Monday, August 16, 2010

Southtown: A Tres Navarre Mystery / by Rick Riordan

Before he shifted gears to become an immensely successful children's author of such books as The Lightning Thief and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, San Antonio native Rick Riordan wrote mysteries. His Tres Navarre novels about a South Texas private eye didn't have much to do with children, fantasy or mythology and instead depicted the seamy underbelly of San Antonio with its hidden criminal element, showing the harsh, often violent conditions which went with the territory. Southtown is a crackerjack P.I. novel, detailing the aftermath of a violent prison break by five men, one of whom will stop at nothing to see his own brand of vengeance played out.
The Floresville Five is what they're being called by the media. The five fugitives, 3 of which were serving life sentences for murder, are still on the loose after a prison break from the south Texas maximum security penitentiary. The escape was a bloodbath of an affair in which six men originally plotted a getaway in the prison chaplain's SUV; only the plan went horribly wrong leaving the chaplain, one of the fugitives and two guards behind as casualties. The mastermind behind the whole thing is a nasty character named Will Stirman, a former "coyote" who made a business of smuggling illegals across the border for his own nefarious purposes. Having been ripped off in a deal gone bad and having been caught in the process, Stirman was serving a life sentence when he burst out of the incarceration unit.
This is bad news for everyone, but especially Erainya Manos, a private eye currently tied up in mostly boring, low-level work with what seems to be the same circle of San Antonio lowlifes. Erainya's former husband, the now deceased Fred Barrow, was part of the bounty-hunting team which originally put Will Stirman away. Only they didn't play by the rules. In addition to taking more than their share of the profit (some loose change gone unaccounted for), Barrow and his partner Sam Barrera accidentally killed two of the wrong people--Stirman's wife and son--and tried to cover the whole thing up with lies. Now, despite the fact that Erainya had virtually nothing to do with the whole mess, Stirman is out to get her and plans to use her son Jem for his purposes. Fortunately she's got a good friend and clever partner in Tres Navarre. A former English professor turned private detective, Tres will do anything and everything in his power to protect Erainya and Jem, even if it means endangering his own life.
Riordan's skill at storytelling is on full display in this, his fifth Tres Navarre novel, after debuting the wily sleuth in Big Tequila and building his persona through The Last King of Texas. Navarre is the perfect vessel for the author to deliver his story, one well-layered with believable villains and even more believable good guys (most of whom have a hard time walking the straight line themselves). The book is also true to its setting, and Riordan's roots, as a work deeply entrenched in the culture and heritage of San Antonio and South Texas. Readers are sure to never be disappointed with Riordan's work and won't miss a beat with this, one of his best. (MYS RIORDAN)

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