Ace Atkins’ fourth Quinn Colson novel, The Forsaken, has the combat vet-turned-sheriff, looking into an old crime that a black drifter was lynched for. It has biker gangs, shoot outs, and fun dialogue as well as looks at race, family, retribution, and our relationship with the past. Ace is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times-bestselling novels in continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, and has been nominated twice for the Edgar Award for Best Novel with his first two Quinn Colson novels.
MysteryPeople: In The Broken Places you looked at religion in the South. Here you address race some. What did you want to get across about that subject in your culture?
Ace Atkins: A discussion on race and religion is definitely hard to escape when writing about the South. I don’t know if I really had an agenda about either only a good story to tell. In The Broken Places, the easy tale of religion as fraudulent was turned a bit. But in The Forsaken, the dirty, harsh tale of hate crimes is as ugly as the truth. There are a
lot of attitudes that have changed down here in the last 30 years. But it’s far from gone.
MP: The book deals with the past of his town and his family. The past seems to be an important theme in Southern literature. Do you think the area has a different relationship with it than other parts of the country?
AA: History is certainly an important theme in two of my favorite writers — William Faulkner and James Lee Burke. Southerners just obsess on it more. I can see the whole history of the town — a recent history — from settlement shortly before the Civil War all the way up to today. This was a harsh country, wild country I’m writing about. The people
are certainly more hardened. The family stories are core to who we are.
MP: Family is playing a bigger and bigger role as the series goes on. What do you want to explore in that dynamic with Quinn?
AA: We’ve talked about this a lot — the ridiculous preconceived notions of the limits of a crime novel. I love the form — there are no constraints for me. The interaction between Quinn and his family — their personal struggles — is something I wanted to tell from the very beginning with these books. That’s the fascinating and the draw for me moving forward. The Colson family is everything in this series.
MP: There are chapters set in the past dealing with Quinn’s father and his involvement with a particular crime. How did it feel to write a finally be writing a character who has only been talked about in the last three books?
AA: I felt it was about damn time. I’ve been teasing readers for the first three books about Quinn’s dad. I just had to run across a storyline that would involve him. He had to be key to the story. When I ran across the true event of these two teen girls in 1977, I saw a way for this to be part of Jason Colson’s personal story.
MP: Pop culture plays an important part in your books. Some authors are afraid to use it. What draws you to it as a part of your work?
AA: I’m a kid who grew up in a world bombarded by popular culture –books, movies, music. I love the good and the bad. It just seeps into our everyday world it’s tough to ignore. Whether it’s a reference to a classic Western like High Noon or having a character listening to a God-awful Kenny Chesney song, it’s just true to the modern world.
Probably my most use of pop culture was in my novel, Infamous — set in 1933.
MP: The Forsaken is dedicated to two men who recently passed Elmore Leonard and Tom Laughlin (AKA Billy Jack). What qualities in their work do you hope reflects in yours?
AA: Elmore Leonard was my hero. I was lucky enough to get to know him a bit. And I learned a lot from him. All the stuff I love about writing novels can be found in Leonard’s work.
Tom Loughlin was a guy who made films about the stuff he believed in — they were tough, exciting and also had something to say. There’s a lot of Billy Jack in Quinn Colson. I love that movie and that story of a soldier returning home and having to fight a corrupt world means a lot to me.
Ace Atkins speaks about and signs The Forsaken here at BookPeople on Monday, July 28th at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. If you’d like a signed copy of one of Ace’s books but can’t make it to the event, you can order signed, personalized books via our website, bookpeople.com.