Ace Atkins talks about SLOW BURN, THE INNOCENTS


Photo by Joe Worthem

Ace Atkins will have two books coming out in the next few months. SLOW BURN brings back Robert B. Parker’s character, private investigator Spenser, and Atkins’ Quinn Colson series, THE INNOCENTS. Coincidentally each book cover and plot has elements of fire.

SLOW BURN, published the first week in May, begins with a church on fire. Spenser is hired to find out who is behind a series of fires that appear to be set intentionally. With the help of his trusted ally Hawk, his apprentice, Sixkill, and his psychologist girlfriend Susan it becomes apparent the trail of fires leads to Boston’s underworld. They must find the firebug before he kills again and destroys more property.

THE INNOCENTS will be published in July. Sherriff Lillie Virgil enlists the former Sherriff Quinn Colson to help find Milly Jones’ killer. Someone set her on fire and had her walk on a highway.

Elise Cooper: Can you compare both the Quinn and Spenser series?

Ace Atkins: They are written stylistically different. Both series stories are hero driven with themes of honor, respect, and tolerance. The Spenser stories are told through his eyes and voice, while the Quinn stories are about everyone in the one county. The Quinn series has a continuing storyline, much like a long-term arc in a TV show.

EC: Are both these series recent plots based on true stories?

AA: Both are taken from the headlines. With SLOW BURN I found a string of arsons dealing with insurance fraud that occurred in Boston a few decades ago. However, after meeting with those in the Boston arson unit I was told it would never happen like that today because property is so valuable. There is no money to be made in burning down a building. I refigured the plot and came up with the idea of guys banding together to start these fires.

Millie, a character in THE INNOCENTS, was inspired by a true story. A young girl over a year ago was found walking down a highway while completely on fire. There was a mystery surrounding the circumstances of her death. Another character was based on a long time well respected football coach accused of some nasty stuff. Because he was a pillar of the community no one spoke up even though they knew what was happening

EC: Did you consult with the Boston Fire Department?

AA: Yes. I am always looking for an opportunity to do something new with Spenser. The challenge is to keep him contemporary, fresh, and updated. Since the Boston Fire Department is such a large part of their culture I wanted Spenser to do something with them. With this book I had complete access, including the arson unit.

EC: I don’t think this is a spoiler, but will “Z” be written out?

AA: Bob gave me the character. He intended for Spenser to mentor a young guy. In this book it is the conclusion of his training as well as his ability to overcome his personal problems. I think it is time he got his own series. If there are enough fans interested it could be a hell of a book.

EC: What about Spenser and Susan’s relationship?

AA: She needs a strong role in the story besides going out to dinner and just being his romantic interest. My favorite book with her is CEREMONY. They deeply love each other but are both fierce, fiery, independent people. They both realize they are individuals who live outside the norm. While Hawk provides the muscle support Susan provides support with the understanding of human nature and the psych of the perpetrator.

EC: You mention in the book Hank Phillippi Ryan. WHY?

Ace (Right) with Reed Coleman

AA: Hank is a good friend of mine. She is such a journalistic fixture in Boston. When it came to writing this book I had a scene where I wanted Spenser to have a journalist help him. I thought why fictionalize it. Since I like writing about real places and people I had him go straight to Hank for help. I asked her if she wanted to approve it and she said ‘no, I would be thrilled to be in a Spenser book.’ That is how it came about.

EC: Your next book projects, a dual book with Reed Coleman?

AA: Reed and I have been friends for years. When I first heard he came on board to write the Jesse Stone books I told him we must write a joint book. It is mainly a question of when we can do it. We both want to write a book that is half Jesse and half Spenser. We can have a lot of fun with it by spending some time drinking beer together and coming up with a good story. We would flip a coin to decide if Jesse or Spenser would start out first.