Thirty-six years ago, a nameless black man wandered into Jericho, Mississippi, with nothing but the clothes on his back and a pair of paratrooper boots. Less than two days later, he was accused of rape and murder, hunted down by a self-appointed posse, and lynched.
Now evidence has surfaced of his innocence, and county sheriff Quinn Colson sets out not only to identify the stranger’s remains, but to charge those responsible for the lynching. As he starts to uncover old lies and dirty secrets, though, he runs up against fierce opposition from those with the most to lose—and they can play dirty themselves.
Soon Colson will find himself accused of terrible crimes, and the worst part is, the accusations just might stick. As the two investigations come to a head, it is anybody’s guess who will prevail—or even come out of it alive.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This galley is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 Ace Atkins
I’ve always wondered, Quinn,” W. R. “Sonny” Stevens, attorney-at-law, said. “Did you ever see your daddy work, doing those stunts, up close
and in person?”
“Caddy and I went out to Hollywood a couple times when we were really young, back in the eighties,” Quinn Colson said. “By then he was on Dukes of Hazzard, A-Team, and MacGyver. He let us hang out on set and see him race cars and flip them. It scared the hell out of my sister. But I kind of liked it. I once saw my dad run around for nearly a minute while completely on fire.”
Stevens leaned back into his chair, his office filled with historic photos of Jericho, Mississippi’s last hundred years, from its days as prosperous lumber mill and railroad town to the day last year when a tornado shredded nearly all of it. One of them was a picture of Jason Colson jumping ten Ford Pintos on his motorcycle back in ’77. The office seemed to have remained untouched since then, windows painted shut and stale air locked up tight, dust motes in the sunlight, the room smelling of tobacco, whiskey, and old legal books.
“Maybe the reason you joined the Army?” Stevens said, smiling a bit, motioning with his chin.
Quinn was dressed for duty, that being the joke of it for some: spit-polished cowboy boots, crisp jeans, and a khaki shirt worn with an embroidered star of the county sheriff. He wore a Beretta 9mm on his hip, the same gun that had followed him into thirteen tours of Iraq and Trashcanistan when he was with the Regiment, 3rd Batt. He was tall and thin, his hair cut a half-inch thick on top and next to nothing on the side. High and tight.
“You liked all that danger and excitement like your dad?”
“I liked the Army for other reasons,” Quinn said. “I think my dad just liked hanging out with movie stars, drinking beer, and getting laid. Not much to the Jason Colson thought process.”
Stevens smiled and swallowed, looking as if he really didn’t know what to say. Which would be a first for Stevens, known for being the best lawyer in Tibbehah County when he was sober. And the second-best when he was drunk.
He was a compact man, somewhere in his late sixties, with thinning white hair, bright blue eyes, and cheeks flushed red from the booze. Quinn had never seen him when he was not wearing a coat and a tie. Today it was a navy sport coat with gold buttons, a white dress shirt with red tie, and khakis. Stevens stared in a knowing, grandfatherly way, hands clasped on top of the desk, waiting to dispense with the bullshit and get on to the case.
“OK,” Quinn said. “How’s it look?”
“Honestly?” Stevens said. “Pretty fucked-up.”
“You really think they’ll take our case to the grand jury?” Quinn said. “I answered every question the DA had honestly and accurately. Never believed they’d run with it. I thought I’d left tribunals and red tape when I left the service.”
Sonny Stevens got up and stretched, right hand in his trouser pocket jingling some loose change, and walked to a bank of windows above Doris’s Flower Shop & Specialties. The office had a wide, second-story porch and a nice view of the town square, most of it under construction right now as a good half was ripped apart by that tornado. There were concrete trucks and contractors parked inside what had been a city park and veterans’ memorial. Now it was a staging area for the workers who were trying to rebuild what was lost. “I just wish you’d called me earlier,” Stevens said. “The DA has had a real time turning a pretty simple, straightforward story into one of intrigue and corruption. I might could’ve stopped this shit from the start. But now? Politically, it’s gone too far.”
“What’s to study on?” Quinn said. “Deputy Virgil and I met those men to get my sister and my nephew back. A sniper up in the hills killed two men, and when we looked to get out, Leonard Chappell and his flunky tried to kill me.”
“And you shot them?” Stevens said, staring out the window.
“I shot Leonard. Lillie shot the other officer.”
“Can you step back a little, Quinn?” Stevens said. “Tell it to me again, as straight and simple as possible. The cleanest and easiest version is the one a jury will believe. Start with Jamey Dixon. How’d you end up driving out to that airfield with him?”
“That convict Esau Davis kidnapped my sister and nephew, Jason,” Quinn said. “Jason was four. Davis had sunk an armored car in a bass pond before he was incarcerated. He blamed Dixon for beating him to the car and taking the money.”
“Yes, sir,” Quinn said. “Those two convicts had bragged to Dixon about all that money they stole and hid. You know Dixon was a chaplain at Parchman? He came out of there a full ordained minister.”
“And started that church out in the county,” Stevens said. “The one in the barn. The River?”
