THE RANGER by Ace Atkins
Ace Atkins has been named the heir-apparent of the Spenser series created and so long written by Robert B. Parker. I knew that Atkins was a fan, and he’s been a dedicated writer, with forays into private eye fiction as well as historical mystery and suspense.
At the same time he’s picking up the writing reins Parker laid down, Atkins is also creating another series hero: young Army Ranger Quinn Colson. I picked up The Ranger hoping to get an insight into what Atkins might do with the Spenser series when he’s unleashed.
Atkins has got a lot of the same writing style, short, clipped, and brief, and he does some really good characters overall. One of the best things about the novel was the sense of place. The book is set in backwoods Mississippi and Colson has a history there that’s been waiting years for him to return to it. Colson’s family is dysfunctional in a lot of ways, and I particularly liked the fact that his father was a Hollywood stuntman. I figure that story has got to pop up in the series at some point.
Colson even has a brother-in-arms, called Boom that is interesting. Boom is a black war vet who came home without an arm but still has the take-no-prisoners attitude that he left with. Not much is revealed about him in this first book, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Atkins was deliberately doing that so Boom would echo Spenser’s running buddy, Hawk. Despite the missing arm, there were some comparisons that could be made.
Overall, the narrative is really good. I floated through the book easily. Short chapters, choppy scenes, and several viewpoint characters made the read flow. I liked how Atkins worked in Colson’s world and his past, how those things came to vibrant life on the pages. The dialogue was good and Atkins has a good ear for how people talk.
However, I was let down by the delivery of the action sequences. I felt like there was a big buildup, a Ranger character (and I kept thinking of the Lone Ranger as I read this) with a war hero past who was up against present-day gunslingers in a backwoods town with everything at stake. With everything that was going on, the action sequences were too few and too quick. The shootout at the end was almost covered entirely by a narrative delivery that sucked most of the tension out of the sequence instead of the moment-by-moment pacing the story demanded. Colson was wounded and couldn’t exactly throw on a cape to become Superman, but I was expecting more.
Still, I’m going to pick up the next book and see how things develop. Atkins has left the storyline hanging just enough to coax most readers back for a second tour of duty.