I found a used trade paperback copy of WHITE SHADOW (2009) by Ace Atkins in a local thrift store a couple of months ago. It looked intriguing and with a price of only a buck, I figured I'd take a chance. Boy, am I glad I did. This is one terrific crime novel.
Set in Tampa, Florida in 1955, WHITE SHADOW is based on the true story of local mobster Charlie Wall. Wall was old and not active in crime at the time of his death but his murder shocked the city and revealed a tangled web of corruption, hidden agendas, dark secrets and old grudges.
There are two main players in the story. One is L.B. Turner, a young newspaper reporter on the crime beat who serves as the story's intermittent narrator as only Turner's chapters are told in first person. Turner was friends with Wall and knows things the cops and mobsters don't. The other main character is police detective Ed Dodge, a tough cop investigating Wall's murder. Dodge has some dark corners in his soul but he's basically a good guy.
There are others including a variety of newspaper people, cops (crooked and straight), low and high level mobsters, hit men, circus freaks, and real life players Santo Trafficante and Fidel Castro.
Atkins has done a great job bringing 1950s Florida and Cuba to rich, vivid life. WHITE SHADOW is drenched in period detail and every page has a strong sense of time and place. It's a world about to undergo a seismic eruption with Castro's rise to power in Cuba signalling the end of the mob in that island country. Atkins' narrative voice is assured and economical, with a sharp ear for dialogue, an at times poetic rendering of the city and the natural world, quick, brutal violence and a densely plotted storyline that unravels in a slow but satisfying pace.
WHITE SHADOW does for Tampa, Florida and Cuba in the 1950s what James Ellroy did for Los Angeles in his L.A. Quartet: THE BLACK DAHLIA, THE BIG NOWHERE, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and WHITE JAZZ. Atkins has written some other historical crime novels including WICKED CITY, DEVIL'S GARDEN and INFAMOUS. You can bet I'll buy and read every one of them.