The Forsaken: A Quinn Colson Novel
I have long held the theory that the majority of crime occurs in quiet, out-of-the-way places that lie on a map somewhere between, or to the side of, Point A and Point B. They sit a mile or two off of freeway exits, barely marked by the eyes of motorists who are focused on freeway traffic, so that large warehouses that hold who-knows-what are barely wondered about, if noticed at all.
Ace Atkins’s fictional Tibbehah County in rural Mississippi, and Jericho, its county seat, bring my thoughts on this subject into stark and palpable relief, which is but one reason why I enjoy the Quinn Colson series so much. Colson is an ex-Army Ranger who returned to his hometown to become the county sheriff. THE FORSAKEN, the fourth book in the series, finds Colson facing a re-election he is almost certain to lose thanks to the events that took place in THE BROKEN PLACES, the previous installment. Colson does not lack for enemies among the criminal element in Tibbehah County, but he’s under investigation from state law enforcement as well, thanks to an overzealous and overreaching prosecutor who sees Colson’s potential prosecution for his prior actions as a stepping stone to higher office.
"If Jericho puts you in the mind of your hometown after reading THE FORSAKEN, you should probably move. But when used as a backdrop for the interactions of Atkins’s sharply drawn characters, you will soon find that there is nowhere you would rather be."
On the night of July 4, 1977, two teenage girls walking home from the Jericho holiday celebration are abducted by a stranger. One of them is murdered in the aftermath, leaving the other --- Diane Tull --- to describe their attacker as a black male with disfigured features. We learn, via intermittent flashbacks and Colson’s contemporary investigation, a short time after the attack that the brutalized body of a black male, thought to be the attacker, was discovered, burned almost beyond recognition and clearly a victim of revenge. The sheriff at the time --- Colson’s uncle --- quickly consigned the matter to a cold case file after a cursory investigation.
In the present, Diane approaches Colson, telling him that the emasculated victim was not the man who raped her and murdered her friend. She wants Colson to reopen the investigation so that justice may be had for both victims. That ambitious state prosecutor who holds Colson’s future in his hands is very much interested in having Colson pursue the recently reopened investigation, and even hints that it might be Colson’s career salvation, given that he is facing re-election in a few short weeks. However, there are many who don’t want the past revisited and would just as soon have Colson gone. This would include a majority of the Tibbehah County Board of Supervisors, a group of puppets whose strings are pulled by Johnny Stagg, a local crime lord (think of the iconic Boss Hogg, without the comic relief) who masquerades as a legitimate businessman and whose manifestations of successful entrepreneurship include a popular truck stop and an even more popular striptease establishment, all of which act as a conduit for drugs and other extremely profitable forms of illegal vice.
Stagg, though, has problems of his own in the form of a biker club --- or gang, depending on whom you ask --- known as the Born Losers. Their leader, a psychotic charmer named Chains LeDoux, has been in prison for 20 years. Chains is about to be released, and has made no secret of the fact that he is returning to Jericho to exact a revenge against certain individuals, including Stagg, for what he sees as the betrayal that sent him to prison. Colson has some interesting if indirect ties to the gang, and to the long-ago vigilante murder, which he discovers during the course of the book.
All of these elements, and more, result in unholy and unexpected alliances based on greed, circumstance and happenstance, while leaving trust out of the equation. By the time the dust settles and the smoke clears, not everyone is left standing. While the main issue of the book is ultimately resolved, there are many secondary axes left for Colson to grind at story’s end.
If Jericho puts you in the mind of your hometown after reading THE FORSAKEN, you should probably move. But when used as a backdrop for the interactions of Atkins’s sharply drawn characters, you will soon find that there is nowhere you would rather be. Don’t miss this book or series. It’s one of the best.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 25, 2014