Book Review

By Ace Atkins c.2024, William Morrow, $30.00, 384 pages

Something’s missing. And — wait, didn’t you just put it down? Funny how that happens, isn’t it? You lay something in a safe place you’re sure you’ll remember but nope. It’s missing now but, like your mother used to say, it didn’t grow legs and walk off. As in the new novel, “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” by Ace Atkins, it’s around here somewhere.

Dean McKellar had left again. It happened a couple years ago, but then, as his wife, Addison, remembered, he was only gone a few days. This time, it was a week with no contact. His phone went unanswered. His secretary offered no information. Addison’s brother, who worshiped the ground Dean walked on, had nothing to share. When she went to Dean’s office, Addy learned that another business rented that spot. How long could she protect their children, 14-year-old Sara Caroline, or 9-year-old Preston, from Dean’s unexplained absence?

Better question: How well did she know her husband? Because it seemed like everybody knew he had girlfriends “all over the place.” Exactly how clueless was she?

As the best-known detective in Memphis, Porter Hayes had seen everything, so when Sami Hassan called about his daughter’s problems, Hayes didn’t think twice. He’d known Hassan back when Memphis was a small town. It was still small enough for Hayes to quickly learn that Dean McKellar’s business never existed and that McKellar’s “secretary” was just a woman at some call center. Dean McKellar might not, in fact, even be “Dean McKellar.”

And, according to Hayes’ contacts at the Memphis Police Department, word was that a lot of people had been hanging around town, asking a lot of questions. One seemed to be bluffing. One of them broke into Addison’s house and threatened her and her son. One lived in an old-Hollywood universe. Obviously, Dean was in some kind of deep trouble.

That is, if he was even still alive …

When you read a thriller or mystery, it’s human nature to try to have things all figured out before the detective does. Don’t count on that in “Don’t Let the Devil Ride.”

Readers may, in fact, be thrown off-kilter with the way this story is told: In many such books, the detective takes the front-seat in the plot but author Ace Atkins doesn’t do it that way. Hayes is hired to find the truth, but he’s not the guy to watch. No, chaos leads this story and we aren’t told a lot about the other characters, which is important to note. The aging actress, the FBI guy, the Russian, they’re enigmas, mostly. They’re important to the tale but they behave like walk-on roles in a large movie cast — in and out and in — which is to say that you’ll want to keep track of what’s going on but forget about figuring out the end. It ain’t happenin’.

If you’re on the search for a book for vacation, you can just stop here. “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” is the one you want. You won’t be able to put it down.

— The Bookworm Sez