Saturday , April 13 2024
Talking with the author of an exciting new thriller series.

An Interview With Ace Atkins, Author of The Ranger

I received this book unsolicited. The first thing I do when that happens is I check the blurbs on the front and back covers. Sometimes blurbs can be misleading (and there’s always gossip about how genuine some author’s praise for another really is.)

But this one had this blurb on the front cover by author Michael Connelly: “One of the best crime writers at work today.” And I’m a big Michael Connelly fan, having interviewed him twice, so this made me decide to give the book a try. 

As with Connelly, Atkin is a former journalist. Atkins earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a feature series he wrote while at the Tampa Tribune. He published his first novel by age 27 and was a full-time novelist by age 30. So I dug in to Atkins book and liked what I read.

On Monday Patrick Anderson, who covers thrillers and mysteries for The Washington Post (I interviewed him here for his great book on the history and cultural impact of mysteries) wrote this positive review of the book. So it’s nice to see I am not alone in quite liking this book, which is well worth checking out.

Speaking of checking it out, for those of you who live near me in Austin, TX check out Ace on Sunday. He will be speaking and signing books at BookPeople. Details here.

One other thing before I get to the interview, Ace has been in the news for another reason – the estate of the late Robert Parker picked Atkins to continue the Spenser series of books. Details on that here.

And now the interview…

How would you describe this book to someone skeptical of starting to read a new series? Put another way what makes this series different?

Quinn Colson. He’s drawn from the real folks coming home from the front as we speak. I think he’s the perfect hero to take over a new series. There are a lot of real guys like Quinn out there. You may work with them or they may be in your family but today’s American soldiers are the toughest, most respected people in the country right now. I’m proud to represent them in this new series.

I noticed you praised at your blog a mini review of your book by Scott Montgomery of Austin’s Book People (my favorite local store and I should mention I consider Scott a colleague and friend), with you saying, “But sometimes you get a reader who sees your world exactly as you drew it. Below is one of the first reviews out on The Ranger. Scott Montgomery runs the crime/thriller section for one of the largest bookstores in the country — BookPeople in Austin, Texas. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a review more. Scott definitely got what The Ranger was all about.”
What was it he “got” that others reviewing your work didn’t?

Scott is one of the foremost experts on crime fiction. I’d put him up against any college professor in a test of wits anytime. He saw the many influences that went into this book — as diverse as classic Burt Reynolds films to Dashiell Hammett to the crime fiction of William Faulkner. Not much escapes Scott Montgomery.

How would you describe the main characters and which ones are most like you?

This is definitely not an alter ego book. I’ve done four of those with Nick Travers. Quinn Colson is a distinct person drawn from the lives of real-life Rangers. I don’t think I have any personal comparisons within The Ranger. Many are based on people I know but not me personally.

What kind of research did you do for this book? Did you do research into how vets adjust – or have trouble adjusting – when returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?


Before I even started this novel, I heard from a colonel at Fort Phoenix in Afghanistan who was reading Devil’s Garden. He was a big fan of crime fiction and we struck up an instant friendship. Not only was he able to tell me about life in Afghanistan but he also introduced me to the man who formed Quinn Colson — a young Army Ranger who’d served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of his background became Quinn’s.

Boom Kimbrough’s experience was based on the numerous pieces of journalism about soldiers coming home with what would have been life-ending injuries in previous wars and how they cope.

Why the switch with this book to starting a new series after success writing books with more of true history element? Do you plan to do to more books about the Ranger character, Quinn Colson?

I was asked by my longtime editor at Putnam who also edits John Sandford, Robert Crais, Randy Wayne White, and Tom Clancy. When he asked for me to create a series, it was a challenge I snatched up instantly. The second Quinn Colson is in the works and will be out next summer. I hope to have a new Quinn book every summer for a long while.


I understand you worked for The Tampa Tribune as a reporter before publishing your first novel and leaving the field to become a full-time novelist. How did your work as a journalist help and influence you as a novelist? I’m a former journalist myself so I have curiosity in this area.

Being a professional journalist gives you the ability and skill set to research and interview beyond most authors. All my novels start with a ton of research before I write one word. It also makes you an expert at rewriting and recrafting story until it’s as perfect as possible.

You used material from your reporting to write the critically acclaimed novel White Shadow – do you plan to do that again for any future novels or are you going to stick with solely the Quinn novels?

For the immediate future, I am only going to be writing for Spenser and Quinn. I’ll be going from the city to the country every year. I will say I have a killer true-crime novel — 1/3 done — that I hope to complete some day. That was going to be the novel after Infamous but it was shelved to write The Ranger.

What does it mean to you to be called on to continue Robert Parker’s Spenser series? How did that come about that you were picked? Were you recruited or did you approach the estate?

Being chosen was a tremendous honor. I think anyone who reads my books sees the incredible influence of Bob Parker. He was a real hero of mine. Spenser led me to writing crime fiction. 

As far as being selected, I was asked to submit chapters to Bob’s editor. Beyond that, I don’t know the process.

9) Related question – what do you think Robert Parker (and his books) contributed to the mystery/thriller genre? Now the tricky follow-up: What do you hope you are contributing to the genre? In a way it’s ironic I’m interviewing you now since I had interviewed Parker once before and had a commitment to do an interview with him when he published his next Spenser book… then he died.. and now I am interviewing the author of the next Spenser books.

Well, I think everyone would agree that Bob Parker reinvigorated real crime fiction. He returned the Hammett/Chandler model into the contemporary scene and influenced countless authors — from Robert Crais to Dennis Lehane among others. I for one would not be a writer without Bob Parker.

I will end with what I call my bonus question – what question do you hope you will be asked about this book that you have not been asked so far?

I enjoy talking about the influence of Faulkner’s crime fiction on the Quinn Colson books. Many people forget about the great crime novels Faulkner wrote — the Gavin Stevens mysteries, Sanctuary, and Intruder in the Dust.

Most folks only get through Sound and the Fury because it’s assigned to them in college. Faulkner can be a hell of a lot of fun.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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