cover image Wicked City

Wicked City

Ace Atkins, . . Putnam, $24.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-399-15457-7

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.)