Wicked City

Wicked City

4.5 8
by Ace Atkins

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From “one of crime fiction’s most interesting and passionate voices” (Laura Lippman) comes a new “noir crime classic” (Mystery Ink) about one of the most notorious towns in American history.
     Reviewing White Shadow, the Associated Press wrote, “This book packs the


From “one of crime fiction’s most interesting and passionate voices” (Laura Lippman) comes a new “noir crime classic” (Mystery Ink) about one of the most notorious towns in American history.
     Reviewing White Shadow, the Associated Press wrote, “This book packs the emotional wallop of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. It is as gritty as James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. And yet, the prose is as lyrical as James Lee Burke’s Crusader’s Cross. With White Shadow, Atkins has found his true voice.” And with Phenix City, it is even truer.
     In 1955, Look magazine called Phenix City, Alabama, “The Wickedest City in America,” but even that may have been an understatement. It was a stew of organized crime and corruption, run by a machine that dealt with complaints forcefully and with dispatch. Noone dared cross them – noone even tried. And then the machine killed the wrong man.
     When crime-fighting attorney Albert Patterson is gunned down in a Phenix City alley in the spring of 1954, the entire town seems to pause for just a moment – and when it starts up again, there is something different about it. A small group of men meet and decide they have had enough, but what that means and where it will take them is something they could not have foreseen. Over the course of the next several months, lives will change, people die, and unexpected heroes emerge – like “a Randolph Scott western,” one of them remarks, “played out not with horses and Winchesters, but with Chevys and .38s and switchblades.”
     Peopled by an extraordinary cast of characters, both real and fictional, Wicked City is a novel of uncommon intensity, rich with atmosphere, filled with sensuality and surprise.

Editorial Reviews

Patrick Anderson
Atkins's sixth and best novel…he's too young to have known Phenix City in its glory days, but he has done extensive research to give us a painfully realistic picture of just how ugly and corrupt the city had become…It's a vile story, well told. Atkins nicely summons up the 1950s South and keeps us guessing as to whether vice or virtue will triumph in Phenix City.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Atkins's richly detailed but scattered sixth novel draws on the history of a real town, Phenix City, Ala., which in 1954 was overrun with gambling, prostitution and moonshine. When Albert Patterson, the state's recently elected attorney general, is gunned down on the street, the town's antivice group vows to bring the murderer to justice. Ex-boxer and family man Lamar Murphy leads the charge, with the rest of the Russell County Betterment Association (RBA) following suit. There are crooked characters at every turn, from the lecherous Deputy Bert Fuller, who personally inspects and "catalogues" the city's prostitutes, to Fannie Belle, a brothel madam with a habit of collecting husbands. Even when the town falls under martial law and Lamar is appointed interim sheriff, the "redneck mafia" will do anything to prevent Phenix City from going straight. Atkins (White Shadow) spares no punches in detailing the town's depravity, but the result is less a coherent story and more a snapshot of a bygone era. Readers will struggle with the many names and shifting alliances, while the climax and resolution are anything but surprising. Author tour. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

In the 1950s the "wickedest city in America" was not Las Vegas but Phenix City, AL. Located just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, GA, and nearby Fort Benning, it was a notorious haven for gamblers, prostitutes (about a thousand in a town of 23,000 people), con men, and murderers. Worse, this cesspool of vice and human depravity was run by a corrupt political and law enforcement machine that thwarted any attempt at reform with intimidation and violence. But the 1954 assassination of Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson, who had vowed to clean up Phenix City, set events in motion that would change this town forever. Atkins's sixth novel (after White Shadow) and the first set in his home state of Alabama is a fictionalized retelling of this chilling murder and its dramatic aftermath. As reflected in Atkins's use of shifting narratives between the first-person voice of Lamar Murphy, a boxer-turned-gas station owner who becomes the town's new reform-minded sheriff, and the third-person perspectives of the criminals who stop at nothing to hold onto their power, this is the classic Western tale of good vs. evil, "played out not with horses and Winchesters but with Chevys and Fords and .38s and switchblades." The result is a gripping, superb crime story, all the more remarkable because it really did happen. Highly recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See the Q&A with Atkins on p. 78.-Ed.]
—Wilda Williams

