Versatile Ace Atkins to appear July 21 for Sacramento Bee Book Club

Ace Atkins is promoting the sixth title in his “Quinn Colson” series, “The Innocents,” to be released Tuesday, July 12.
Ace Atkins is promoting the sixth title in his “Quinn Colson” series, “The Innocents,” to be released Tuesday, July 12.

Ace Atkins is a versatile guy – the author of 16 novels in three Southern-noir crime-fiction/mystery series, and four early stand-alone novels that “launched my career,” he said. He’s been nominated for a trio of Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America and, during his newspaper years at the Tampa Tribune, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Atkins has a lot going on right now. The sixth title in his New York Times best-selling “Quinn Colson” series, “The Innocents,” will be released July 12, and he’ll be on a 14-city national tour to promote it (Putnam, $27, 384 pages). It’s the choice in July for The Sacramento Bee Book Club, where he will appear July 21.

Also, his “Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn,” the fifth entry in his “Spenser” series, was released May 3 and immediately appeared on best-seller lists around the nation (Putnam, $27, 304 pages). For context, author Parker died in 2010. His estate made a deal with publisher Putnam to continue the long-running, fabulously successful “Spenser” franchise – the adventures of the iconic Boston-based P.I. – and awarded it to Atkins.

With a two-books-a-year publishing contract, Atkins must perform a juggling act as he moves in time and space from one world to another – Mississippi for the “Quinn Colson” series, Boston for the “Spenser” series. What’s that like?

“I’ve been alternating Quinn and Spenser for the last six years, and it’s not just a matter of writing about the different characters at the time,” he said. “It’s also about the places – rural Mississippi, then flipping it around and writing about gritty urban Boston. It’s a tricky thing to do. I’ve got to make sure that characters in Boston sound like Bostonians, and then I’ve got to make sure the other characters sound like they’re from Mississippi, which is easier because I live there. Do I sometimes mix up the characters? Oh, yes.”

As for his four-title third series (1998-2004), the character of Nick Travers is a former pro football player and musician who plays blues at local clubs and teaches blues history at Tulane University. Doing “favors for friends” has led him to a life of sleuthing, invariably involving the blues music scene, past and present.

“I left Nick Travers behind a long time ago,” Atkins said. Still, to his surprise, Alabama-based publisher 12-Gauge Comics approached him with a deal to publish graphic-novel versions of three titles in his New Orleans-set mystery series – “Crossroad Blues,” “Leaving Trunk Blues” and “Dirty South.” “Crossroad” will appear in spring 2017, followed by the other two in 2018 and 2019.

Atkins’ upcoming Southern Gothic “The Innocents” – called “a joy ride into the heart of darkness” (Washington Post) – is set in small-town, hard-scrabble rural Mississippi. It follows former Army Ranger Quinn Colson as he and partner-against-crime Lillie Virgil – both wearing sheriff’s stars – investigate the horrific murder of a former high school cheerleader. Along the way, the Memphis Mob gets involved and a sideshow’s worth of eccentric locals become suspects. Literally, the final page opens the door for worse to follow in the next book.

With humor, understatement, action, insight and dead-on dialogue, Atkins brings together a cast of emotionally charged, realistic characters in a setting that’s way under the radar of most readers. Mississippi? Really? Most definitely.

It’s a long way from Jericho, Miss., to Boston, but that’s where Atkins goes in “Slow Burn.” Once more, P.I. Spenser teams with his deadly brothers-in-action Hawk and Zebulon Sixkill to stop a deranged trio of arsonists intent on burning down the city.

Two trilogies come to an end

If you like horror, look for these well-regarded trilogies:

Justin Cronin’s horrific epic “The Passage Trilogy” began in 2009 with the award-winning “The Passage,” continued in 2012 with “The Twelve” and now concludes with “The City of Mirrors” (Ballantine, $28, 624 pages). The premise: A deadly virus is accidentally unleashed in the world, turning the infected into vampires and bringing the end to civilization. Survivors endure.

Less literary and smaller in scope, yet twisted in its own way, is horrormeister Stephen King’s “Bill Hodges Trilogy.” It opened in 2014 with he Edgar Award-winning “Mr. Mercedes,” went on in 2015 with “Finders Keepers” and concludes with “End of Watch.” The premise: Retired old-school police detective Bill Hodges teams with two unlikely “helpers” to defeat some of the worst bad guys in horror literature.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

Bee Book Club

Ace Atkins will appear for The Sacramento Bee Book Club at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 21, in The Hive at The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento.

Tickets to the event are $20 for seven-day-a-week subscribers, $30 for general admission. Buy tickets online a Please bring your ticket to the event for entrance. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. Parking is free.

All proceeds benefit The Bee’s News In Education (NIE) program, bringing news and information to more than 20,000 students in the region.

Atkins will give a presentation, answer questions and sign books. Barnes & Noble will be on site, selling “The Innocents” for 30 percent off the list price (Putnam, $27, 384 pages; on sale July 12). B&N also will sell Atkins’ “Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn” and some of the author’s backlist and audiobooks at full price.

“The Innocents” also will be offered for 30 percent off the list price through July 21 at these bookstores: in the Sacramento area at the four Barnes & Nobles, Avid Reader at the Tower, Underground Books, Time Tested Books and Sac State’s Hornet Bookstore; in Davis at Avid Reader and UC Davis Bookstore; in El Dorado Hills at Face in a Book; and in Grass Valley at The Bookseller.

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