Ace Atkins, a satisfying blend of Blues music and noir fiction
by Steven Williams
Ace Atkins has been published professionally since 1998 with six novels in print. They have been critically well received and have also earned their author an enthusiastic popular following. Atkins attended Auburn College on a football scholarship majoring in screenplay writing and it was here that he began writing short stories as a freshman. He was actually able to complete about half of his first novel while still in school, even though he was playing football for the college team. After graduation, Atkins decided to begin working in journalism as an apprenticeship to his long-term goal of writing fiction. He first worked for about one year at The St. Petersburg Times as a pickup writer or correspondent, primarily writing sports, features, and quite a few book reviews and he believes this gave him the edge he needed as a writer when he moved on to The Tampa Tribune as a full-time crime reporter. His intentions as a writer apparently have always been to write serious crime fiction, not mysteries. Because of this, he saw The Tribune experience as a perfect opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives of criminals and cops he would otherwise never know fist hand. Recognition of Atkins skills as a fiction novelist includes a nomination for the Gumshoe Award for Best Novel for 'Dark End of the Street' and a nomination for the Barry Award for Best Novel for 'White Shadow'.
Atkins began seriously writing fiction again while working for The Tribune. The quality of his journalism at The Tribune earned him both Pulitzer Prize and Livingston Award nominations. Atkins finished and published his first two novels, Crossroad Blues (1998) and Leavin’ Trunk Blues (2000), while still working at the Tribune. 'Crossroad Blues' was actually a continuation of the short stories featuring his character Nick Travers and which he had originally began writing during his college years. Three years after his first novel was published he decided to become a full time novelist. Atkins currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi and is a part time instructor in the School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. He considers the part time work as a teacher as important to his writing because it makes him a more disciplined writer. Plus, he likes working with the students.
Crossroad Blues: A Nick Travers Mystery (1998)
Atkins first published novel features Nick Travers, a frequent recurring character for his later fiction. Nick is described as an ex-New Orleans Saints football player, part-time detective, and full-time devotee of the Blues. In addition to playing the Blues harmonica at a Blues bar in the French Quarter, he is a historian of the Blues and teaches an occasional Blues history class at Tulane. A Tulane colleague disappears while pursuing nine previously unknown Robert Johnson recordings in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood, Mississippi. Nick, at the request of the head of Tulane's Jazz and Blues Archives, goes looking for his colleague. He ends up becoming mixed up with some dangerous people around Greenwood including a psychopathic teenage Elvis impersonator and a slimy record producer blues-club owner. It turns out that the producer has also been looking for the same lost Johnson recordings in order to give a promotional boost to the unauthentic Blues club he owns in New Orleans. Nick finds himself driven to try to protect the sanctity of the blues, unravel the mystery of Robert Johnson's past, and discovering what happened to the missing archivist and the mythic recordings.
Leavin' Trunk Blues: A Nick Travers Mystery (2000)
The second crime novel by Ace Atkins again features his recurring character Nick Travers, a former professional football player turned musicologist. Nick is still playing his Blues harp at a Blues club in the French Quarter as well as researching and teaching Blues history at Tulane. Over a drink, a noted Blues guitarist happens to mention the mysterious 1959 murder of a record producer for which the murdered man's mistress was sentenced to prison. She was a great 1950s Blues songstress and Nick has been trying to line up an interview with her for some time. She finally agrees to talk to him if he will look into the circumstances of the crime for which she claims she was unjustly convicted. Nick becomes intrigued by the story and subsequently learns that even before the prison sentencing rumors had spread both about the dead man's gambling debts as well as suspicions about his former partner, a fellow musician who subsequently moved on to make a name for himself in Chicago Blues. Nick ends up in Chicago and quickly learns that there are still people around, killers all, who want to the circumstances behind the murder left alone. The ongoing search for the identity of the real murderer leads Nick into a retracing of the route of the Delta Blues greats during the Great Migration of African-Americans from the Delta to Chicago during and after World War II, from the historic Maxwell Street market to the South Side's Checkerboard Lounge.
Dark End of the Street: A Nick Travers Mystery (2002)
Atkins third Nick Travers finds Nick tracking down the lost brother as a favor to one of his best friends. The job ends up not being so simple though. The missing man was one of the great Memphis Soul singers in 1968, but his despair over the murder of his wife and close friend causes him to fall down and disappear into the street life of the city. Nick's search for the missing man becomes entangled with the agendas of the Dixie Mafia, a gubernatorial candidate with links to Klan-like Sons of the South, and an Elvis Presley obsessed hit man. It turns out that an older couple was murdered a few weeks before Nick sets out on his search. Nick, while at the casino following a lead to the long-missing man, happens to see a TV monitor on which he sees a trussed up young woman. The young coed happens to be the murdered couple's daughter and has been kidnapped by Mafia thugs. Nick rescues her but in the process kills a man forcing both the young woman and him to become fugitives. They eventually find themselves in New Orleans for the story's climax.
