It was cheap, and I needed the distraction, so I checked out the follow-up to The Ranger. The Lost Ones is not at all bad. It's not Elmore Leonard good, let's dash that hope straight away, but it's not bad at all. The challenge for any silly little genre book is down to one simple question; do I want to know what happens next to these people? That's what keeps you going to the end of the book and what makes you look forward to the next one. It's the same thing that makes serialised TV works; we want a story. We want a story that will distract us from whatever's around us.
Well, northern Mississippi may not be paradise but at least it's not Nordor, and I've been passing the time finding out what's happening in Tibbehah County in the last year or so. And it works. Atkins resisted the siren call of his Bubba, and eased Boom into the background in a clever and believable way. He found a way to put Johnny Stagg into the action without having him overshadow it; Johnny makes a much better landmark than villain. The balance of the characters and the place feels right; Quinn Colson is sinking back into his home place at a pace which feels credible, winning some of the battles, not really grappling with the war.
I still can't quite figure the logistics of the County; sometimes it feels like a village, other times like there's a cast of thousands seething round the edges, neither size feeling quite right for a Sheriff's department with nine deputies. I suppose that, like all imaginary spaces, it's as big as it needs to be from one moment to the next. As long as it doesn't suddenly sprout a plutonium mine from one book to the next I shouldn't quibble; the important thing is that the County provides a place in which Colson can argue with his family, not quite romance his old crush from high school and intervene decisively in messy little backwoods crimes. It's a living, I guess.
I'll even forgive the introduction of a history of abuse into the Colson back story because it's handled pretty well, echoing off some of the other stuff in the book and explaining some of the family messes, but not overshadowing everything else in the action.
In the end, though, it passes the simple test; when I got to the end, which is a nicely judged mix of mess and injustice, I was keen to see what happened next.