- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
I’ve mentioned in some of my reviews of Ace Atkins’ later Spenser books that he is bringing more of himself to the series, adapting the characters to reflect his own voice. After proving in the early books like Lullaby and Wonderland that he could do Parker’s voice and had his characters down, Ace began to bring more of his own sensibility into the books, starting with Cheap Shot. It may have come to full fruition in his latest and best Spenser book yet, Little White Lies.
Ace took inspiration for his latest from an article he co-wrote for Men’s Journal. Spenser’s therapist girlfriend, Susan Silverman, refers one of her clients to him. The woman has been bilked out of $300,000 by M. Brook Wells (or that is the name he is at least currently going by), a man selling himself as ex-special forces and CIA. Tracking Wells down gets Spenser shot at by some real military types and he discovers a trail of conned marks, including a seedy gun merchant, cable news bookers, an entire church, and a gang of gun runners. Dealing with one dangerous revelation after another, Spenser has to invite bad ass back-up, Hawk, for a trip to Georgia.
Of the six Spenser novels, this is Ace’s most personal. He shows his knowledge of Spenser lore, bringing back characters like feminist writer Rachel Wallace, who guides him through the world of cable talk, and gay sniper Vinnie Morris, who gets pulled in by Hawk and Spenser for more fire power. He also shows off the Boston character as well as Parker ever did – but when Spenser goes down south, we are definitely in Ace’s own territory. Atkins portrays Georgia less with local color than with local attitude. The themes of religion, politics, and hypocrisy and how a con man uses extreme belief in God and country to do his work, could have easily popped up in a book featuring Ace’s own Mississippi hero Quinn Colson. However the more iconic Spenser fits the scene perfectly and the story updates him as our detective searches for facts in Trump’s America of alternative facts. Even though it was written before the election, the result is still the same.
In Little White Lies Ace Atkins uses Robert B. Parker’s characters and style to tell a story only he could. Atkins’ talents meet with those of his influence, bringing the character into modern times. Not only is this one of Ace’s best Spenser novels, it is one of the best in the entire Spenser series.
You can find copies of Little White Lies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Recently, Harlan Coben delivered a new Myron Bolitar novel, Home, after what seemed like a long wait. One of the keys to the success of this series is his relationship with his rich and lethal buddy, Win. If you like great banter with a sketchy sidekick who always has the hero’s back, here are three other crime fiction bromances I’d suggest. You can find copies of Coben’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Signed copies available!
Hugo Marston & Tom Green
Created by Mark Pryor
First Book Together: The Bookseller
Hugo Marston, the square-jawed head of security at the American Embassy in Paris, has a sense of morality that could put a boy scout to shame. For morally ambiguous tasks, he often relies on a friend from his FBI days, Tom Green. Tom works with the CIA, has no filter and will drink anything in a bottle and chase anyone in a skirt. Anybody who has a dealt with a self destructive, yet entertaining friend will recognize these two.
Spenser and Hawk
Created by Robert Parker
First Book Together: Promised Land
Hired gun Hawk was brought in by the bad guys during the fourth book in Robert B. Parker’s series to take on white knight PI Spenser. and ended up as the textbook detective-sidekick relationship. Whether written by creator Parker or torch carrier Ace Atkins, these books show how this kind relationship is done.
Easy Rawlins & Mouse
Created by Walter Mosley
First Book Together: Devil In A Blue Dress
Takes the peaceful-hero-violent-sidekick relationship to a higher, more complex level. While the sociopath buddy often allows the crime fiction hero’s hands to be clean with the results obtained, Easy is all too aware of his complicity in bringing Mouse into his dangerous games. It also shows how society and racism can push two unlikely people together.
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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The Highwayman by Craig Johnson
This novella featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire is as much ghost story as mystery. Walt and buddy Henry Standing Bear help out a Highway Patrolman who is receiving “officer needs assistance” calls from a trooper who died over thirty years ago. Johnson takes a unique riff on his entertaining series. The Highwayman comes out May 17th. Pre-order now!
Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn by Ace Atkins
Boston private eye Spenser is back and up against an uncommon enemy. Looking into the fire of a church, he closes on a group of arsonists with a mysterious agenda. Once again, Atkins delivers everything you expect from Robert B Parker’s hero. You can find copies of Slow Burn on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
St. Ernan’s Blues by Paul Charles
Irish Inspector Starrett and his colleagues must solve a murder with the most unusual suspects, priests in an Abbey where they have all been moved to for causing problems with The Church. A fun take on the classic whodunnit. You can meet Paul Charles with the authors who make up Miles Arceneux on May 11th. You can find copies of St. Ernan’s Blues on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Find out more about this event.
– Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
In his latest, Slow Burn, Ace 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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By this point, everyone should know that Ace Atkins is the perfect caretaker for Spenser. He has captured Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based hero-for-hire in both attitude and action. Lately he appears to have taking a more relaxed approach, injecting his own sensibilities that mesh perfectly with Parker’s. His latest continuation of Spenser’s adventures, Kickback, continues to meld the two writing styles.
After her son has been incarcerated in a detention camp for a relatively harmless prank, a mother hires Spenser to look into it. Other boys with the same story have been sent by the same judge. Spenser follows the story to the town where the detention center is located, where he gets harassed by the local law. When he later learns of a connection to some mob types in Tampa, he takes along better protection than sunscreen: his streetwise ally Hawk.
Ace focuses on the detective side of Spenser’s skill-set; a side we don’t see often enough. Where in many of the books, he Spenser quickly learns the identity of the culprit, here, he has to piece together an answer from an entire system of corruption. He works his case methodically with smarts and wit, pushing his adversaries until they give him the information to lock a piece into place. It is refreshing to see him operate more as a classic private eye. If all of this sounds too cerebral, there are still plenty of gunfights.
Ace Atkins continues to deliver everything we want from a Spenser book and more. We get the action, banter with Hawk, and romance (that my hard boiled taste is starting to warm to) with Susan. Yet, instead of simply continuing Spenser’s adventures, Atkins is subtlety deepening aspects of the the character as an actual series writer does. I’m already looking forward to the next installment.
Robert B. Parker’s Kickback hits the shelves May 19th. Pre-order now! Ace Atkins comes to BookPeople this July – check out our events page closer to the date for more information!
This month’s Hard Word Book Club looks at one of the most popular tough guys. Robert B Parker’s Spenser put a modern male spin on the classic private eye. He could braise a chicken and beat up a thug with equal skill. When Mr. Parker died, author Ace Atkins picked up the Spenser flame. Our April pick, Lullaby, is the first of Ace Atkins’ Spenser continuation.
Lullaby shows the Boston knight at his finest. Spenser helps a fourteen year old Southie girl find out who really killed her mother four years ago. The investigation leads to the remnants of the gang run by his classic nemesis, Joe Broz. With his tough-as-the-streets partner, Hawk, Spenser gets justice.
Ace will be calling into our discussion to cover topics such as defining the modern hero and the experience of taking over an iconic character from an other author. Join us at 7PM, Wednesday, April 29th on our third floor. The book is 10% off at the register to those who attend. Our book for May will be Joe R. Lansdale’s The Thicket, with the author calling in. Both Ace Atkins and Joe R. Lansdale come to BookPeople this summer! Keep an eye on BookPeople’s events calendar for more information closer to the date.