“This book succeeds both as a first-rate historical novel and as a superb crime story. It packs the emotional wallop of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. It is as gritty as James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. And yet, the prose is as lyrical as James Lee Burke’s Crusader’s Cross. With White Shadow, Atkins has found his true voice.”—Associated Press
1955: Tampa, Florida is a city pulsing with Sicilian and Cuban gangsters, cigar factories, sweet rum, and violence. The death of retired kingpin Charlie Wall—the White Shadow—has shocked the city, sending cops, reporters, and associates scrambling to find those responsible. As the trail winds through neighborhoods rich and poor, enmeshing the innocent and corrupt alike all the way down to the streets and casinos of Havana, an extraordinary story of revenge, honor, and greed emerges. For Charlie Wall had his secrets—secrets that if discovered could destroy a criminal empire and ignite a revolution.
Reminiscent of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential, Atkins's fictionalized account of the unsolved murder of real-life Tampa crime boss Charlie Wall in 1955 admirably recreates a time and a place, but too much detail makes the narrative less compelling than it could have been. Wall, a famous bootlegger whose nickname gives the book its title, is an old man when he's murdered, and the plot turns on the quest to find the killer, taking detective Ed Dodge and a local reporter on a journey from Tampa's Latin Quarter to prerevolutionary Havana (Castro makes an appearance). Atkins (Dirty South), who unearthed the story in connection with a reporting assignment for the Tampa Tribune, puts his extensive research to good dramatic use. But the book gets muddled by an immense cast of characters and derailed by the author's penchant for an overly lyrical style (the Latin Quarter "was all a symphony of Latin jazz and sinners and bright-eyed boys who shined your shoes for ten cents"). Still, blurbs from Carl Hiaasen and other top names, plus crossover from true-crime fans, should help ensure healthy sales.