retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I've always loved series, whether in books, on TV, or in movies. Maybe it goes back to when I was a kid and devoured the Hardy Boys mysteries ... I've always treasured the opportunity to go back and learn more about characters that I'd grown familiar with, to see them face new challenges and demonstrate new talents or insights.

In this vein, I found the new Quinn Colson novel, "The Innocents," by Ace Atkins, to be an absolute page turner, and perhaps the best in this series of six novels (so far).

Colson is a former Army Ranger who has returned to his family home in Tibbehah County in Mississippi, trying to figure out where he fits into the landscape. While he has served the town of Jericho as sheriff,it has been a complicated relationship because High Noon-type confrontations in which he has challenged a long-established power structure, and not always winning.

The new novel focuses on the the murder of a young woman who has been found staggering down a highway having been doused in gasoline and set on fire. While the task at hand is to find the killer, the search for truth takes Colson and the sheriff's department into the town's moral and cultural infrastructure, which is rusting away like an old bridge that has been crossed too many times and has stood up to too many storms. I always think of Tibbehah County as sort of "Our Town" gone bad, and Atkins serves as a kind of tour guide through the muck. There's even a little social and political commentary thrown in (see page 138), but Atkins really does what novelist Ross Macdonald used to do - write about how present events can always be traced to past sins.

The great thing about "The Innocents" is the way in which the plot and the characters are peeled away in layers by Atkins. It is painstaking and yet has terrific momentum, with characters being established both through action and dialog; the greater mystery that Colson faces is how the hard-to-understand war zones in which he has spent much of his adult life may actually have greater clarity than the town in which he grew up.

This is the connective tissue that runs through all the Colson novels, and what makes them so compelling. "The Innocents" is a first class piece of writing, and Ace Atkins just keeps getting better and better. Buy it. Read it. Thank me later.




I'm also happy to report that Star Trek Beyond may be the best of the three new movies made about the crew of the Starship Enterprise since the original series was rebooted a few years ago with a younger cast replacing icons like William Shatner (with Chris Pine), Leonard Nimoy (with Zachary Quinto), and DeForrest Kelley (with Karl Urban).

Rather than tell an origin story (Star Trek) or go back to the well with an old villain (Star Trek Into Darkness, the movie plays out like an episode of the old series, except on steroids with a big budget. The Enterprise is three years into its five-year mission, and actors like Pine, Quinto and Urban have settled into their characters in comfortable, familiar ways. The plot has to do with an alien named Krall (Idris Elba) attacking the Enterprise - with plans to take down the Federation - because of some deep-seeded hatred of what they stand for. "This is where the frontier pushes back," he says ... and he seems to mean it.

There is punchy dialog, every character gets something to do, and lots of action ... and if Star Trek Beyond doesn't break new ground, it does make those of us who love the franchise feel like it is in good hands. There are also lovely callouts to Nimoy and Anton Yelchin (Ensign Chekov), who have both passed away and are missed.

And, there's a business lesson, as when Kirk says right before a mission, "There is no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden.” And, nothing to be afraid of, even when fear seems to be most natural response.

As it happens, this is a line from an episode of the original series, "The Corbomite Maneuver," except what Kirk said there was a little longer:

"Those of you who have served for long on this vessel have encountered alien lifeforms. You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there's no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood. In most cases we have found that intelligence capable of a civilisation is capable of understanding peaceful gestures. Surely a lifeform advanced enough for space travel is advanced enough to eventually understand our motives."

And that's Star Trek in a nutshell. I'm glad it's back.




Finally, I have a couple of Oregon beers to recommend to you today - the Oakshire Brewing Amber Ale, and the Alameda Brewing Rose City Red - Pacific Northwest Red Ale, both of which I enjoyed recently at the Altabira City Tavern with a spectacular fennel sausage pizza. Because, let's face it, I would have been foolish not to.

Life is good.




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

Slàinte!
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