Nick Travers

Created by Ace Atkins

Maybe no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell, but Ace Atkins certainly gives it a shot.

Former New Orleans Saint NICK TRAVERS blew his pro football career when he punched out his coach out (LIVE! ON NATIONAL TELEVISION!).  Not the greatest career move…

So now he’s a professor of the blues at Louisiana’s Tulane University and a sometime-harmonica player down at the local bar owned by his best friend, JoJo Jackson, and his blues-wailing wife, Loretta. He’s not a private eye, but he he sure acts like one.

In his debut, the well-received Crossroad Blues (1998) he finds himself looking into the disappearancce of a colleague. Seems his pal was hot on the trail of some long-lost recordings by Robert Johnson in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood, when he disappeared.

Along the way, Nick comes across the usual murderous mess of greed, corruption and secrets. And, oh yes, a psychopath who thinks he’s Elvis.

It was a pretty impressive debut–Nick is an intriguingly flawed hero, a wannabe-P.I. worth getting to know. And Atkins sure knows the South—the sweaty backwoods juke joints, the oppressive heat, the scratch of a finger on a steel guitar string, the low murmur of hushed voices before a barroom fight breaks out.

Of course, the usual amateur sleuth conventions pop up, and started to wear a little thin as the series progressed (as they often do). I mean, how often can a professor—no matter how trouble-prone and how big a shit-magnet he is—be expected to regularly get tangled up in murder cases? And the occasional potshots at white boys playing the blues were a little disappointing. After all, both Nick and Atkins are white boys themselves, and does music really belong to any specific race once it’s out there in the world?

Still, there’s a lot of smoke and some serious heat, for sure, and at his best, Atkins writes like there’s a hellhound on his trail. He has a definite knack for atmosphere, a solid feel for character and a nice touch with plot. And he definitely gets dibs for originality. So I’m still at the crossroads about this series.


That first Travers novel, Crossroad Blues (1998), was Atkins’ first novel. In 2001, he earned Pulitzer Prize and Livingston Prize nominations for his seven-part series, “Tampa Confidential,” on the 1956 murders of socialite Edy Parkhill and Charlie Walls, which in turn inspired his 2006 novel White Shadow. The book was followed by  three more history-based crime novels, including Wicked City, Infamous and Devil’s Garden, in which Atkins imagined Dashiell Hammett investigating the notorious Fatty Arbuckle murder/rape case.

In April 2011, it was announced that Atkins would be continuing the Spenser series after the death of Robert B. Parker, and despite my initial reservations, he did a fantastic job (Boy, was I wrong). Even better, though, is he’s continued writing a great series of his own featuring Sheriff Quinn Colson out of Jericho, Mississippi.


  • “More, please.”
    Dick Adler (
  • “If Raymond Chandler came from the South, his name would be Ace Atkins.”
    — Kinky Friedman



  • “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” (2008, Crossroad Blues) . Kindle it!
    Written, and promptly forgotten by the authot back in the late nineties, this short story was eventually rescued from an old floppy disc and published in 2008 in a special, 10th anniversary edition of Crossroad Blues, the first Travers novel.



Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

2 thoughts on “Nick Travers

  1. “does music really belong to any specific race once it’s out there in the world?”

    As the great Viv Stanshall asked, with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band to support him, “Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?”

Leave a Reply