There are just a few mystery and thriller authors who are consistently good. Most have a clunker occasionally. But Ace Atkins, Craig Johnson and Michael Connelly always impress me with every book they write and get published. I was thus excited to get the chance to interview Ace Atkins again, this time about his two newest books,Wonderland, the latest in Robert Parker’s Spenser series, and Broken Places, the latest in his Quinn Colson series. Atkins was chosen by Robert Parker’s estate to continue the Spenser series after Parker’s death.I was lucky enough to interview Atkins both before and after he wrote his first Spenser book, Lullaby.
Atkins has done a great job continuing the Spenser series, getting the voice and characters just right and, in this new one, further fleshing out a character, SixKill, that Robert Parker introduced in Sixkill, his last book before he died. This is Atkins’ second book in the Spenser series – the first was Lullaby. If you are a Robert Parker and/or Spenser fan then you will enjoy both Lullaby and Wonderland.
This new Spenser book is about people of questionable character trying to set up a legal casino in an old dog track called Wonderland in Massachusetts. Henry Cimoli, longtime Spenser friend and a boxing trainer, has asked him for help. Seems the group trying to establish the casino are pressuring Henry and others to sell their property and have sent some thugs to intimidate Henry. Spenser and Sixkill, whom Spenser is helping train to be a detective, not only help Henry but get involved in the whole complicated situation and try to do the right thing in the middle of a messy situation. Hawk and Susan play more of a minor role in this book than in most Spenser books allowing more time between Spenser and Sixkill.
In addition to praise for writing the Spenser books Atkins has also been getting much deserved acclaim for his series about Quinn Colson, who served as an Army Ranger for 10 years before returning to his home in Mississippi. He is the county sheriff there.
As sheriff Colson has his work cut out for him not just dealing with crime and criminals but also family members – specifically his sister, Cady — who innocently gets involved with a criminal but refuses to acknowlege or accept that this may be a mistake. This is Atkins’ third book in the Colson series. The first was The Ranger (2011) and the second was The Lonely Ones (2012). All three are quite good.
As The Broken Places starts there’s been a prison break and the escapees are looking for Jamey Dixon, a murderer who was pardoned and has since set up a church in town. He is Cady’s boyfriend so Colson has to deal with the escapees, Dixon (who many suspect should never have been pardoned) and keeping Cady from getting hurt not only emotionally but also physically since these escapees are some bad dudes.
In interviews with me and others, Atkins has explained that he can’t wrote both books at the same time but instead writes Spenser novels for part of the year and the Colson books during another part of the year.
Here is my interview with Atkins. Thanks to Ace for the interview and thanks to Rev. Meg Barnhouse for suggesting one of the questions.
How did the stories for these two books develop?
Wonderland started off as news of a new casino coming to Boston developed. There was talk it might go in at the old Wonderland dog track and I loved the title.
The Broken Places also developed from the true story of a recent prison break out at Parchman prison and a horrific tornado that first stated only a mile from my farm. The tornado went on to destroy an entire community down the highway from where I live.
Which is more fun to write – The Quinn series or the Spenser series? Why?
Hmm. I truly find a lot of enjoyment in both series. One — Spenser — is a favorite from my teenage years. Spenser is really what lead me to being a newspaper reporter and then a crime novelist. A lot of my world view as an adult was shaped by getting to know Spenser.
But of course Quinn Colson and Tibbehah County is my own creation and very special to me. This is a series set in my own backyard and letting the characters and world grow with each book is pretty thrilling.
By writing two series — very different worlds — it allows me to keep both series fresh and exciting. It gives me a break from the characters and when I return, it’s with a fresh enthusiasm.
Has James Lee Burke been a major influence? A friend – well, my church minister – says you sound like Burke when you talk about honor and how some people are just bad, and how they fool other people, nice hopeful liberal people.
I’m a big JLB fan but I don’t think we’re stylistically similar at all. I think we just tend to write about similar people who inhabit the South. And writing about the real world, real criminals, those worlds intersect. I think JLB is one of the finest writers we have so I appreciate any comparison.
Similarly, I’m wondering if you’re influenced or following Craig Johnson’s book series. Both Quinn in your series and Walt Longmire in his share some qualities, wouldn’t you agree?
Craig is another favorite of mine. There is no doubt that Longmire is one of the best series going. Not to mention the television show is outstanding. I think there may be something to be said about Burke’s rural crime series centers on a Korean War vet, Craig’s series on a Vietnam vet and then mine with a recent vet of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are different men of different generations with similar experiences.
What is the status of the television series based on your Quinn Colson stories?
The producer who optioned the books has just received a pilot episode script written by me and my wife, Angela. We’re looking for a home on cable. I don’t think we could make it work on network. Too gritty.
Why did you decide to focus this Spenser story partly on Zebulon Sixkill, fleshing him out more in this book?
Another great question. Well, I wanted the Spenser series to have a continuity with where RBP left off. Sixkill was his final creation and there was no doubt from the way he left it, that he had big plans for Z. I happened to really like the character. I have family who lives not far from the rez where Z was raised. In many ways I can feel a connection to Z as an apprentice to Spenser as I feel as I had been an apprentice to Mr. Parker for many years.
But fans should not worry — Hawk is back in the new book in a big way.