The Heathens

Mysterious Book Report No. 461

by John Dwaine McKenna

The Heathens, (Putnam, $27.00, 400 pages, ISBN 978-0-593-32839-2) by Edgar finalist and NY Times  bestselling author  Ace Atkins, is  the eleventh  in his Quinn Colson series . . . and it’s easily the best one yet.

Colson is an ex-army Ranger who’s come home to Mississippi, where he’s now the Tibbehah County Sheriff, elected on a vow to “set thing right” after the previous lawman—Colson’s uncle, Hamp Beckett—was killed.  Now the beleaguered sheriff is trying to unravel the gruesome murder of one of his old high school classmates, a drug-addicted woman named Gina Byrd, whose dismembered body was found covered in bleach and left in a barrel at an illegal dumpsite.

Suspicion for the crime falls on Gina’s daughter, a seventeen year-old named TJ, who recently had a fight with her mother and beat her up.  Suspicious of Sheriff Colson because his uncle Hamp may have killed her father, and thinking she’ll be charged and found guilty because of her bad girl reputation, TJ goes on the run with her nine year-old brother John Wesley, her best friend Holly, and her car-stealing boyfriend Ladarious.

TJ is soon convicted in one-half of the court of public opinion, goaded and encouraged by Chester Pratt, her mother’s current sleazy boyfriend and a conman with a nefarious agenda of his own.  But at the same time, the young fugitive also becomes a folk hero to tens of thousands of others, thanks to her large internet presence.  Relentlessly pursued by a Deputy U.S. Marshal named Lillie Virgil and a psychopathic father and son team of sadistic killers, TJ Byrd’s flight for freedom seems doomed from the get-go.

As the tale alternates between the pursuit of TJ and Sheriff Colson’s efforts to solve her mother’s murder, Mr. Atkins explains, defines, and explores the interpersonal relationships of a diverse and bawdy cast of characters from a small rural Mississippi county into an electrifying southern noir that readers  can’t put down and won’t soon forget!

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