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
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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.]
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
Praise for Wicked City
“Atkins is a proud torch-bearer of a literary tradition that includes William Faulkner—but there's nothing derivative about this novel, only emergence of a great new voice in American fiction.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“Gritty, well-plotted, fascinating...Atkins' unflinching storytelling echoes the best of James Ellroy and James Crunley.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“A hot read that's got adroit reportage in the right places—and juicy pulp in the better places.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Wicked City is Ace Atkins' best novel.”—The Washington Post