December Read of the Month: “The Revelators,” by Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Author Ace Atkins proved a long time back that he is a gifted storyteller and disciplined writer capable of building suspenseful plots and creating intriguing characters. He also knows how to write a sentence with punch and sizzle. The author of twenty-six books, including numerous best sellers and multiple-award winners, Atkins remains a formidable talent in the suspense/thriller/crime genre. Thus, with his newest book, The Revelators (G. P. Putnam’s Sons July 2020), Atkins has set a high bar for himself. The book is the tenth book in his series featuring Quinn Colson, an honest sheriff in a corrupt county in Mississippi.

Colson is the quintessential modern crime and corruption fighter. A strong, silent type with a rough childhood in the Deep South’s Tibbehah County in north Mississippi, he is a former U.S. Army Ranger with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. Readers know he is tough. His relationship with his wife Maggie, as well as with his sister, mother, and nephew show him to have a sensitive side. The family-man quality of Quinn is perhaps best showcased in scenes with just him and Brandon, Maggie’s son. As a character who can lead a ten-book series, Quinn Colson is well drawn by Adkins to be multi-sided, nuanced, and sympathetic. He is also flawed (he drinks, smokes, cusses, and might just have a problem with those prescription pain pills), but his flaws only make him more reachable by readers—and more interesting.

Fans of the series might recall the last Quinn Colson book stopped without resolution in a cliffhanging ending which drew some heated criticism from his Amazon reviewers—as well as praise from others. Thus, The Revelators is really the conclusion to The Shameless (G.P. Putnam’s Sons July 2019).

The Revelators opens with Colson having been shot four times in an ambush and his friend Boom urging him to hang on. In rapid order, the book leaps through his surgeries and his rehabilitation to put him back in his war against crime—he is, after all, an action figure. His wife Maggie, a nurse, is given much credit for his rehab, and Colson knows what he owes her in terms of her dogged dedication to his recovery. Maggie is also pregnant with their first child.

With a kind of Walking-Tall-meets-James-Lee-Burke vibe, the biggest plot in the book is Colson and Boom’s fight against the syndicate, a corrupt organization dealing in guns, stolen trucks, drugs and prostitution—and murder. While Colson recuperates, a corrupt governor has appointed a crooked man as a temporary sheriff. Without an official title, Colson is nonetheless determined to root out the evil forces who orchestrated his ambush and are destroying his county. He is not alone in the fight, though sometimes it seems his allies are going off in different directions.

Fannie Hathcock, who appears in prior books, is one of the key villains. She is as debased and driven as she is beautiful. Hints of her childhood (her father sold her out to old men when she was still a child, being one such reference) make her at least partly understandable, but still not particularly sympathetic. She beats a man to death with a hammer early on, just in case new readers missed the fact she is ruthless.

One of the subplots—and possibly one of the best parts of the book—concerns a chicken-processing plant that hires illegal immigrants because no one else will work there. These immigrants have been part of the community long enough that many have school-age children who were born in the USA. In a combination of politics and greed (greed because the owners soon use prison labor to do the dirty work in the horrid plant), the plant managers orchestrate an ICE raid and the workers are arrested and hauled off to a fate unknown, leaving behind their children. There’s a definite ripped from the headlines quality to this story as the children come home from school confused to find their trailer park empty and their parents gone without explanation. Colson’s sister Caddy, described as a cross between Lorretta Lynn and Mother Teresa, steps in to help and soon finds herself in the crosshairs.

Caddy’s son, Jason, though only a youth, nevertheless has fallen deeply for one of the immigrants’ daughters. This leads him into danger as he tries to protect her against yet more evil when human traffickers capture her and other young females.

As in prior Adkins’s books, there is glorious writing. A former newspaper reporter, he knows how to “write tight,” but he also knows when to let the narrative flow, as in this example: “An odd August stillness fell over the Frog Pond Trailer Park on the outskirts of Jericho, Mississippi. Ana Gabriel had never heard it so quiet or seen it so empty, draped in an odd dusky gold light, the heat radiating up from the ground.” He also knows how to nail a character trait in a pithy passage like this one: “You ever figure that’s the reason you got into the Army? … On account of you thinking crazy was the same thing as being brave?”

The Revelators is a fast-paced, exciting, gripping, and action-filled book. It’s a romp through the steamy underbelly of a deep South county, and though it makes liberal use of many of the Southern crime drama tropes (including the Confederacy-obsessed, illegal gun-buying Watchmen militia, portrayed as looking like Duck Dynasty drop-outs and not being particularly smart), it does so with a vitality that makes the book a good read.

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