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.

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