“Quinton Deane had a reputation around the paddock. The other grooms usually shot their horses up with diuretics or mixed drugs. Quinton had his own method of coaxing a sore horse.”

From the first paragraph of his interesting second novel, “Parts North: A Back-Roads Noir,” Kevin Cohen creates a dark, brooding atmosphere that’s consistent throughout this 430-page chronicle of a rural Maine town.

The story focuses on two characters: ex-con Quinton, recently released from the former prison in Thomaston, and his 21-year-old son, Newland Deane.

Newland lost an arm when his car flipped while racing a buddy down a mountain, an incident that shows the dangerous life he leads.

Early in the novel, Newland meets the father he barely remembers from childhood. Their ill-fated reunion — which threatens to pull Newland into the safe-cracking trade that landed his father in prison — takes place in the fictitious blue-collar town of Nezinscot where both men grew up.

It’s a paper-mill town, and mill employees are on strike when Quinton drives into town. He’s lost his post-prison job at the racetrack, and decides to work in the mill. That makes him a target for Newland’s out-of-work friends, who will murder a “scab” if they can get away with it.

The tension and eventual alliance that develops between Newland and his dad makes for fast-moving drama that Cohen crafts with skill. The author also excels in portraying the insular, poverty-ridden town that shapes his characters.

“Nezinscot,” he writes, “was a backwoods, insecure little town that was demanding, unforgiving and all too proud when you looked at the particulars. A seventeen hundred foot mountain and a tiny paper mill were all that made up Nezinscot.”

Sparkling little portraits of townspeople fill “Parts North,” each vignette adding to the book’s appeal. An example is the description of elderly Mrs. Frye and Mrs. Ripley, two shoppers Quinton encounters at Nezinscot’s grocery store.

“The ladies,” writes Cohen, “spent all morning spreading news they heard, then hung around in the afternoons to take pleasure in hearing the news repeated, as though they were watching the ripples in a pond where they just dropped stones.”

Clearly a skillful writer, Cohen is a Maine native and Bowdoin College graduate. He’s the son of former Sen. William Cohen, who also served as secretary of defense under President Clinton.

Cohen’s first novel, “Fortunate One,” was published in 2010 and was named an Indie Book Awards finalist for a first novel.

In “Parts North,” Cohen’s preoccupation with struggling rural people places the book in a genre of fiction that includes Carolyn Chute’s 1985 novel, “The Beans of Egypt, Maine,” and the subsequent “Letourneau’s Used Auto Parts” (1988). Although Cohen’s novel lacks some of the power and subtlety of Chute’s masterworks, there’s a lot to like in “Parts North.”

A recurrent theme of the novel is the desire of broken, poverty-stricken families to patch up and make the family unit whole again, even when damage seems beyond repair. Cohen’s main character knows the futility of that desire, yet goes on trying.

“See,” Quinton tells a friend when he’s still a groom at the stables, “you and me both know we’re gonna fix this horse. You can’t ever fix a family. You got to pretend you fix and heal, then pretend things ain’t broken.

“Parts North” is a fine novel. Take it to the beach for late-summer reading. You’ll never guess its strangely surreal ending.

Lloyd Ferriss is a writer and photographer who lives in Richmond.