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  • Southtown
  • Written by Rick Riordan
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  • Southtown
  • Written by Rick Riordan
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Written by Rick RiordanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Rick Riordan

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On Sale: April 27, 2004
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-553-90031-6
Published by : Bantam Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
 
For Tres Navarre, English professor turned private investigator, business has lately taken a drastic turn south. But if chasing down bail jumpers, adulterous spouses, and workmen’s comp cases seemed like the dregs of the PI game, it was at least a living. Not as much could be said for tracking down a man like Will “the Ghost” Stirman.

The stone-cold killer has just staged a bloody escape from the Floresville State Penitentiary with a gang of violent cons as spooked by Stirman as those on the outside who helped put him behind bars. And no one seems more worried than Navarre’s boss and mentor, Erainya Manos. It was her husband along with rival PI Sam Barrera who built the case that sent Stirman away. But Erainya’s husband is dead and she’s certain Stirman won’t let that stand in the way of his taking revenge against her and her adopted son.

All of Navarre’s instincts are screaming that there’s more to this case than meets the eye. But Erainya won’t tell him—and Sam Barrera seems to be escaping into a strange twilight from a truth too terrible to remember. That leaves Tres to dig into a twisted mystery of greed, vigilantism, and murder, where lives are bought and sold and the line between guilt and innocence is razor-thin. Meanwhile, Stirman and his gang are coming, leaving behind them a trail of brutal, unforgiving violence that will end in an area of San Antonio known as Southtown—but that may soon just as well be called hell on earth.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

1

Fourth of July morning, Will Stirman woke up with blood on his hands.

He’d been dreaming about the men who killed his wife. He’d been strangling them, one with each hand. His fingernails had cut half-moons into his palms.

Sunlight filtered through the barred window, refracted by lead glass and chicken wire. In the berth above, his cell mate, Zeke, was humming “Amazing Grace.”

“Up yet, boss?” Zeke called, excitement in his voice.

Today was the day.

A few more hours. Then one way or the other, Will would never have to have that dream again.

He wiped his palms on the sheets. He shifted over to his workspace—a metal desk with a toadstool seat welded to the floor. Stuck on the walls with Juicy Fruit gum were eight years’ worth of Will’s sketches, fluttering in the breeze of a little green plastic fan. Adam and Eve. Abraham and Isaac. Moses and Pharaoh.

He opened his Bible and took out what he’d done last night—a map instead of a Bible scene.

Behind him, Zeke slipped down from the bunk. He started doing waist twists, his elbows cutting the air above Will’s head. “Freedom sound good, boss?”

“Watch what you say, Zeke.”

“Hell, just Independence Day.” Zeke grinned. “I didn’t mean nothing.”

Zeke had a gap-toothed smile, vacant green eyes, a wide forehead dotted with acne. He was in Floresville State for raping elderly ladies in a nursing home, which didn’t make him the worst sort Will had met. Been abused as a kid, is all. Had some funny ideas about love. Will worried how the boy would do when he got back to the real world.

Will looked over his map of Kingsville, hoping the police would take the bait. He’d labeled most of the major streets, his old warehouse property, the two biggest banks in town, the home of the attorney who’d defended him unsuccessfully in court.

He had a bad feeling about today—a taste like dirty coins in his mouth. He’d had that feeling before, the night he lost Soledad.

Exactly at eight, the cell door buzzed open.

“Come on, boss!” Zeke hustled outside, his shirt still unbuttoned, his shoes in his hands.

Will felt the urge to hurry, too—to respond to the buzzer like a racetrack dog, burst out of his kennel on time. But he forced himself to wait. He looked up to make sure Zeke was really gone. Then he slipped Soledad’s picture out from under his mattress.

It wasn’t a very good sketch. He’d gotten her long dark hair right, maybe, the intensity of her eyes, the soft curve of her face that made her look so young. But it was hard to get her smile, that look of challenge she’d always given him.

Still, it was all he had.

He kissed the portrait, folded it, and tucked it into his shirt.

Something would go wrong with the plan. He could feel it. He knew if he walked out that door, somebody was going to die.

But he’d made a promise.

He put the Kingsville map in the Bible, and set it on the desk where the guards were sure to find it. Then he went to join Zeke on the walkway.





After chow time, Pablo and his cousin Luis were hanging out on the rec yard, trying to avoid Hermandad Pistoleros Latinos. The HPL didn’t like Pablo and Luis getting all religious when they could’ve been dealing for the homeboys.

Luis tried to joke about it, but he still had bruises across his rib cage from the last time the carnales had cornered him. Pablo figured if they didn’t get out of Floresville soon, they’d both end up in cardboard coffins.

Out past the guard towers and the double line of razor wire fence, the hills hummed with cicadas. Lightning pulsed in the clouds.

Every morning, Pablo tried to imagine Floresville State Pen was a motel. He came out of Pod C and told himself he could check out anytime, get on the road, drive home to El Paso where his wife would be waiting. She’d hug him tight, tell him she still loved him—she’d read his letters and forgiven the one horrible mistake that had put him in jail.

After twelve long months inside, the dream was getting hard to hold on to.

That would change today.

He and Luis stood at the fence, chatting with their favorite guard, a Latina named Gonzales, who had breasts like mortar shells, gold-rimmed glasses, and a wispy mustache that reminded Pablo of his grandmother.

“You want to see fireworks tonight, miss?” Luis grinned.

Gonzales tapped the fence with her flashlight, reminding him to keep his feet behind the line. “Why—you got plans?”

