When it comes to the king of southern crime, Ace Atkins reigns supreme.
I first discovered Atkins’ work a few years ago and absolutely fell in love with his series. While I personally prefer Quinn Colson to Spenser (a few years back, Atkins took over Robert B. Parker’s iconic franchise), I’m a sucker for pretty much anything with the author’s name on it. He does for Mississippi, bringing the atmosphere and culture to life, what James Lee Burke does for Louisiana with his books. Anyone who’s read his stuff knows what I mean, how setting almost becomes its own character, adding richness and depth to the plot.
Last year, Atkins went on the record for our Five Questions segment when The Fallen came out, which ended up being one of our most-viewed Q&As in 2017. This year, I asked him about everything from the recently announced Spenser movie to what he looks for in a local restaurant when he’s on a book tour. Always generous with his answers, Atkins gave some great responses and even teased a little bit about his next projects. See the full interview below, then make sure to order The Sinners, available everywhere Tuesday, July 17th.
TRBS: I absolutely loved The Sinners, which might just be my favorite Colson book yet. . . this series just gets better and better! How did you come up with the plot idea for this one, and what kind of research, if any, did you have to do before actually sitting down to write?
Atkins: “Thanks so much. Glad to hear you enjoyed it! I definitely had a good time writing The Sinners. The whole story came from the characters. They always come first and then the story develops. I’ve long been fascinated by the world of dirt track racing in the deep South. The folks involved in the sport will do about anything to stay on the track. And it’s not cheap. The idea of the Pritchard boys, a couple good ole boys meaning a little harm, really shaped the entire novel. The thought of two feral teens working their way up on the track, while continuing their family tradition of growing marijuana to fund it, seems like the perfect fit for a Quinn book. It also allowed me to step back a couple decades and see that the run-ins with the Pritchard family started long ago in Tibbehah County.
“As far as research, I had all kinds of crazy intentions before I started to write. I even contemplated heading out west to a truck driving school run by the actor, Donal Logue (he graciously offered to set me up for the research). But alas, there just wasn’t time to get everything done. And in this book, the racing took over more than the truck driving story. I spent a good amount of time at a few dirt tracks down south. I had some family connection to a dirt track racer in Columbus, Mississippi, and got to talk to him about his passion for the sport. These guys don’t do it for the money or the glory. They just love the racing and the competition.”
TRBS: Already eight books in, how long do you see Quinn Colson hanging around? Obviously, you’re now penning the Spenser books for Robert B. Parker’s estate. That series is like 47 novels in and still going strong. Do you see Quinn being the kind of series protagonist that you might enjoy writing about for that long?
Atkins: “I certainly hope so. I wrote a four-book series at the start of my career. And I learned a lot about how certain characters and series are destined for a limited run. The reason I wanted to write about a sheriff in the deep South is that there are unlimited story possibilities. Where I live, in Oxford, Mississippi, the sheriff of our county has been in office about as long as I’ve been alive. I also wanted to write about a place, a Southern town and county, that shifts, changes and grows over time. I certainly picked up a lot of ideas from Parker’s career. Whether it was Spenser or Jesse Stone, we all wanted to return to those stories time and again. The characters and their professions made the entry point into a crime novel easy. It’s their job. It’s what they do.”
TRBS: Speaking of Spenser, news recently broke that Mark Wahlberg (partnering with his long-time collaborator Peter Berg) will be playing the famous PI in a film adaption for Netflix and that the first movie they’re making is based on your book, Wonderland. Fans seem pretty split, with some loving Wahlberg for the part and others more skeptical. What are your thoughts, and will you have any involvement in the project?
Atkins: “I had heard a little about that project over the last two years. But in Hollywood, you never really know what’s actually going to happen. It’s a world based on a lot of talk. I was excited to hear that it’s moving ahead and that Wonderland will kick off what is proposed to be a long-running series. I think the modern Boston stories and people in the last seven books I’ve written make an easier transition for a contemporary film. And Wonderland, based on the true story of a ruthless fight to get a casino to Boston, is a real natural.
“As far as Wahlberg, I guess we’ll soon find out. He certainly knows Boston and has had extensive boxing training with The Fighter. I think it will all come down to the adaptation of the book and the character. If the writers understand Spenser and his code, it will be terrific.
“My involvement is ‘based on the novel by’ only. I’m too busy. Already planning ahead to my eighth Spenser!”
TRBS: You often post really great photos when you’re out on book tour, including shots of different eating locations. What do you look for in a local restaurant, and what’s your go-to breakfast when loading up for a long day of signing books?
Atkins: “I look at book tour as a real adventure. The good folks at Putnam are the best about sending me all over the U.S. to meet fans and talk about Spenser and Quinn. And I take the time to really go out and explore places I’ve never been or towns I love. I hope to bring a little travelogue to my readers while I’m on tour. I look for places that really represent their cities. One of my recent favorites was having hash and eggs at Slyman’s deli in Cleveland — an authentic joint and a gem of the city. Being at Slyman’s was like being in the heart of that town.
“I think I’ve long been inspired by Parker’s travelogue in the Spenser books. Whether it was L.A. or Boston, you knew where to eat and where to go. I love hearing from fans about recs when I get to their town. And it’s even influenced some fans of Quinn to head down South for the best barbecue and catfish. I’m always happy to send them in the right direction.”
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you, and when can readers expect to see Quinn again?
Atkins: “I’m back at work on both the next Spenser and the next Quinn novels. Fingers crossed, they’ll both be out next summer. I can’t say much, but Spenser will encounter some real series favorites we haven’t seen in a good long while. And for Quinn, the shit is just about to hit the fan. Everything that’s been building in the previous books is about to come to a head in a big way. I can’t wait to see how things will shake out down in Tibbehah County.”
In the new novel from New York Times-bestselling crime master Ace Atkins, violence comes in many forms…and this time it may be more than Quinn Colson can handle.
The Pritchards had never been worth a damn–an evil, greedy family who made their living dealing drugs and committing mayhem. Years ago, Colson’s late uncle had put the clan’s patriarch in prison, but now he’s getting out, with revenge, power, and family business on his mind. To make matters worse, a shady trucking firm with possible ties to the Gulf Coast syndicate has moved into Tibbehah, and they have their own methods of intimidation.
With his longtime deputy Lillie Virgil now working up in Memphis, Quinn Colson finds himself having to fall back on some brand-new deputies to help him out, but with Old West-style violence breaking out, and his own wedding on the horizon, this is without a doubt Colson’s most trying time as sheriff. Cracks are opening up all over the county, and shadowy figures are crawling out through them–and they’re all heading directly for him.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.