and I've heard from other bloggers that the second in the series, `The Lost Ones' is even better than the first. Yes, there is much to be recommended here for fans of the earlier books of Lee Child, but for my money, Atkins outreaches Reacher (sorry couldn't resist) with his superior grasp of character and location. Also once you discover Atkins, there is another world of adventure in store for you with his eclectic back catalogue, mainly set in the South, a combination of the fictional and at times cleverly drawing on the factual, but all imbued with the assured hand of one of the best crime writers you will encounter.