For his first two novels featuring PI Tres Navarre, Rick Riordan garnered the Anthony, Shamus, and Edgar Awards--a trio that few seasoned Mystery careerists can claim. In this third, equally entertaining installment, Riordan casts Navarre according to the other piece of his quirky skill set: his Ph.D. in English literature from UC Berkeley.
While the worst-case scenario envisioned by most professors at the University of Texas at San Antonio probably involves lost essays or a failed tenure bid, recently the medievalists at UTSA have wound up deader than their favorite language. At first, the deaths seemed like accidents. Dr. Theodore Haimer was forced to take an early retirement when his remarks about "the damn coddled Mexicans at UTSA" found their way into the Express-News. Shortly thereafter, the old man was discovered deceased, his head in a bowl of Apple Jacks, the result of an apparent heart attack. His successor, the young Dr. Aaron Brandon, continued to receive the vituperation and death threats that had followed his predecessor to the grave. Then, halfway into the semester, Brandon was also found dead--murdered. Now, Tres Nevarre is the only man crazy enough to fill the vacant chair of Chaucer studies and murder avoidance at the amiable institution. His first day on the job is the clincher: an exploding package leaves him both scarred and excited for the only academic job he's ever found that rivals Indiana Jones's.
Riordan's style blends the hipness of Elmore Leonard with the sardonic humor of Janet Evanovich. And like Evanovich, Riordan draws on the colorful character of his locale--in his case the twangy chili con carnage of San Antonio academic life--to pepper his narrative with a mixture of medieval literature, Tex-Mex dialogue, and Sherlock Holmesian puzzles. While there aren't many more awards for Riordan to conquer, The Last King of Texas will certainly win him some more loyal fans. --Patrick O'Kelley