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by Ace Atkins
Corsair, March 2013
339 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 147210031X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Veteran US Army Ranger Quinn Colson returns to the hillbilly Mississippi town where he grew up for the funeral of his uncle, the county sheriff. He finds that most things have changed. Jericho was never much of a town, but now it is dying, strangled by corruption. The backwoods, once home to outlaws, stills and bears are now used for cooking crystal meth to finance a lunatic white supremacist gang and boost the profits of organised crime. Even the lanky tomboy of Colson's High School is now a deputy and a better looking than any deputy has a right to be!

The first real shock is that Colson's uncle shot himself. The record says suicide. Rumour says he was killed. As Colson tries to unravel the mystery behind his uncle's death, he soon discovers he can trust almost no-one he once counted a friend and must also examine his own motives. With the help of the sparky deputy Lillie Virgil and Boom, a one-armed black veteran, he uncovers a web of lies and deceit which finally lead to a bloody showdown almost reminiscent of HIGH NOON.

The prolific Ace Atkins, although carving a swathe across the American crime field, is not so well known in Britain. First-class research, an incisive and relatively simple plot, plus plenty of action make this a gripping read. But it is in his strong characterisation where Atkins scores highest. His cast leap off the page. Colson himself is facing an uncertain future after being wounded in Afghanistan; the smiling, greasy plotter who plans to take over the town is a brilliant portrayal of a small man with a gigantic ambition. The half-mad white supremacist who becomes Colson's main enemy is a creation of near pure evil and the fundamentalist preacher almost a caricature of his type of hot-gospelling hypocrite. Even Colson's long-suffering mother, who spends much of her life worshipping her twin gods of the church and Elvis, comes to life under his pen.

Put all these characters into a dying town in one of the most poverty-stricken areas of America, flesh out a sinister background of a collapsing community, unwashed and desperate trailer trash, flyblown and greasy truck stops which double as brothels, add in the harshness of scratching for a living in an unforgiving countryside which has long ago been ruined by man and you have an explosive combination. THE RANGER is pacey, taut, cleverly written with some realistic dialogue, and most of all exciting.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, March 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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