“Dixon used their confessions and told Johnny Stagg about that armored car, who used some of that money for Dixon’s pardon and took the rest for his trouble.”
“But that part can’t be proved,” Stevens said. “Just stay with the basics. Two escaped convicts kidnapped your sister, who was Jamey Dixon’s girlfriend, and her young son.”
“And those convicts demanded their money back?”
“One convict,” Quinn said. “The other one got killed while on the run.”
“So that one convict, Esau Davis, wanted to exchange cash for your sister and nephew? You were scared as hell they might be harmed.”
“Yes, sir,” Quinn said. “Lillie found a vantage point in the hills by that old landing strip. She was to provide cover if Davis started shooting. You know Dixon only had twenty grand on him? And that wasn’t from the bank job. That was from donations after the tornado.”
“And how did Chief Chappell and his officer figure into this?”
“They were waiting for all of us to show,” Quinn said. “They knew about the exchange and came for the money and to protect Stagg’s interests. They also had a sniper in the hills on the opposite side of Lillie who took out Dixon and Davis. When the shooting started, that’s when Chappell and his man turned on me.”
“Me and you both know Leonard Chappell was a joke as police chief and the head stooge for Johnny Stagg,” Stevens said. “But one lawman killing another lawman makes for bad press and lots of political pressure on the DA.”
“Leonard had no reason to be there but to steal that cash.”
“Of course,” Stevens said. “But the story the DA will tell is that they came to save the goddamn day and that you and Lillie killed them both to cover y’all’s ass. That way all that money was yours without witnesses.”
“Bullshit,” Quinn said. “They had another man up in the hills. He killed the two men there to make the money exchange. No one seems to be wondering who killed those convicts, Dixon and Davis.”
“They’re going to say it was Lillie Virgil.”
“Guns didn’t match,” Quinn said. “State tests prove it.”
“They’ll say she brought another gun.”
“You bet,” Stevens said. “But you better prepare for that part of their story.”
Stevens swallowed and moved from the window. He reached for a cutglass decanter at a small bar near his desk and motioned to Quinn. Quinn declined. It was two in the afternoon. Stevens poured some bourbon into a coffee mug and swished it around a bit. He was deep in thought, looking across his old office, with all those barrister bookshelves and faded certificates, Citizen of the Year and Outstanding Ole Miss Alumnus, as he sipped.
“They can twist the story as they please,” Stevens said. “We got two dead lawmen, two dead convicts, and a shitload of cash, flying wild and free, after this all went down. They claim nearly ten thousand is still unaccounted for.”
“You know how many people went out into the hills after this happened?” Quinn said. “Families went there on weekends with butterfly nets and duffel bags. That money was found but never turned in.”
“However this goes, it’ll destroy your name,” Stevens said. “They’ll destroy Lillie’s, too. They’ll ask questions about y’all’s relationship, relationships she might have with other, um, individuals. You got an election in April.”
“You saying I should make a deal?”
“No, sir,” Stevens said, sipping a bit more from the mug. His light blue eyes and red cheeks brightened a bit, him inhaling deeply as things were getting settled. “There’s no deal to make. Not yet. Just preparing you for the shitstorm as we go into an election year. I don’t think that fact is lost on anyone, particularly not Johnny Stagg.”
“Mr. Stevens, how about we not discuss Johnny Stagg right now,” Quinn said. “I just ate lunch.”
“Whiskey makes it a little easier,” he said. “Soothes the stomach. Stagg’s been running the supervisors for a long while. I’ve gotten used to the fact people like him walk among us.”
“Lillie saved my ass,” Quinn said. “I shot Leonard Chappell because he was about to kill me. But Jamey Dixon and Esau were killed by someone else.”
“Could’ve been any one of Stagg’s goons.”
“This individual wasn’t a goon,” Quinn said. “This person was a pro, a hell of a precise shot at a distance.”
“You see anything at all?”
“Hard to look around when you hit the ground and crawl under a pickup truck.”
“Imagine so,” Stevens said. “And Lillie?”
“No, sir,” Quinn said. “But you need to ask her.”
“How could you be sure Leonard wanted you dead?”
“He was aiming a pistol straight at my head,” Quinn said. “This was an ambush.”
Stevens turned and leaned back against the windowsill and stared out at the rebuilding of downtown Jericho. Among the piles of brick, busted wood, and torn-away roofs, all that remained standing on that side of downtown after the storm was the old rusted water tower by the Big Black River. Now they were even repainting the tower from a rusted silver to a bright blue. New sidewalks. New roads. The Piggly Wiggly had reopened, with the Dollar Store not long to follow. There was word that Jericho might even be getting a Walmart.
“Did you hear Stagg is going to cut the ribbon when they reopen the
Square?” Stevens asked.
“To read about it in the papers, he is the sole person responsible for the
rebirth of this town with the grants and handshakes he’s made in Jackson.”
“I guess anyone can be a hero.”
“We’ll get this matter straight, Quinn,” Stevens said, “don’t you worry. Just keep doing your job. Lots of folks appreciate all you done for this place since coming home from the service.”
