Chapter 16
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Tempest in a Murder Plot

Ace Atkins’s third Quinn Colson mystery features a prison escape, a kidnapping, and a raging tornado

Tibbedah County Sheriff Quinn Colson doesn’t much like his little sister’s new boyfriend, Jamey Dixon, a convicted killer mysteriously pardoned by the Mississippi governor. Nor does the family of the dead girl Dixon was found guilty of murdering. And it’s of little comfort that he is now a self-redeemed preacher, starting a church out of a renovated barn and enlisting Casey Colson to help nurture the modest lean-to of worship. Things become even more concerning when the preacher’s former prison buddies escape and come to town in search of the missing loot from an armored-car robbery they’d told Dixon about while he was still behind bars. Naturally, they think he has plundered their haul. The merciless escapees leave numerous victims in their wake but manage to survive a devastating half-mile-wide tornado that crushes the town of Jericho even while the sheriff tries to hunt them down.

Colson may be only a year into the job, but after several combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan the sheriff isn’t some meek figurehead willing to let U.S. Marshals handle these gun-wielding, Wild-Turkey-swilling killers. With the help of his deputy, Lillie, and his one-armed Army buddy, Boom, Sheriff Colson takes on not only the murderers but also the crooked businessman who helped buy preacher Jamey Dixon’s pardon.

The kidnapping of his sister and nephew, Jason, by Esau Davis, one of the escapees, adds another layer of motivation to Colson’s determination. Jason, at least, is sure of the outcome: “Don’t be mad at my Uncle Quinn,” the boy tells Davis. “Cause he gonna shoot you real bad and make you die.”

Apart from the unlikely pardon of a convicted killer in a red state with a tough-on-crime reputation, Atkins writes convincingly about the Deep South and its characters. This former crime reporter who was once nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in journalism doesn’t have to travel far for research: he lives on an historic farm outside Oxford, Mississippi.

Atkins has a flair for creating characters who are unsavory and bone-chillingly cruel as well as those who are sympathetic, fragile, and deeply vulnerable. And when the two intersect, he really shines. Readers who like their heroes warm but imperfect, well-meaning but occasionally wrong, confident but a little self-doubting, will enjoy The Broken Places and the earlier two novels in the series.