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I think it has been well established here over the years that I am a big fan of Ace Atkins.  He's one of my favorite novelists working today, both with how he's authoritatively taken over Robert B. Parker's Spenser series while at the same time crafting an impressive series of southern noir novels featuring US Ranger-turned-Sheriff Quinn Colson.

The great thing about the Colson novels has been how, over the first 10 books, he painted an extraordinarily detailed and seamy portrait of fictional Tibbehah County in Mississippi, as Colson returned from military service and found the community in which he grew up desperately in need of cleaning up.  Colson, who has credibly matured in the books from loner to family man, has always been the series' moral core, along with his deputy, Lillie Virgil.

That all said, in his newest book, "The Heathens," Atkins has created one of his best characters - 17-year-old TJ Byrd, accused of murdering and dismembering her dissolute mother, on the run with her younger brother and some friends.  As she works to avoid arrest - she is alternately expert and naive as a fugitive - TJ tries to figure out how to prove her innocence to a world in which she has little faith (her life experiences have given her few reasons for belief in the system).  This is the rare case on which Lillie, now a US Marshal, and Colon have diverging views;  Virgil is persuaded of the girl's guilt, but Colson is not convinced by the case against her.

As the dragnet closes in on TJ, Quinn works the case back home, trying to make sense of conflicting narratives and a panoply of unsavory characters with their own possible motives for killing the mother.

"The Heathens" may be my favorite book of the Colson series so far (and I've loved them all).  The first 10 books served as a sort of broader portrait of Tibbehah County - a place that could've been found in an Elmore Leonard or William Faulkner novel - and serving as a fascinating comparison of the new and old South.  With "The Heathens," Atkins is beginning a new narrative … I'm not sure where he's going from here, but I know it is going to be enormously entertaining, and I hope he finds a way to include TJ Byrd.