Friday, January 25, 2013

Ace Atkins - At home in Mississippi

Fans of the late Robert B Parker have asked me, "Who is this Ace Atkins who's taken over writing the Spencer books?"

Well, as it turns out, Ace Atkins is quite an interesting guy! (His real name is Ace, by the way: William Ace Atkins.)

Currently visiting professor in Journalism at the University of Mississippi, Atkins has an extensive background as a crime writer. He covered the crime beat as staff reporter for the Tampa Tribune from 1996 through 2001. He wrote his first two novels during that period. His first, Crossroad Blues, is about the murder of Robert Johnson in 1938.

His reporting on the unsolved murder of Tampa crime boss Charlie Wall earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2000. In 2006, Atkins turned the story into the novel White Shadow. Colleen Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times book editor commented, "White Shadow, the best novel set in Tampa I've read."

His next novels, Wicked City, Devil's Garden. and Infamous were all set in personally relevant locations: San Francisco, Alabama (where he was born) and Tampa. A mixture of first-hand interviews, original research into police and court records and tightly woven plots, they reflect Atkins' interest in true crime stories. In Devil's Garden, Atkins explores the early life of one of his heroes, Dashiell Hammett, the originator of the hard-boiled crime novel.

Recently Atkins began a series featuring Quinn Colson, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who returns home to north Mississippi. In 2011 the estate of Robert B Parker tapped him to continue the Spenser novels. When he was offered the previous books for reference, he answered that wouldn't be necessary - he already owned all of them! Robert B Parker was one of his literary heroes. Release of the two series is being coordinated so that the Spenser books will appear in the spring and the Colson books in the summer.

When asked why he moved to Mississippi, Atkins said, "Because most of my books are set in Mississippi, because the looks of the land and the people are different from the rest of the country, and because Mississippi is a very culturally rich state." He lives on a historic farm outside Oxford with his family.

Lovers of Parker's books I have spoken to have received Ace Atkins as a worthy successor, and that is really saying something! The next Spenser novel, Wonderland, will be out in May.

Find out more about him at his website.

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