You Do a Job: MysteryPeople Q&A with Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins joins us to speak and sign his latest, The Fallen on Friday, July 21st at 7 PM. The Fallen comes out today! Before his visit to the store, we caught up with Ace to ask him about his latest addition to his Quinn Colson series. 

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

 

 

MysteryPeople Scott: While you do dig into social themes and some dark things happen, The Fallen has a lighter and funnier tone than The Innocents. Was there a conscious decision to have a few more laughs after doing one so heavy?

Ace Atkins: Not really. I just think the world has become much more of an insane place. I mean we do have a game show host as president. If you can’t step back and just laugh at it, you’ll go crazy.

As far as The Fallen, many of the bad folks we have down South are so naked about their greed and intolerance. I could write a hundred essays about the evil and ignorance or just make fun of them. Making fun of them seems to be much more effective. Anger gives them a purpose.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Ace Atkins

  • Interview and Introduction by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

Ace Atkins, in his Mississippi-set Quinn Colson series, has written an amazing series full of fascinating well-developed characters dealing with creative plotlines. Too often book series focus too much on character at the expense of an interesting plot, or are guilty of the opposite; in possession of a good plot but thinly developed characters.

I’ve been praising this series for several years and I marvel that, with his new book, The Innocents, Atkins has upped his game even further. For The Innocents, the sixth in the series, he has made some significant changes: namely, Quinn isn’t sheriff for this novel and there’s a disturbing image at the heart of the book.

If writing this series was all Atkins did that’d be enough for many. But Atkins was also tapped, in 2011, by the Robert Parker estate to continue the Spenser series. He’s done a great job and I count his Spenser books as better than Parker’s late period books. As long as Ace keeps cranking out books, for both good series, I’m going to keep reading him and I urge you do to the same.

Ace kindly agreed to an interview about his latest novel and his ever-growing body of work. He’ll be joining us at BookPeople this upcoming Saturday, July 16th, at 3 PM, to speak and sign his latest Quinn Colson novel, The Innocents

Scott Butki: Which came first with this book, the plot, the new characters and/or the striking image of a girl walking while on fire? And where DID that girl-walking-while-on-fire come from?

Ace Atkins: The image of the girl for sure. A similar crime happened here in north Mississippi in 2014. While this is in no way the telling of the Jessica Chambers story, the horrific crime certainly was the starting point for the book. For a long while, even while I was writing the novel, it seemed her murder would remain unsolved. Thankfully someone has now been charged with her killing and awaiting trial.

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE INNOCENTS by Ace Atkins

9780399173950– Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Ace Atkins’ latest Quinn Colson novel, The Innocents, burns with anger even as it delivers the fun dialogue and bad ass action you expect. At first, I thought the title was ironic, since just about every character is guilty of something. Atkins has focused on an issue of Southern culture, race, religion, politics, in each book. Here he covers everything and has a bone to pick with all topics included, even football.

The book picks up roughly a year after Quinn being kicked out as sheriff in The Redeemers. He returns home from training Afghani security forces policing techniques. He takes a new job as deputy under the new sheriff, his friend, Lillie Virgil.

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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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MysteryPeople Q&A With Ace Atkins


Ace Atkins’s latest Quinn Colson novel, The Redeemers, puts a permanent mark on the series. Quinn is ousted as sheriff and things between him and his nemesis, Johnny Stagg, come to a serious head. Ace will be joining us for a discussion and signing of the book on July 23rd at 7 PM here at BookPeople but allowed us an early interrogation for the blog.

MysteryPeople Scott: What made you take away Quinn’s badge?

Ace Atkins: I wanted to mark the fifth year of the novels with a big event. And I wanted to shake up the expected a little bit. I think in many of my books, I keep on going back to High Noon. That movie has been hardwired to my brain. Quinn is pushed away by the community but forced to do the right thing for the greater good. The image of the badge means so much in Western fiction — which although contemporary and in Mississippi, I consider this series.

MPS: While still the hero, you address Quinn’s darker and somewhat unaware side. What made this the book to do that in?

AA: There are rules you are suppose to follow with a series hero. Many of them boring. If anything, I want people to know Quinn is just a guy. A very tough guy but a real person. For me to do this, he has to fall a little bit. I consider this to be the most humorous book in the series. That much said, the intro to Quinn — as he goes into a crackhouse to rescue his junkie sister — may be the darkest scene I’ve written. We never quite see what he does to those who try and stop him, but it’s not pleasant.

