★ ★ ★
All the classic ingredients are in place: a unique setting, a reluctant hero, a small town rife with corruption, a criminal element who are Really Bad Guys, a pregnant teen looking for the baby daddy who cooks meth. Well, maybe not the last one, although I think the pregnant teen was used in a Walt Longmire story as well as one with Dave Robicheaux. The Ranger doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, excepting the ol’ Miss setting, but it is a decent entry into the field.
Quinn Colson is on leave from the Rangers, returning home for the funeral of his uncle, sheriff of Jericho, Mississippi. He gives a ride into town of a young, hugely pregnant teen, providing an entry for her point of view. Lily, assistant deputy, thinks the uncle might have been murdered, but as Quinn starts asking questions and connecting with old acquaintances, he discovers the truth might be even less palatable than murder.
There’s a definite old-fashioned Western feel to this, with an honest hero riding into a small town to save the populace from villains. Ethics are not particularly complicated. The story felt fast moving to me. Viewpoint switched between Quinn and the pregnant teen, with a couple other brief viewpoints thrown in, including that of Bad Guys 1 & 2. On the upside, it didn’t make it feel disjointed. On the down side, I didn’t much care about the other viewpoints, which only served to reinforce the Bad Guys were indeed sleezeballs. I’m not even certain they added to the tension.
Characterization might be one of the weaker areas of the story. Most of the character descriptions focus on what the person said or did, and there isn’t a lot of descriptive shading to the action. It reminds me of medical or police reports: first this happened, then that. While it’s kind of refreshing to read a story where the author unabashedly allows characters to say things (instead of ‘drawled,’ ‘yelled,’ or ‘muttered’), there’s not a lot of emotional connection built, as it is hard to tell how Quinn is really feeling. He might drink a cup of coffee and nod, and somehow this is supposed to stand in for building a man who is thinking and evaluating. I was most intrigued by the potential of Quinn’s Ranger training and woodsmanship. Atkins uses it well in a tactical mission, but I can’t help feeling like the potential for insight while Quinn strategizes ends up wasted.
The feel of rural Mississippi is decent. Quinn recalls growing up and racing down the roads as a teen and hunting in the woods with his uncle. He also gives a solid feel to the local truck stop and diner. I got a solid sense of the poverty of the area, an interesting choice that plays into the economics of crime. Occasionally a colloquial turn of phrase show up in the writing, but I’m not sure how well it comes off.
It’s a decent book that provided a solid distraction during a time of poor reading attention. If that sounds like faint praise, it’s only because my standards have gotten higher as I’ve aged. Honestly, in my current reading mood, three stars is worth quite a bit. I’ll read the next couple of entries and see if Atkins can retain my interest.