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In "The Forsaken," the newest and fourth Quinn Colson novel, writer Ace Atkins creates the layered and complex world of fictional Tibbehah County, Mississippi, populates it with unique and diverse personalities, and harvests all of them to create a remarkable piece of crime fiction. It is the kind of book that, once you start it, is difficult to put down - it has a driving narrative that recalls some of Elmore Leonard's best work, but also has resonances from the novels of Ross Macdonald, in which the sins of the past often catch up with both the innocent and guilty in the present.

The main plot of "The Forsaken" concerns a rape-murder that dates back almost four decades, and that resulted in the lynching of a black man presumed to be guilty. However, the surviving victim knows that the wrong man was hung, and she asks Sheriff Quinn Colson to delve into the case and find out who was wrongly punished and who was actually responsible for the attacks. It isn't a good time for Colson - he's being unfairly targeted in a corruption investigation that has been initiated for political reasons, and it isn't a good time to be digging up bodies, literally and figuratively, in Tibbehah County.

But one of the things that makes a hero a hero is the willingness to do the difficult under tough circumstances, and to show character under fire. And Colson - a former Army Ranger who has returned to his hometown with a desire to clean up the corruption there - is every bit a hero. He's a little bit Gary Cooper (in High Noon), a little bit Henry Fonda (in My Darling Clementine), and a little bit Billy Jack (in fact, he mentions Tom Laughlin, who gave us Billy Jack, in the dedication, along with Elmore Leonard). "The Forsaken" and the earlier Colson novels may take place in the deep South, but they are very much modern westerns, morality tales that pit good against evil, and yet with shadings of gray that remind us that life is rarely as simple as we'd like it to be.

Robert B. Parker, creator of the Spenser novels (a series that Atkins has quite capably continued since Parker's death), used to say that he thought people liked the novels because they liked the musicality of the language. They may be reading it, he'd say, but they could also hear it in their minds, and found it pleasing. That's certainly the case with "The Forsaken," as Ace Atkins plays southern blues in his own, inimitable way.

Great book. Read it.



By the way … Atkins had a meditation on bourbon, William Faulkner and writing this week in the Wall Street Journal. It gives you a sense of his affection for the landscape against which he sets his Colson novels, and you can read it here.



My wines of the week are the 2009 and 2011 Carlton Cellars Pinot Noirs … they're a little bit different, but both excellent. After all, they're from Oregon…




That's it for this week…Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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