“And what can I do while we wait to hear from the DA?”
“Not much,” Stevens said. “But if they indicate for a moment this goes beyond just an inquiry, you better have my ass on speed dial.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Forsaken
“Articulate characters [and] a densely layered stack of stories. Atkins finds his natural-born storytellers everywhere. It’s all music to these ears.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“Atkins excels in solid pacing, effective dialogue and compelling characters . . . [he] shapes Quinn not as a superman, but as a flawed man who wants to do the right thing for his hometown . . . The excellent Quinn Colson novels, as illustrated in "The Forsaken," are the true showcase for Atkins' storytelling skills.”—Associated Press
“A darkly exciting thrill ride.”—Tampa Bay Times
“Quinn is facing a seemingly impossible string of complications in this fourth series installment, but somehow all these layers of catastrophe make sense together, a testament to Atkins’ ability to capture small-town life. The dive into Jericho’s dark past makes for great reading as Atkins rolls through a handful of perspectives, propelling the story’s threads toward an adrenaline-laced, Wild West–style conclusion.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Atkins is at the top of his game in Quinn’s fourth appearance, filled with nonstop action and moral ambiguities. The sheriff’s many flaws only enhance his human appeal.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Lean prose, solid pacing, and a compelling lead distinguish bestseller Atkins’s gritty fourth Quinn Colson novel . . . That Quinn resembles the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser—both are uncomplicated, principled men unafraid to use violence to protect themselves and others.”—Publishers Weekly
Praise for The Broken Places
“Ace Atkins’ killing honesty sets a new standard for Southern crime novels.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson novels have been exceptional from the start . . . whether readers are new to the series or fans from the start, The Broken Places will touch them the way all great novels do, profoundly.”—Shelf Awareness
“The action is stark and gripping, the Southern locale suitably atmospheric and the bevy of characters convincing.”—The Houston Chronicle
“Atkins continues to combine sturdy character studies with an action-packed tale about the contemporary issues of war veterans and small-town corruption . . . The Broken Places again shows what a powerful storyteller Atkins is.”—Tulsa World
“[Atkins] scores again . . . Readers new to Atkins will see why Robert B. Parker's estate chose him to continue Parker's celebrated Spenser series.”—USA Today
“Atkins just gets better and better . . . I will throw down against anyone who disagrees with the statement that Atkins is one of our best American authors. Period . . . No matter what literary genre you might favor, The Broken Places is a book you should read and will not forget.”—bookreporter.com
“Atkins’ voice is graceful and tense . . . Atkins’ habit-forming series [shares] a tremendous sense of (rural) place and powerfully nuanced characterization with those of James Lee Burke, Craig Johnson, and C. J. Box.”—Booklist
“A high-tension thriller with a hero to rival Jack Reacher.”—Kirkus
“Supercool. ‘Manly’ writing akin to Elmore Leonard’s Detroit Westerns.”—Library Journal
“Amid the full-throttle plot, Atkins never loses sight of his characters’ sensitivities.”—Publishers Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Exceptional installment in a pitch-perfect series.
This series is one of the best to come along in a long time. Quinn Colson is a former Ranger who takes his job as sheriff seriously. Breathtaking action, steamy sex, perfect depiction of the Mississippi locales and people who inhabit them. Hope we see another book with Sheriff Colson in the very future.
I enjoy Atkins' writing style but sometimes I find it difficult to stay with as he flitters from one episode to the next. I do not enjoy his free use of profanity as if it adds to his novels but only serves to detract from the story being told. He has somewhat of a rough edge when it comes to writing. He can be enjoyable and then with the jumping around and profanity he can get old quickly. I have all the Quinn Colson novels but I often wonder if I can continue to read his books.
It seems as if nothing is relatively normal in the small Mississippi county in which Quinn Colson serves as sheriff. Or is more like the proverbial corrupt Huey Long Louisiana with politicians on the take and a blind eye to all sorts of shenanigans, including lynching and murder, motorcycle gangs and drugs. All take place in this third novel in the series and then some. Carrying over from the previous entry in the series, Quinn and his chief deputy Lillie are facing possible murder charges for the killing a a former sheriff in a shootout that climaxed the previous book. This prospect hangs over them as they are confronted with a cold case which arises from the rape of one teenager and murder of another 37 years before. At the time, a black man was beaten up and lynched. The survivor, now a prominent citizen, told Quinn’s uncle, who was sheriff at the time, the wrong man was murdered since she saw the perpetrator two weeks later. Now, Quinn and Lillie undertake to find out the truth. This brings Quinn into the uncomfortable position of contacting his long estranged stuntman father who rode with the motorcycle gang in the period, giving he author the opportunity of inserting italicized introductions to succeeding chapters with historical information, providing the basis for current investigations. Colson is developing into one of the more interesting protagonists. A former ranger with a deep, inherent feeling for honesty and fairness, he exhibits the sense that law and its practical application is necessary to keep order in the unruly town dominated by q shady board of supervisors. Atkins has created a Faulkner-like collection of believable characters populating suspenseful plots. Recommended.