Dirty South: A Nick Travers Mystery (2004)
The fourth Nick Travers thriller finds Nick being asked to do yet another favor for a friend. This time it is a former teammate from the New Orleans Saints who has become a wealthy producer in the Rap music business. He asks Nick to help him find the $700,000 stolen from a rap prodigy who happens to be one of his label's major stars. Nick sets out with the fifteen year old rapper to look for the team of grifters who conned the money out of the kid. The trail takes them into the Dirty South rap world and they end up fleeing to the Mississippi Delta and the protection of Nick's mentor, a legendary blues musician. His mentor's connections include another old-school Delta tough guy and the trio find themselves taking on the long list of enemies that the search for the grifters has brought.
White Shadow (2006)
Atkins fifth novel was based on his work as a crime journalist at The Tampa Tribune. He received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a feature series in The Tribune based on his investigation into a forgotten 1950s murder in Tampa. White Shadow is set in Tampa in 1955. The bludgeoning murder of a mob boss sets cops, reporters, and the murdered man's associates all out looking for the reasons for the murder. The trail that one particular team of investigators made up of a police detective and a crime reporter follows leads through the neighborhoods of 1950s Tampa and on to pre-revolutionary Havana and its world of Cuban gangsters. The murdered man had been a well-known bootlegger in his younger days. It turns out that it is related to the turf warfare that has been going on between Sicilian and Cuban gangsters.
Wicked City (April, 2008)
The newest novel by Ace Atkins is another historical crime novel, this time set in 1954 Phenix City, Alabama, 'The Wickedest City in America', a town overrun with gambling, prostitution, and moonshine. A recently elected attorney general is found shot in a town alley. This is the catalyst that brings together the town's small anti-vice group who decide that enough is enough. Their decision to act has repercussions they could never have expected. One of the group, an ex-boxer and family man leads the effort. Eventually the town evens falls under martial law and the ex-boxer is appointed interim sheriff in order to get things under control. He and the group he leads soon find themselves at war with the redneck mafia who seem to have decided that they will stop a nothing to prevent Phenix City from being cleaned up.
The Livingston Award are American journalism awards given in recognition of 'outstanding journalism in print or broadcast' by journalists under thirty-five years old for categories: local, national, and international reporting. In addition to the three main category awards, the foundation also gives out a Richard M. Clurman Award honorary a senior professional who has been a superb on-the-job mentor. The awards are funded and awarded by the Mollie Parnis Livingston Foundation in New York City and were created in 1981 to honor Robert Livingston, son of Mollie Parnis Livingston who was also the publisher of the journalism review 'More'. The Livingston Awards are the largest, all media, general reporting prizes in the US and are chosen by judging print, broadcast, and online entries against one another. This intra-media competition makes the Livingston Awards one of the most competitive and prestigious reporting prizes in American journalism. Mollie Parnis Livingston, born Sara Rosen Parnis in 1902, is best known as Mollie Parnis, a major and popular US designer of women’s dresses beginning in the 1930s and on into the 1980s.
The Barry Award
The Barry Awards were created by Deadly Pleasures, the American premier fan-oriented mystery magazine and named in honor of Barry Gardner, a noted fan reviewer. The Barry Awards are currently being given out every summer at the Boucheron World Mystery Convention. For a book to be eligible for a Barry Award, it must be published in English. For a book to be eligible for the British Crime Novel category, the book must also be published in Great Britain. None of the other Barry Award categories have any additional restrictions. Nominations for the various Barry Awards are made by the editor/publisher of Deadly Pleasures magazine with input from a panel made up of Deadly Pleasures reviewers, mystery booksellers, and fans. The panel votes to determine the awards shortlists. The readers of Mystery News and Deadly Pleasures magazines then choose the award winners from these shortlists.
The Gumshoe Award
The Gumshoe Awards are given out by Mystery Ink, one of the most popular published blogs for mystery and thriller readers, and it is best noted for its extensive, high quality book reviews and author interviews. The Gumshoe has been given in recognition of the best writing in crime fiction since 2001. The nominated books are chosen for genre titles published for the first time in the United States during the previous calendar year. Award categories currently include Best Mystery, Best Thriller, and Best First Novel.
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Ace Atkins, a satisfying blend of Blues music and noir fiction by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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