Book Review: Wicked City

There’s something so enticing about fiction that’s almost true. The underlying current of truth is what first drew me to Ace Atkins’ book, Wicked City.

Several years ago, I ran with the Columbus Running Club, from Columbus, GA. Frequently, on our longer runs, we crossed the Chattahoochee River and found ourselves instantly not only in another time zone, but what felt like a different world. That sentiment grew within me, as one of the runners, who had lived his whole life in the area, began to unfold the story of Phenix City.

Between labored breaths and heavy footfalls, Alan told me a story I could scarcely believe. He spoke of outlaws, prostitutes, gamblers, cheats, murders, corrupt politicians mysteries and marital law. He described the Chattahoochee as the dumping ground for dead bodies and incriminating evidence. Alan pointed out buildings and street names that haven’t changed much since the infamous night that John Patterson was murdered.

Who better to write a book about the history of the wickedest city in Alabama, but Ace Atkins? Atkins was born and raised in the area. His story probes the questions and embellishes the answers that anyone curious about the most fascinating wild west story that happened so nearby and not so very long ago.

Wicked City, is very well written and hard to put down. Description is vivid and detailed without being tedious. The story has a good pace, concluding nicely and tying every loose end – of which there are quite a few. Almost like a scrolling summary at the end of a crime movie, telling what eventually happened to each character, Atkins revisits each of his lead characters, satisfying the reader’s lingering questions.

My only issue with, Wicked City, happens about two-thirds of the way through the book. Until that point, Atkins had used a first person perspective, narrating through the voice of Lamar Murphy, a concerned citizen, anxious to restore peace to his decrepit town. But, seemingly by accident, in the middle of a chapter, Atkins begins to speak of Murphy in the third person. From that point on, he uses both view points interchangeably. It’s enough to give the reader pause, but not to ruin the story.

Finally, since Atkins was provided some liberties by calling the book fiction, it would have been helpful to vary the names of his characters a little more. At times the names are so similar it can get confusing.


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