MPS:There’s a point in The Redeemers where Johnny Stagg defends what he does. Do you see him as a lesser evil that keeps the larger one at bay  or is he simply rationalizing?

AA: I don’t really know what to make of Johnny’s overtures and statements to Quinn. For sure this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Johnny. But only time will tell if he was the lesser of all evils or the true devil. I never quite trust anything that comes out of that guy’s mouth, even if it sounds true.

MPS:There are a lot of references in the novel to music and movies that are a meeting of Southern culture and corporate created pop culture. What did you want to show with those?

AA: I am a pop culture junkie. I love it and I hate it. I love classic country music, Outlaw country that provides the soundtrack for these books. But I downright hate what’s coming out of Nashville these days. People will buy whatever crap they are forced to hear. And I have a lot of fun showing the “country” and popular crap people absorb these days — whether movies, books, or politics. It’s all the same.

MPS: One of my favorite dialogue exchanges this year is about being “a prismatic son of bitch”. Did you incorporate that from something you heard or did that simply grow from the character?

AA: Ha! Actually it’s “prismatic son of a bitch.” I stole that line from a friend here in Oxford who aptly described a local crook who’d wronged a lot of local folks. The guy was a chronic loser, always swindling and many times bankrupt. A true turd without a spec of honor. When my pal described him that way, I never forgot it. It was dead on.

MPS: The Redeemers is a game changing book. Can you give us an idea of what you’re planning to throw at Quinn in the future?

AA: I have a real barn burner set for Quinn VI. The idea came to me while writing The Redeemers — again a story inspired by real events here in Mississippi. You are right about The Redeemers being a game changer. Some of the players have left the stage now. But nastier ones are taking their place. And Quinn — whether he wants to or not — has to face them and some horrific secrets in Tibbehah County.

Ace Atkins joins us Thursday, July 23, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor, speaking and signing his latest Quinn Colson novel, The Redeemers. BookPeople events are free and open to the public. In order to join the signing line, you must purchase a copy of Atkin’s latest. You can find copies of The Redeemers on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ace Atkins

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.

Meet Ace Atkins here at BookPeople on Monday, July 28 at 7PM.


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.

MysteryPeople Review: THE FORSAKEN by Ace Atkins

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins
Reviewed by Scott M.

With echoes of both William Faulkner and Elmore Leonard, the latest Quinn Colson novel by Ace Atkins, The Forsaken, goes deep into both Colson’s character and his culture. Like Southern literature’s best novels, Atkins centers his narrative around themes of family and of the past, with a few great action sequences thrown in to keep things interesting.

As The Forsaken opens, Chains LeDoux, leader of The Born Losers biker gang, has just finished up a twenty year prison stretch, and he comes out gunning for Sheriff Colson’s nemesis town fixer, Johnny Stagg. Quinn, himself, is looking into a cold case involving a a man who raped one girl and killed another when the town was celebrating the Bicentennial.

The town quickly decided to lynch a black drifter for the crime, but evidence has arisen years later pointing to his innocence. As Quinn looks into what really happened, he finds much resistance from the town. Like Faulkner, Atkins uses the mystery structure to look at the past’s relationship to the present. Many chapters take place in the ’70s and feature Quinn’s estranged father, Jason, and his involvement with a neighborhood gang called The Born Losers, all leading up to that dark July 4th. The back-and-forth structure creates a conversation between Jason’s prior actions and his son’s current investigation. This past and present dynamic enriches the book and gives it its authenticity.

We get a realistic modern Southern town in Jericho. The classic country from the barbershop mixes with the hip-hop from a passing pick up. Quinn’s mother still cooks lard-fried bacon and eggs with biscuits and gravy, but he has to make due with a salad when spending the evening with his girl. Ace also shows how ignoring the past can drag progress made towards the future.

With The Forsaken, Ace Atkins digs into the specifics of southern life, mining universal truths of history, family, and society. His characters are both true and entertaining (Leonard fans will love the dialogue of his villains) and the world he creates breathes with a lived-in quality. All that and kick-ass action too.

Look for an interview on our MysteryPeople blog with Ace Atkins later on this week. Ace will be speaking and signing his latest novel, The Forsaken, on Monday, July 28, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. You can order signed copies of The Forsaken via bookpeople.com. We ship worldwide.