Review

White Shadow

by Ace Atkins



WHITE SHADOW is a very different work for Ace Atkins, who has
garnered critical and popular acclaim with his Nick Travers novels,
a very readable series featuring a protagonist who is by turns a
music professor and a somewhat reluctant private eye. What we have
here is a more serious, much darker worldview.

It is a fictionalized account of the infamous and unsolved Charlie
Wall murder, which occurred in Tampa, Florida in 1955. Wall, a
one-time criminal kingpin specializing in the areas of bootlegging
and illegal gambling, was found bludgeoned to death in his home,
putting the city in an uproar and causing the ethically challenged
police department to shift into overdrive to determine who was
behind the deed. There was a surfeit of suspects, given that Wall
had made a number of enemies, particularly among the Cuban and
Sicilian gangsters who maintained a de facto control of the
streets of Tampa while warily vying with and eying each
other.

The narrative of the crime and its subsequent investigation are
presented from different points of view. The primary of these are
L.B. Turner, a reporter for The Tampa Daily Times, and Ed
Dodge, a tough city detective who clings to ethics and truth in a
sea full of sharks. There are others, however, including a
beautiful young woman with a quiet, smoldering passion for revenge,
and criminals who have various reasons for rejoicing in Wall's
death, even as they work at cross-purposes. For even as Wall's
murder is investigated, it has repercussions that quietly but
surely affected events on an international scale --- even to this
day --- among people and within places that did not even know of
Charlie Wall's flamboyant existence and brutal end.

The foregoing elements, taken together, would be enough to make
WHITE SHADOW a compelling read. Atkins, however, does much more
here. The research that was involved in its writing is remarkable,
as is its result, which is the literary recreation of a time and
place removed from the present by a half-century. Atkins recreates
the imagery and rhythm of Tampa in 1955 so unerringly that, at
times while I was reading this work, the world outside of its pages
looked foreign by comparison. Atkins's characterizations are all
memorable and jolting; switching points of view continuously
throughout the book, Atkins unerringly bestows each character with
their own voice, so much so that one narrative smoothly follows
another without the confusion that a lesser writer might otherwise
impart on a reader.

That said, the primary element of WHITE SHADOW that ultimately
lifts it to the summit of fictional works is its imagery. Atkins
evokes the spirit of such varied figures as E. L. Doctorow
(without, thankfully, sacrificing imagery for clarity), Cormac
McCarthy, Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy. Violence is sudden and
sure; there are double-crosses from beginning to end; and there is
romance, or what passes for it.

A note on the latter: there are many types of love affairs that
take place here, and it is with this element that Atkins infuses
his greatest irony in its most subtle sense. For it is between the
least likely of couples that the most --- and only --- successful
relationship in WHITE SHADOW occurs. You'll know it when you read
it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

White Shadow
by Ace Atkins

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2007
  • Genres: Crime Fiction, Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425214907
  • ISBN-13: 9780425214909