Friday, January 11, 2013

More Rick Riordan

Southtown by Rick Riordan

As anyone who reads my blog knows, my requisite for reading anything is the writing quality. This trumps plot or genre. Which is why my favorite dead author is Nabokov, despite many of his novels being either perverse or plot free. Same reason I love Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, P.G. Wodehouse, everything by J.D. Salinger, Brad Whittington, and the handful of novels I’ve read (so far) by Robertson Davies.

This is why I’m a big Rick Riordan fan. Even though crime fiction isn’t my favorite genre, I can’t keep away from his Tres Navarre crime fiction series. Riordan’s lean prose and well-planted similes are irresistible. That the pace breaks the sound barrier and makes your heart out pound the timpani section of the most vigorous percussion orchestra is, as they say, an added bonus. ‘They’ being the voices in my head. Riordan blends humor and tension so well you’ll find yourself biting your nails on one page and snorting coffee out your nostrils on the next. At least that’s what I was drinking at the time.

Southtown might be my favorite Navarre novel so far. Without giving too much away, the character Sam Barrera is so well crafted and memorable, so endearing and tragic, he alone is worth the price of admission. I had to email a writer friend whose memory could beat my memory arm wrestling to verify whether this novel was the first in the series where the narrative bounces from Navarre’s first person point of view (POV) in one scene or chapter to third person POV with a different character in the next. My friend assures me this began in Riordan’s fourth Navarre installment Devil Went Down to Austin. This bouncing is generally discouraged in How-To writing books, but Riordan handles it expertly. Reminds me of Steinbeck’s technique in Winter of our Discontent.

As good as Southtown is, Mission Road is even better. Some choice quotes:

Monday morning I got a paying client.
            Wednesday afternoon I killed him.
Friday evening I buried him.
The Tres Navarre Detective Agency is a full-service 
operation. Did I mention that?

Their eyes hovered over her like mosquitoes – always
there, taking bites when she wasn’t looking.

Somewhere down in my gut, a lead-
weighted fishing hook made a tiny splash.

They parted for her like a bead curtain.

Rebel Island is the next (and so far the last) novel in the series. I don’t see how it can top Mission Road, though I’m eager to let Riordan prove me wrong.

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