The Last King of Texas

Book Reviews

The Last King of Texas

by Rick Riordan
Book Reviews

Bantam, 368 pp., $23.95

A wisecracking P.I./English teacher, a San Antonio setting made authentic with generous doses of all the right Tex-Mex trappings, including Poquito Mas, Big Red, and Shiner Bock, and an enchilada-eating cat named Robert Johnson -- what's not to like about San Antonio mystery novelist Rick Riordan? The Last King of Texas (Bantam, 368 pp., $23.95), Riordan's third novel featuring series protagonist Tres Navarro, showcases the author's growing facility for producing page-turning murder mysteries custom-made to please fans of mainstream crime novelists like Robert Crais and Robert Parker who always wondered why no one ever had the bright idea of exploring the kooky dark corners and history-laden atmosphere of the Alamo City.

Like his protagonist, Riordan is a native San Antonio resident who had to move away to San Francisco for a few years in order to come back to his hometown and fall in love with it all over again. Riordan's love and empathy with the town is contagious, making it easy to empathize with his hero. The central mystery of The Last King of Texas is ostensibly about the murder of an English prof at the University of Texas at San Antonio, but the specter of a colorful, legendary character once known as the King of South Texas Carnivals slowly but surely moves to the forefront of the plot. Veteran mystery fans will recognize many of the tried-and-true conventions of the genre -- after being hired by the university to take over the murdered professor's teaching position, Navarro is warned not to investigate the case, despite the fact that it smells worse than spoiled menudo. Riordan's ear for dialogue in a place where cops call you "son" and waitresses call you "hon" has improved with each novel. His description of the Bexar County Jail/Sheriff's Department complex is a gritty gem:

If the cons ever got to look out the arrow-slit windows of the upper stories, they'd see the parallel one-way streets of Commerce and Buena Vista stretching west, through two miles of the worst heroin dealing and prostituting and gang-banging in the city. In other words, they'd see home. Commerce-Buena Vista was a conveyor belt, moving people from street to jail to street in regular, recursive cycles.

Riordan's previous paperback original novels have been honored with the Shamus, Edgar, and Anthony awards. With his third out in hardback, he earns the right to be proclaimed poet laureate of San Antonio's mean streets.


Sublett is the author of the Austin-based rock & roll mystery novels Rock Critic Murders and Tough Baby. Rick Riordan will be at Adventures in Crime & Space Saturday, February 5, from 4-6pm.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Jesse Sublett
Top Books of 2018 That Make the Past Present
Top Books of 2018 That Make the Past Present
Whether in biography, graphic novel, crime fiction, or retold Greek myths, these books brought history to life

Dec. 28, 2018

Legerdemain Man Ray Anderson
Legerdemain Man Ray Anderson
The fact that magicians around the world revere the magic man of Esther's Follies is no illusion

Nov. 30, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Last King of Texas, Rick Riordan

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle