Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Mike Shea, Fri., July 6, 2001
The Devil Went Down to Austinby Rick Riordan
Bantam, 336 pp., $23.95
It's all about growth -- reaching your full potential and making your mark, indelibly and emphatically. San Antonio novelist Rick Riordan has signaled a dual coming of age in his fourth Tres Navarre opus -- The Devil Went Down to Austin. There's Navarre -- fictional lit-professor-turned-investigator who finally buys into the notion that maturity and responsibility are not only inevitable but sometimes the best deal available. And then there's Riordan himself, who has seemingly accepted the challenge to prove himself worthy of his Edgar Award and its attendant hyperbole by giving us the best book of his admittedly young career.
The Setup: Garrett Navarre, Tres' tech-savvy brother, has hocked the family farm but gone delinquent on the mortgage note, and the bank is on the brink of foreclosure. Garrett needed the proceeds to finance his one-third share in TechSan -- an Austin-based security software firm -- a company whose primary product is based on code he wrote. The company is poised to go public and a huge initial public offering offers the prospect of crazy wealth for Garrett. (My, how the economic climes have changed -- was it just last year that such an IPO seemed to be around every corner?) Without warning, the beta version of the security software develops gaping holes and sensitive documents become publicly accessible causing all manner of upset to the clients who are test-driving Garrett's brainchild.
The Complications: Onto the scene rides California vulture capitalist Matthew Peña with an offer to buy out TechSan's partners. Peña's offer is a relative pittance compared to what a successful IPO would yield and his background shows him to be ruthless at best and criminal at worst. But Tres wants the farm back in the family fold -- he takes his reckless brother to task for frittering away a part of their legacy -- and Peña looks very much like the cavalry riding to the rescue over yonder hill. Colorful additions to the mix are the return of Tres' love interest Maia Lee and a bitter love triangle amongst the three TechSan partners (yes, one is a woman, if you're curious).
The Action: Before long, there's a corpse on the scene and Suspect Numero Uno is bro Garrett -- locally renowned for poor judgment and worse behavior (drinking, drugging, and unfortunate allegiance to the Jimmy Buffett devotees known as Parrotheads). Tres and Maia (have we mentioned that her stunning beauty is but one of the many assets -- a law degree and kick-ass martial arts skills being two more) do a little background work on Señor Peña and find creepiness galore in his trail. Dead bodies seem to be a common, albeit grisly, byproduct of his business takeovers. Along with Austin homicide detective Vic Lopez, Tres and Maia have their hands full trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Each new piece of evidence seems to contradict everything they know to be true.
The Devil Went Down to Austin is a blast. It's a thrilling and intelligent detective novel -- and a giant leap forward for the Tres Navarre series. Rick Riordan captures the essence of Austin much as he did San Antonio. And his characters become more like family with each turn of the page -- a good sign that they're evolving and will hold our interest. Riordan outdoes himself and carves another notch on his belt -- The Devil Went Down to Austin is a heady nightcap of sass and suspense with a twist of mayhem.