Published on: July 26, 2019
Novelist Ace Atkins continues his remarkable series of Southern crime novels with “The Shameless,” the ninth he has produced in this ongoing and evolving chronicle of noble hearts and decaying souls in fictional Tibbehah County, Mississippi.
While the novels have at their moral core Sheriff Quinn Colson, who left his career at a US Army Ranger to return home and find some measure of justice in a community infected by political and financial corruption, they’ve always been more than that. They are populated by a wide range of colorful characters who create in their deeds and language a highly specific - and, it seems to me, relentless truthful - portrait of a place and time. Some evince a kind of nobility - while they can be flawed and don’t always make the best decisions, they’re doing the best in often challenging circumstances. Some, of course, have embraced the corrosive effects of their own desire for power or money or sex or all of the above. But they’re all alive and made vivid in the writing.
In “The Shameless,” Atkins has two plots running on parallel tracks. In one, Colson is dealing with a syndicate of ungodly politicians and miscreants who are endeavoring to take over Tibbehah County, knowing that they’ll have to go through Colson to achieve their goals. And, he’s investigating a cold case - the death two decades earlier of a teenager that some feel never was properly solved. This latter case has personal implications for Colson, since his uncle was the sheriff at the time; he also has to cope with a pair of New York City podcasters who come to Tibbehah to investigate the crime in the manner of NPR’s “Serial.” This latter touch adds an interest angle to “The Shameless,” since it gives us a couple of fish-out-of-water New Yorkers who see Tibbehah through completely different eyes.
In reading Atkins’ Quinn Colson novels, I find myself reminded of the unique American patois
and poetry practiced by the great Elmore Leonard. But there also can be found in the pages of his work evidence of the mindset of Ross Macdonald, who wrote about a very different place (Southern California, not the American South), but weaved throughout his plots echoes of the past - the crimes and behaviors of the present always had roots in the misdeeds of history, and you had to unravel both to understand either.
That’s very much an ongoing theme of Atkins’ work. His characters have made choices earlier in their lives that dictate their lives today, or are very much the product of both nature and nurture that in many ways determine their current choices.
“The Shameless” is terrific - once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. When it was over, I immediately was looking forward to the next chapter in this ongoing saga.
I’m not sure what the denizens of Tibbehah County would think of the music at the core of the new movie Wild Rose
, but I’d like to think that some of them might find it resonant and familiar. I hope so, because Wild Rose
is a terrific movie, with a wonderful soundtrack.Wild Rose
takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, of all places, and focuses on Rose-Lynn Harlan, who, when she emerges from prison, immediately resumes her attempts to have a career as a country singer. Apparently, Glasgow has a remarkably vibrant country music scene, and Rose-Lynn has the music running through her blood, infused in her bones, and even represented in a tattoo on her arm that says “Three chords and the truth,” because that, she says, is what country music is.
Rose-Lynn’s problem is that she is a single mother - she had two children before turning 18 - and she so far has been able to get her mother to take on the responsibility of raising them. But now that she’s out of prison, the mom wants her to behave like a parent, but that’s the last thing Rose-Lynn wants to do. She’s selfish and driven and petulant and, amazingly, supremely talented. It is a combustible and irresistible mixture.
Rose-Lynn is played in a star-making performance by Jesse Buckley, who strides through movie in cowboy boots and fringed leather jacket, utterly confident in her own talent and desire no matter what the world throws at her, but far less sure of her ability to be a mother to her children and a daughter to her mom; she can be simultaneously filled with bravado and insecurity. Buckley has an amazing singing voice, and Rose-Lynn leaves it all onstage whenever she’s out there. As flawed a character as she is, I think most movie audiences will utterly fall in love with her. And, she is matched in the movie by Julie Walters as her mom, who can be taciturn and caring in the same moment - even when she is the most frustrated with her daughter, you can feel the love she has for her. (Also, kudos to Sophie Okonedo, superb in a supporting role who hires Rose-Lynn as a domestic, and whose relationship with her is touching in unexpected ways.)
Here’s the thing about Wild Rose
- it seems utterly truthful in its approach to character and plot, and veers off into unpredictable territory. The movie surprises and touches and moves the audience with its emotions and its music, and there is none of the obvious manipulation of a wretched film like the recent version of A Star Is Born
. All credit goes to director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor, who have confidence in their story and their ability to tell it in a nuanced way.
Go see <>Wild Rose. I think you’re gonna love it, and that you’ll be downloading the music the first chance you get.
I’m in Portland on my summer adjunctivity, which means that I’ve been able to visit two of my favorite wineries and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Two of them immediately come to mind - the 2015 Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Pinot Noir, and the 2016 Carlton Cellars Auxerrois, which served cold is perfectly refreshing on a warm summer day or night. I’ll also add another one to my list - the 2018 J. Christopher Rosé made for Zupan’s, the best specialty grocer in Portland. All great stuff.
This weekend is the Oregon Brewers Festival in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. I’m guessing I may find some beers to recommend next week. Guy’s gotta have goals.
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend … I’ll be back on Monday.