MysteryPeople Q&A with Ace Atkins

Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

 

In his latest, Slow BurnAce Atkins continues the investigations of Robert B Parker’s Spenser. This time the Boston PI is up against a group of arsonists with an odd agenda. We cought up with Ace to talk about writing Spenser and this particular crime.

MysteryPeople Scott: You based this Spenser mystery on an an actual arson case. Can you talk about adapting the real situation for fiction?

Ace Atkins: I knew I wanted to take Spenser into the world of the Boston Fire Department but it took me a few months to find a worthy case for him to investigate. I had originally intended for the story to be about insurance fraud but I found out that these days property is too damn valuable to burn in the Boston area. (Years ago, the great George V. Higgins wrote a great book about that era called Rat on Fire.)

Once I learned about the arson ring working in the 1980s — and it was supposedly for the good of BFD — I knew I had a worthy case. I could have written an entire nonfiction book about the crew of crazies who came together to burn Boston back then. As they say, stranger than fiction. That’s why I often mine the truth for my novels.

MPS: What was the biggest challenge in dealing with arson as the crime?

AA: By far the hardest part was to make the investigation accurate without bogging down the story in technical details. I learned a lot of about forensics, etc but didn’t put much in the book. No one wants to read a technical Spenser book. I tried to make the investigation more about the people involved, not the evidence.

I had originally intended for the story to be about insurance fraud but I found out that these days property is too damn valuable to burn in the Boston area…Once I learned about the arson ring working in the 1980s — and it was supposedly for the good of BFD — I knew I had a worthy case. I could have written an entire nonfiction book about the crew of crazies who came together to burn Boston back then.

MPS: Spenser deals with a lot of firemen in the book and you thank may in the acknowledgement. What did you want to get across to the reader about the profession?

AA: It’s not just a job for these people, it’s really a calling. Being a fireman — particularly in Boston — is such a big deal and defines such a specific culture. I hope I got across the culture of being with Boston Fire, the family that it represents. It’s a real and authentic thing. Everyone there made me feel so welcome and opened their doors while I worked on the book. It was a lot of fun. I made some good friends.

MPS: You have Spenser’s protege, Z, getting ready to go back to LA. What made you decide it was time for him to move on?

AA: Writing Z into the Spenser Universe was something Bob left for me to deal with. There were some business reasons why the character was created but once he entered Spenser’s life, it was clear to me there was a story arc to follow and honor. That much said, Spenser has a pretty jammed up crew as it is. And it was always clear to me that Z wasn’t going to be in Boston forever. I’m also sewing the seeds a bit for perhaps a Spenser spinoff in LA one day. We shall see. I’m pretty busy at it is with my own books.

MPS: What is the thing you most want to retain from Parker’s books with Spenser?

AA: Honor, friendship, and respecting each day. Over my own apprenticeship from reading Parker, I found those are the traits that make him better than the rest. I hope to keep that flame burning not only in the novels but my own life.

Honor, friendship, and respecting each day. Over my own apprenticeship from reading Parker, I found those are the traits that make him better than the rest. I hope to keep that flame burning not only in the novels but my own life.

MPS: You’ll be visiting our store July 16th to sign and discuss your latest Quinn Colson novel, The Innocents. Can you tell us a little about it?

AA: Hell, yes. Very excited about The Innocents. This is the sixth book in Quinn’s series and a real turning point for the books. Quinn has been voted out as sheriff, there is a new female kingpin who’s come to Tibbehah County, and a teenage girl has been found walking a back highway engulfed in flames. Lots of action, lots of gritty real stuff from the Deep South. What I’m most excited about is that the sixth book continues one long story. This is not online the season long story arcs in TV series. Quinn’s world has evolved a great deal from The Ranger and I’m excited to write happens next!

Slow Burn comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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