We've written recently about Mississippi's next generation of authors, and Ace (on the left, pictured with another Mississippi writer who dropped by to pay respect, John Pritchard, author of his own infamous novels, Junior Ray and The Yazoo Blues) may be one of the fastest rising in popularity. Among his crime-writing peers, he is considered one of the best in the genre. A former reporter for the Tampa Tribune, Ace began his creative writing career with a series of detective novels set around the contemporary blues scene in Mississippi, but over the past several years he has dug up old crimes and revived them with novels that capture the flavor of their distinct eras and settings.
He has reached a new peak with Infamous, which really sings with firecracker prose and an unexpected story of criminal misfits. Atypical among '30s gangsters, George "Machine Gun" Kelly wasn't a cold-blooded killer. He was more a good-natured if hapless guy trying to make a big score. ("Hell, he never even killed anyone," Ace says.) He was goaded into this infamous crime — the kidnapping for ransom of an Oklahoma oilman — by his wife Kathyrn, a Lady Macbeth type who becomes the pivotal force of the novel. Their cross-country flight from the law is the basis of this novel, which provides big entertainment, some good laughs and characters that seem to have stepped out of a Coen Brothers movie.
During the reading, Ace described the research of this novel, which started by accident at a clerk's office in Memphis. Some of the research is on view at his website, including old newsreels and newspaper articles. He followed the fugitives' trail to various locations, seeing one of the safes Kelly broke in Tupelo and the house where the captive oilman was held in Oklahoma. The crowd even got involved at one point, trying to determine how Kelly's gang might have passed through Greenwood on their way to the final showdown in Memphis. Ace wrapped up the event by signing all of our books, so if you're looking for a good road/crime novel for vacation reading, order your copy with us.
While a responsible drinker, Ace is a man who enjoys a spirited beverage now and again, as you'd expect with any good crime writer, and over his past several visits, we've made a tradition of serving cocktails inspired by whichever book he's signing. Kelly was a bootlegger before turning to a life of interstate crime, so we thought it would be appropriate to serve moonshine at this event, but our supplier's booze mule was pulled over by a highway patrolman en route to the bookstore. After being given a stern warning about his out-of-date inspection sticker, the nervous runner turned tail and headed home, so we had to settle for beer. But all was not lost. After the reading, we retired to the Crystal Grill for fried chicken and chocolate pie, which we, as civilized book people, all agreed beats moonshine any old day.