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by Ace Atkins
GP Putnam's Sons, July 2016
384 pages
ISBN: 0399173951

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Ace Atkins's THE INNOCENTS is the sixth in his series featuring Quinn Colson, a former US Army Ranger who had in the past served as sheriff in the small town of Jericho, Mississippi. When he was voted out of office, he went back to the Middle East but now has returned and is trying to help Sheriff Lillie Virgil solve a hideous crime. A young woman, Milly Jones, was found walking down the highway engulfed in flames. The mystery is who would have committed this murder and why. Milly, a former cheerleader, seemed to have a secret, something to do with the death of her brother Brandon. She had some journals and Brandon's phone, which she gave to her friend Nikki just a little while before her death.

Atkins has great skill in his portrayal of the Deep South and its inhabitants. Jericho is in Tibbehah County and the setting is an important element in the novel. The beautifully drawn cast of local characters seem as though they could belong in no other place. Class divisions and racist notions abound. Small town brothel madam Fannie Hathcock and her unsavory motorcycle crew of bodyguards the Born Losers, the squalid domestic life of Milly Jones and her crude, abusive father Wash, as well as Quinn and the Sheriff Virgil are portrayed with depth and background. The author's writing is fresh and his descriptions include observations that link the person to the place itself. Other characters, from a couple of young black druggies, a crazy local who gets drunk and steals things, the Muslim who works for his father in the convenience store Gas and Go, as well as the coach who has mentored many of the young men over the years, provide for a multitude of scenarios about the murder. Little by little, the careful reader will identify the real culprit, but it takes law enforcement longer. The suspense builds and we wonder if the truth will ever be known.

Although the murderer and his crimes may in the end seem reminiscent of recent headlines, Atkins brings his own unique perspective and writing skills to this novel. His ability to show the speech patterns and unusual dialect of his characters makes this a fun read, as well as an engrossing crime story. If this is your first time with Ace Atkins, it will not be your last.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, July 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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