Dark secret, new love, old friend stir Colson saga

KENDAL WEAVER For The Associated Press Published:

"The Lost Ones," (G.P. Putnam's Sons), by Ace Atkins: The second Quinn Colson thriller in the new series by Ace Atkins, "The Lost Ones" opens with gunrunning and a haunting crime afoot in the rural Mississippi county where Colson is now sheriff.

Colson must sort out the villains and the victims, which is difficult when one of the former may be his high school friend, the freewheeling Donnie Varner, who, like Colson, is back home from war.

The debut Colson novel, "The Ranger," deftly introduced the series hero as a former U.S. Army Ranger with festering corruption and family problems to deal with in his rundown hometown of Jericho.

The second novel is a page turner in part because of a dark Colson family secret that emerges and the romantic eyes thrown at Colson by old and new loves.

But it is almost completely taken over by Varner, who is an irresistible thriller creation: A heavy drinking chain smoker scarred by what he calls the "Trashcanistan" war, he is incredibly foulmouthed and criminally inclined, but he is at times hilarious and even likable. There are romantic eyes for him, too.

Atkins sets this series in the fictional Tibbehah County, a forlorn Mississippi outpost that saw better days back in the last century. It is William Faulkner country and Atkins, who now lives on a farm near Oxford, Miss., had fun in "The Ranger" alluding to some of Faulkner's characters.

In "The Lost Ones," Donnie Varner and his father, Luther Varner, who operates Varner's store, make a bow to the Varners of Faulkner's fiction, who also owned a store. And Ike McCaslin, the boy at the heart of Faulkner's "The Bear," is the name of a deputy who turns up to help the sheriff, except he's black this time.

The second novel in the Colson series is every bit as riveting a read as the first, perhaps more so as it delves more deeply into Colson's character, family and romantic life. Its story line involves a murderous Mexican gang and abused babies being sold on the illegal market, but there's less mayhem this time and more intriguing intimacy.

Atkins published two novels in May: "The Lost Ones" and "Robert B. Parker's Lullaby," the latest crime fiction from the Spenser series created by the late Boston writer. Atkins was chosen by the Parker estate to keep Spenser, a Boston private eye, on the job.

Atkins had to move mind and body to a vastly different locale before returning to the Colson saga, but he shows with "The Lost Ones" it was double duty in which he can excel.

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Online:

http://www.aceatkins.com/