Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Ace Atkins: The Redeemers

Hi there, Quinn Colson, how’s it been?

If you buy The Redeemers, Atkins’ fifth Quinn Colson book, hoping to find out what Colson’s up to and how he’s cleaning up his hometown, brace for a disappointment. The last book ended with him on the verge of being fired from his Sheriff job, and in this one, he’s every bit as swept aside from the action as he has from local politics. The action in The Redeemers turns on a grotesquely bungled local robbery, and we spend most of the book eavesdropping on the - I was going to say planning, but it’s really not the right word - lead-up to the robbery, its inept performance, and the feeble-minded cover-up. Which is a two layer cover-up, since the idiots who pulled off the heist are dithering between staying ahead of the law and taking advantage of each other, while the more senior criminal elements of Tibbehah County are trying to figure out how to make sure the law doesn’t trip over various incriminating documents which got stolen along with the money.

And Quinn has just about nothing to do with any of it, since he’s been un-elected sheriff and has decided to take the same interest in supporting Tibbehah County as it took in supporting him. He’s not even sulking, just taking some time for himself. All the investigation is falling on the new Sheriff, who’d be out of his depth as a hall monitor in a decent public school, and Deputy Lillie, who knows better than to think anyone in Mississippi is going to let a woman take charge of things.

Near the end, Atkins remembers that this is Quinn Colson number five and throws some action Quinn’s way. In signature Atkins style, it’s simultaneously weirdly implausible and grubbily realistic. It makes no sense at all that anyone would bother shooting Quinn at this point, but what happens next is grim, muddled and all too believable. People don’t walk off injury in the world of Quinn Colson, and I was sort of surprised he didn’t wind up just like his buddy Boom Kimborough.

Do not ask me who gets redeemed, or who does the redeeming. Most of the Colson family problems are just as bad at the end as they are at the beginning. And while Johnny Stagg has been swept off the board along with most of his sinister backers, this has simply cleared the board for a new generation of criminals who will be both meaner and less fallible than Johnny. I shall miss Johnny, a horrible small town scoundrel with the sense to realise his own limitations. Johnny was ghastly, but he knew enough to leave something for the other guy, and treat the occasional orphan to the occasional lollipop. 

I have to hand it to Atkins. Here’s a book which is mostly about dreadful people screwing up and it stays readable all the way through. He has the knack of throwing together characters who look like stereotypes, but can still surprise you. In any other book, the new Sheriff would be some kind of despicable stooge, but Rusty’s his own guy from the get-go. Kind of an idiot, and out of his depth, but honest, and just smart enough to see where he’s going wrong. The book’s full of people like that, which is what kept me reading. These guys weren’t going to do anything right, but the path they’d find to disaster was a wonderful mix of malice and good intentions, or at least the kind of good intentions that selfish idiots work out when they’re drunk and desperate. 

And the decks are cleared for heaven knows what. I honestly thought that book 5 was going to draw a line under things and wrap up the sequence, but there’s plenty of life left in the Colsons and Tibbehah, and a whole new set of problems dusted off and ready for next year.

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