As if Mississippi’s Tibbehah County didn’t have enough present-day malfeasance to keep Sheriff Quinn Colson hopping, a cold case brings the customary pot of criminals and misfits to yet another boil.
Newly married to Maggie Powers, Quinn would like nothing better than to take a break from his hometown’s constant diet of organized and disorganized crime and begin adoption proceedings for Maggie’s 8-year-old son, Brandon. Not happening. His attention is demanded by another Brandon, who’s suddenly captured the imagination of Thin Air podcast reporter Tashi Coleman and her producer, Jessica Torres. They’ve made the trip down from New York at the behest of Shaina Taylor, whose brother vanished in the wilderness 21 years ago before turning up shot to death a week later. Brandon Taylor, the cold-case publicity hounds announce, has waited long enough for justice, and they aim to camp out in Tibbehah County, asking awkward questions and bedding the locals, until they’ve gotten to the truth. Does this mean that franchise villains like Fannie Hathcock, the county’s premiere supplier of sweet young female companionship, and the syndicate she’s in bed with will wither from neglect? Not a bit, because they’re all tied in to Brandon Taylor’s long-ago shooting, U.S. Marshal Lillie Virgil’s recent arrest of fugitive Wes Taggart, and the race-baiting gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. Jimmy Vardaman. When Taggart, who hints that he knows where the bodies are buried, is shot to death in his cell by a pair of hired killers who manage to infiltrate the jail, his murder raises what ought to be the pivotal question of “why his sorry ole ass was so important to the Syndicate boys.” But the furious torrent of crimes past and present and revelations about same keep any one question or plotline from rising above the fray.
Like James Lee Burke’s Louisiana, Atkins’ violent Mississippi idylls seem more and more clearly shaped as installments in an ongoing serial drama, and this one, ending with both a bang and a whimper, seems mainly intended to set up the next.