Kirkus Reviews
A riveting story about how the triumph of evil is forestalled when good men . . . do something. Phenix City, Ala., is a real place. In 1955 Look magazine called it "the Wickedest City in America." Atkins, who begins his novel a year earlier, based it on a real case that transformed the town. While sin, in all its familiar variations, had become endemic in Phenix City, one homicide too many was about to change the status quo. Albert Patterson, elected Alabama's attorney general on the promise of clean-up, was gunned down in a Phenix City alley. For a variety of reasons, some obvious, some intangible, the formula that had been unfailingly successful in eradicating reform falls short this time and the Patterson killing has the effect of energizing a smoldering but hitherto silent majority. John Patterson, for instance, has never seen himself as the stuff of heroes, but now his father's martyrdom strips him of choice. " ‘I'm taking my father's place,' " he grimly tells his friend Lamar Murphy, and by doing so becomes a source of strength for Murphy-a family man and small-business owner-and those like him, those to whom their stew of a town has made self-respect increasingly difficult. That opposition to Phenix City's mafia is dangerous is a given. Albert's murder was hardly a surprise, but little by little, confirmed in the belief that Edmund Burke had it right about the triumph of evil, citizens do what they must to take their town back. And as Murphy says to a young man whose small act of bravery will strike a telling blow: " ‘Feels good, doesn't it?' "Atkins (White Shadow, 2006, etc.) is clearly in love with his colorful characters-on both sides of the moral divide-and makes themwonderfully believable. Agent: Esther Newberg/ICM

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Ace Atkins earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2001 while at The Tampa Tribune for his investigation into a forgotten murder of the 1950s that later became the basis for White Shadow. The Alabama native, also the author of four Nick Travers novels - Crossroad Blues, Leavin’ Trunk Blues, Dark End of the Street, and Dirty South - lives on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi.

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Wicked City 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
AFDoc More than 1 year ago
I love this book. You will need to read it twice to pick-up character details you missed in the first 2 chapters. It does start a little slow and the characters are a tad difficult to keep track of in the beginning. Press on, it's worth it! Great story, a piece of history of which I was totally ignorant. The book is historically accurate (I did some research myself after reading) and a fantastic read. I will pick up more Atkins just because of this book.
KWR57 More than 1 year ago
True story. Great storyline. Good characterization. A quick and easy read. I'm a big fan of historical fiction and Wicked is real good example for the genre.
BerkeleyBob More than 1 year ago
I had some doubts about a writer whose first name is Ace, but this re-telling of the corruption and vice in Phenix City, conveniently across the state line from Fort Benning and the clean up by martial law was fascinating. I dimly remember the B movie, titled Phenix City Confidential, but Atkins has an interesting web site with some original material about this hell hole. Well written, based on historical fact. There is some raw, brutal stuff here--not for the weak stomached. Hard to believe things got this bad in Georgia--made my excursions to Tiajuana as young horny sailor seem kind of tame.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I live in this area and worked for Phenix City PD. The history of the area is very colorful to say the least. I can relate to the locations in the book. Although I was born the year Patterson was shot I have heard the tales from many that were old enough to remember. Very good read and very factual.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
Wicked City Ace Atkins Putnam, Apr 2008, $24.95 ISBN: 9780399154577 1954 Phenix City, Alabama, just across the Chattahoochee state boundary from Columbus, Georgia has a population of 23, 305 most of which are law abiding citizens, but running the town is the redneck mafia affectionately called the Phenix City Machine. The economy is fueled by illegal activity although a group of concerned citizens, the Russell County Betterment Association (RBA), want gambling and prostitution stopped and the sale of illegal alcohol (moonshine to you northerners) controlled. --- Alabama¿s newly elected State Attorney General Albert Patterson is in town when someone assassinates him, gangland style. The RBA membership is outraged by the hit and led by former professional boxer Lamar Murphy are determined that the killer and his employers, who everyone knows run the redneck mafia face a jury not of their peers as they demand justice. Tensions mount between the RBA and Phenix City machine until they boil over when Lamar is named temporary sheriff and marital law is imposed by the National Guard. High noon has arrived at Phenix City. --- As he did with true 1950s events in Florida (see WHITE SHADOW), Ace Atkins does likewise with Phenix City, Alabama (see When Good Men Do Nothing: The Assassination of Albert Patterson by Alan Grady). The story line focuses on the abuse of power by avariciouse souls sponsoring and tasting vice and those courageous enough to challenge them the ultimate civil war between the RBA and the redneck mafia. Thus readers obtain an interesting historical account in which decadence and corruption rule a WICKED CITY, but with so many players involved and bribes making it easy for some to switch teams, it is difficult to keep score still Mr. Atkins brings to life a town so depraved that nearby Fort Benning brass suggested artillery shelling it back to the mud age. --- Harriet Klausner