Devil’s Garden, the new novel by Ace Atkins, centers on a real-life event: the infamous 1921 Fatty Arbuckle scandal.
For The Rap Sheet, Megan Abbott interviewed Atkins about the novel.
Part of the Q & A:
Megan Abbott: Did you have any hesitations about including Hammett as a character?Read the complete interview.
Ace Atkins: When I first thought about this project, I knew Hammett was a terrific component of the story. I just could not believe someone had not written about all these 20th-century icons--Hammett, Arbuckle, and Hearst--within a story about the trial. To me it seemed like a great E.L. Doctorow book. But when I got about halfway into the novel, I feared the book would be perceived--by those just looking superficially--as a gimmick, one of those quickie mysteries with a famous figure at the helm. But, what the hell? I mean, Hammett is a great character before he became that icon. Sam Hammett was interesting to me because of what I knew about his life at the time. So I had to get over those fears and just write the damn book.
MA: Did you set any rules for yourself about how faithful to his biography you would be?
AA: I wanted and hoped to be absolutely faithful to Sam Hammett, 1921. I did not want to write Sam Spade, Nick Charles, or The Continental Op. I wanted to write about a young man with a low-paying detective job, who was trying to make sense of a pregnant wife he barely knew and the tidal surge of political and cultural events of the period. I believe it’s an accurate reflection of Hammett’s frustration and boiling ambition at the time. I believe he was just forming a worldview that would eventually make such a huge impact in his literature.