The Ranger

By June 29, 2011July 8th, 2011No Comments

How do you top a college career as a defensive end for the Auburn University football team, especially during the 1993 perfect season? When you tackled Florida Heisman Trophy winner Danny Weurffel? In the end zone? And made the cover of Sports Illustrated?
If you’re Ace Atkins, you morph into one of the greatest crime writers of this generation.Atkins’ newest work, The Ranger, storms bookstores this June, marking the ninth novel for the former Auburn resident. The death of Quinn Colson’s uncle beckons the Army ranger home after a six-year absence; the Afghan dust still clinging to his combat boots. A dark setting of small-town South awaits his return with soup-heavy casseroles on the stove and meth houses down the street. Colson realizes he ain’t in Kansas anymore since the drug dealers moved in and changed Jericho, Miss., into the lawless streets of the Old West.
“(The book) is definitely different than the moonlight and magnolias South seen in most Hollywood movies or in books. This is a pretty gritty world that I try to represent with the most accuracy. I could tell you dozens of recent stories like the ones you find in The Ranger,” says Atkins. “From a storyteller’s point of view, these guys (drug dealers) are about the same as the old moonshine runners. There’s a lot of money in a cheap high. And with the money comes violence and crime.”
The cast of characters includes, among others, a mama with an affinity for Elvis, but not reality; a one-armed veteran named Boom; and Johnny Stagg, the poster child for white trash whose gold-toothed, best friend preaches from a pulpit with one hand in the collection plate. Atkins switches points of view between Colson and Lena, a pregnant teenager who buys sophistication in a Miley Cyrus outfit at Wal-Mart. Colson speaks in short, choppy sentences as if still on the streets of war where talking gets you killed. Lena, on the other hand, talks in the vernacular of an ignorant girl knocked up by the first boy who called her pretty. What started as a short jaunt home to bury an uncle whips into a whodunit flavored with family drama, deceit and murder. Oh, and a mutt named Hondo with mismatched eyes, but undivided loyalty.
Atkins was born in Troy, Ala., but spent his high school and college years in Auburn. His father also played for the Tigers on the 1957 National Championship Team. “The best part about living in Auburn was going to college parties in high school,” laughs Atkins. “I was a big reader in high school and college — way beyond the required stuff. In high school, I was determined to become a professional writer, meaning to make a living writing for a respected publishing house. If I had known how hard the path would be, I might not have tried it.”
Atkins’ love of classic crime novels lured him to The Tampa Tribune as he knew many of his favorite novelists had trained as newspaper reporters. While at The Tribune, Ace earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a feature series based on his investigation into a forgotten murder in the 1950s. He published his first novel at 27 years old and became a full-time novelist at 30. Atkins’ first set of novels punched first-hand interviews and original research into plots that blurred fact and fiction. Nominated for numerous literary awards including the Edgar Award, the Hammett Prize and the Barry Award, to name a few, Atkins also the received the Auburn University Arts Advancement Award.
“The best part of being a professional writer is the work itself. I’m fortunate enough to write stories I want to tell and make a living at it. My wife, Angela, is also a writer. The best thing about being married to another writer is that she respects my schedule,” says Atkins, adding he treats his career like most jobs by writing 9-5, Monday through Saturday. The family, which includes 3-year-old son Billy, lives on an old farm near Oxford, Miss., where Atkins soaks up the influence of the iconic William Faulkner. In fact, Atkins has shared tales with the author’s great niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, during visits in her home.
“One of the greatest things about living in the Deep South is the wildlife. I don’t hunt, but I love to fish,” says Atkins. When asked to describe life as an acclaimed novelist, Atkins remains humble. “It’s nice to get paid to do something you love. That may sound simple, but it’s true.”
The Ranger starts off like an open palm, slowing clenching into the tight fist of the story and doesn’t release you until the last page is turned. “I think The Ranger will strike a chord with my Southern readers. I love it when I hear from folks who say, ‘I know those people,’” says Atkins.
Come see the author and buy your personalized copy at Montgomery’s Capital News and Books on Saturday, June 18, or visit www.aceatkins.com for more information.

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