When the estate of Robert P. Parker went looking for a writer to carry on the name of Parker's Boston-based private eye, Spenser, the writer Ace Atkins didn't make a lot of sense. Ace Atkins made perfect sense.
Atkins, who lives outside Oxford, Mississippi, has made his own name as a crime novelist, and this month sees the publication of The Lost Ones (Putnam), Atkins' second in his Sheriff Quinn Colson series set in north Mississippi. But it's with Lullaby, also out this month and also from Putnam, where readers can watch Atkins officially take on the Spenser character.
He's a character that Atkins has been avidly following since high school, and it's Parker, Atkins admits, who inspired him to become a writer. (Doesn't hurt that Parker's nickname was Ace too.)
How did Atkins pull off writing two novels simultaneously — one Southern set; the other largely South Boston set — this past year? He didn't. He went from one (The Lost Ones) to the other (Lullaby) then back to finish the first, with, as he describes it, some big shifts in inspiration.
"I like to immerse myself in the world I'm writing about," Atkins says. "When I'm writing Spenser, I read The Boston Globe every day, I listen to standards and classic jazz, I even eat and drink things Spenser likes. When I'm writing Quinn, I listen to outlaw country and north Mississippi blues, drive the back roads around my house, hang out in gas stations and catfish joints and read the always entertaining North Mississippi Herald."
Could two characters — Spenser and Colson — be more different? Yes, in a lot of ways. No, in two important ways: They've got their honor; they've got, in Lullaby and The Lost Ones, one author, Ace Atkins.
Ace Atkins discussing and signing "Lullaby" and "The Lost Ones" at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, Tuesday, June 5th, 6 p.m.