Review: ‘Slow Burn’ by Ace Atkins

SlowBurnCoverSlow Burn by Ace Atkins
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (May 3, 2016)

Boston is burning, one abandoned building at a time.

It is a year after the fire that consumed the empty shell that was once the Holy Innocents church – a fire that resulted in the deaths of three Boston firefighters. Those deaths still haunt Jack McGee, a fellow firefighter who has grown increasingly frustrated with his own department’s investigation into the incident. So frustrated, in fact, that he does the near-unthinkable and reaches outside the firefighter family for help. The man he calls on is a P.I. named Spenser. Continue reading

Review: ‘Kickback’ by Ace Atkins

Kickback by Ace Atkins
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (May 19, 2015)

KickbackAce Atkins continues to hit all the right notes as curator of Robert B. Parker’s “Spenser” series in Kickback, the 45th overall Spenser novel and the fourth written by Atkins. In this latest adventure we get to watch as Spenser connects dots that run from a private juvenile detention facility in Boston Harbor, through a couple of buddy-buddy judges in Blackburn, Massachusetts, all the way down to the sunny beaches of Tampa, Florida. Along the way we’re treated to Atkins’ flawless approximation of Parker’s style as he maintains the sharp plotting and witty banter that helped make Spenser so popular in the first place.

Kickback opens with a woman walking through Spenser’s door with a sandwich and a problem – two things guaranteed to get a response from the private investigator. Sheila Yates is looking for help for her son, Dillon, who’s serving time at a local juvenile detention facility because he set up a fake Twitter account as a prank on his vice principal. Like many of Blackburn’s youth, Dillon has run afoul of the town’s famous “zero tolerance” judge, Joe Scali. Scali believes in no free passes and no breaks, sentencing  kids to months-long stretches for the slightest indiscretions. As Spenser begins to nose around the case, he finds that Scali’s intentions may be less about reducing juvenile crime and more about increasing his personal wealth.

I won’t go any further into the plot, because the main appeal of the series is joining Spenser and his cast of supporting characters (Kickback includes appearances by Hawk and, of course, Spenser’s lovely constant companion, Susan) as they go through their paces. Atkins does a great job of exploring the ways P.I. work can go from routine to deadly with little notice. He also knows the perfect time to drop in the little details that enrich the characters and the world they inhabit – the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and, more importantly, what those things say about them as people.

Is it formulaic? Yes. Atkins is not out to upend the world Parker created. Spenser is basically the same man at the end of the book as he was at the beginning, and that’s the way we like it. It’s comfort food, and when done right, there’s nothing better than comfort food. If you prefer to see Atkins unfettered by rules he didn’t create, check out the next book in his series about Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson (The Redeemers, out on July 21). But until then, join him as he takes a walk in the well-worn shoes of one of our best mystery writers. With every new Spenser novel, he proves that the trust placed in him by Robert Parker’s family to continue his legacy was well-founded.

Ace Atkins hits the road behind new Spenser, Quinn Colson novels

Ace Atkins has a busy month ahead of him.

On May 1, the crime novelist (The RangerInfamousCrossroad Blues and a fistful of others) begins an eight-stop jaunt in support of Lullaby, his first effort as the new scribe behind Robert B. Parker’s popular series of Spenser novels. Atkins was hand-picked by Putnam and the late Parker’s estate to continue the series, and this first book is getting good early reviews. Of course, the real reaction everyone is waiting for is what happens when the die-hard Spenser fans get hold of the book. If Atkins can please them and manage to construct a fresh take that doesn’t feel like a stale retread – a fine line, to be sure – then it will be a job well done. Having read a good bit of Atkins’ work, I think the series is in good hands, and I hope this opens up a whole new fanbase for him.

A few weeks later – beginning on May 31, to be exact – Atkins will be on tour again, this time supporting The Lost Ones, the second book in his own Quinn Colson series. Atkins introduced Colson, a former Army Ranger who returns home to Mississippi to find a county overrun with corruption and violence, in last year’s well-received book The RangerThe Lost Ones finds Colson, who is now the sheriff of troubled Tibbehah County, trying to bust up a bootleg baby racket that’s taken root in his own backyard. The Ranger was a fun read, and there’s a lot of potential for some good Southern noir in the series and the setting. Atkins lives in Mississippi and is a former crime reporter, so he knows of what he writes, and I’m anticipating great things from the Colson books to come.

Below is the full list of tour dates, ripped straight from the author’s website. If he’s coming to your area, make the time to stop by and try one of his books. He’s a personable guy, takes the time to really have a conversation with his fans at these signings, and he’s a helluva writer.

Lullaby Tour, Summer 2012
Tuesday, May 1: New York, New York | Mysterious Bookshop
Wednesday, May 2: New York, New York
Thursday, May 3, 4:30 p.m.: Boston, Massachusetts | Project Jumpstart
Friday, May 4, 7:00 p.m.: Boston, Massachusetts | Porter Square Books
Saturday, May 5, 2:00 pm: Minneapolis, Minnesota | Once Upon A Crime
Sunday: May 6, 12:30 p.m.: Milwaukee, Wisconsin | Mystery One
Monday: May 7, 7:30 p.m.: Denver, Colorado | Tattered Cover
Tuesday, May 8, 7:00 p.m.: Scottsdale, Arizona | Poisoned Pen

The Lost Ones Tour, Summer 2012
Thursday, May 31: Oxford, Mississippi | Square Books
Friday, June 1: Birmingham, Alabama | Books-A-Million
Saturday, June 2: Houston, Texas | Murder By The Book
Sunday, June 3: New Orleans, Louisiana | Faulkner House
Tuesday, June 5: Memphis, Tennessee | The Booksellers at Laurelwood
Wednesday, June 6: Austin, Texas | BookPeople
Thursday, June 7: St. Louis, Missouri | Library Event
Friday, June 8: Nashville, Tennessee | Parnassus Books
Saturday, June 9: Montgomery, Alabama | Capitol Book & News
Wednesday, June 13: Jackson, Mississippi | Lemuria
Thursday, June 14: Tampa, Florida | Inkwood
Thursday, June 14: St. Petersburg, Florida | Haslam’s

So, what are your thoughts on characters like Spenser continuing on without the original author? Good idea, if in the right hands? Greedy cash grab? Blasphemy? Personally, I like the idea of having other authors interpret established characters – imagine Neil Gaiman writing a “Dark Tower” novel, or Michael Crichton’s take on James Bond. You still have the originals if that’s all you want, but you can also get different perspectives on your tried-and-true favorites.

What do you think?

Ace Atkins doubles up for 2012

Ace Atkins, award-winning writer of crime fiction and former Auburn Tiger/Sports Illustrated cover guy, is set to have a big month in May 2012: he’s got not one, but two new novels coming out.

Atkins posted the news on his blog, revealing the covers and descriptions of both novels. The Lost Ones is the second in the author’s own series about Quinn Colson, the character he debuted earlier this year in The Ranger. It’s based on the harrowing true story of a baby-selling ring that was discovered in North Mississippi a few years ago. Atkins loves to write fiction grounded in fact, and the story he’s tapped into here should make for an unforgettable piece of work.

His other May 2012 book is Lullaby, the author’s first book as the new shepherd of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. Parker’s estate was instrumental in choosing Atkins to continue the Spenser books and, based on his current body of work, I doubt they are going to be disappointed.

Congrats, Ace – looking forward to the double-shot.