“Picnic,” Luis told her. “Few beers. Patriotic stuff, miss. Come on.”

Pablo should have told him to shut up, but it was harmless talk. You looked at Luis—that pudgy face, boyish smile—and you knew he had to be joking.

Back home in El Paso, Luis had always been the favorite at family barbecues. He held the piñata for the kids, flirted with the women, got his cheeks pinched by the abuelitas. He was Tío Luis. The fun one. The nice one. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.

That’s why Luis had to shoot someone whenever he robbed an appliance store. Otherwise, the clerks didn’t take him seriously.

“No picnic for me,” Officer Gonzales said. “Got a promotion. Won’t see you vatos anymore.”

“Aw, miss,” Luis said. “Where you going?”

“Never mind. My last day, today.”

“You gonna miss the fireworks,” Luis coaxed. “And the beer—”

A hand came down on the scruff of Luis’ neck.

Will Stirman was standing there with his cell mate, Zeke.

Stirman wasn’t a big man, but he had a kind of wiry strength that made other cons nervous. One reason he’d gotten his nickname “the Ghost” was because of the way he fought—fast, slippery and vicious. He’d disappear, hit you from an angle you weren’t expecting, disappear again before your fists got anywhere close. Pablo knew this firsthand.

Another reason for Stirman’s nickname was his skin. No matter how much time Stirman spent in the sun, he stayed pale as a corpse. His shaved hair made a faint black triangle on his scalp, an arrow pointing forward.

“Compadres,” Stirman said. “You ’bout ready for chapel?”

Luis’ shoulders stiffened under the gringo’s touch. “Yeah, Brother Stirman.”

Stirman met Pablo’s eyes. Pablo felt the air crackle.

They were the two alpha wolves in the gospel ministry. They could never meet without one of them backing down, and Pablo was getting tired of being the loser. He hated that he and Luis had put their trust in this man—this gringo of all gringos.

He felt the weight of the shank—a sharpened cafeteria spoon—taped to his thigh, and he thought how he might change today’s plans. His plans, until Stirman had joined the ministry and taken over.

He calmed himself with thoughts of seeing his wife again. He looked away, let Stirman think he was still the one in charge.

Stirman tipped an imaginary hat to the guard. “Ma’am.”

He walked off toward the basketball court, Zeke in tow.

“What’s he in for?” Gonzales asked. She tried to sound cool, but Pablo knew Stirman unnerved her.

Pablo’s face burned. He didn’t like that women were allowed to be guards, and they weren’t even told what the inmates were doing time for. Gonzales could be five feet away from a guy like Stirman and not know what he was, how thin a fence separated her from a monster.

“Good luck with your new assignment, miss,” Pablo said.

He hoped Gonzales was moving to some office job where she would never again see people like himself or Will Stirman.

He hooked Luis’ arm and headed toward the chapel, the rough edge of the shank chafing against his thigh.





“Like to get a piece of that,” Zeke said.

It took Will a few steps to realize Zeke was talking about the Latina guard back at the fence. “You supposed to be saved, son.”

Zeke gave him an easy grin. “Hell, I don’t mean nothing.”

Will gritted his teeth.

Boy doesn’t know any better, he reminded himself.

More and more, Zeke’s comments reminded him of the men who’d killed Soledad and put him in jail. If Will didn’t get out of Floresville soon, he was afraid what he’d do with his anger.

He was relieved to see Pastor Riggs’ SUV parked out front of the chapel. The black Ford Explorer had tinted windows and yellow stenciling on the side: Texas Prison Ministry——Redemption Through Christ.

The guards only let Riggs park inside the gates when he was hauling stuff—like prison garden produce to the local orphanage, or delivering books to the prison library. The fact the SUV was here today meant Riggs had brought the extra sheet glass Will had asked for.

Maybe things would work out after all.



Inside the old Quonset hut, Elroy and C.C. were hunched over the worktable, arguing about glass color as they cut out pieces of Jesus Christ.

Will let his shadow fall over their handiwork. “Gonna be ready on time?”

Elroy scowled up at him, his glass cutter pressed against an opaque lemony sheet. “You make me mess up this halo.”

“Should be white,” C.C. complained. “Halo ain’t no fucking yellow.”

“It’s yellow,” Elroy insisted.

“Make Jesus look like he’s got a piss ring around him,” C.C. said. “Fucking toilet seat.”

They both looked at Will, because the picture was Will’s design, based on one of his sketches.


From the Hardcover edition.
Rick Riordan|Author Q&A

About Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan - Southtown

Photo © Martin Umans

Rick Riordan is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and The Heroes of Olympus Series for children and the multi-award-winning Tres Navarre mystery series for adults.

For fifteen years, Rick taught English and history at public and private middle schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Texas. In 2002, Saint Mary’s Hall honored him with the school’s first Master Teacher Award.

His adult fiction has won the top three national awards in the mystery genre – the Edgar, the Anthony and the Shamus.

His first Percy Jackson book The Lightning Thief was a New York Times Notable Book for 2005. The Sea of Monsters was a Child Magazine Best Book for Children for 2006 and a national bestseller. The third title, The Titan’s Curse, made the series a #1 New York Times bestseller, and the fourth title, The Battle of the Labyrinth, had a first printing of one million copies. The series concluded with The Last Olympian, which was also a major national bestseller. 

Rick Riordan now writes full-time. He lives in Boston with his wife and two sons.

Author Q&A

The prison breakout of the Floresville Five that opens Southtown sets the pace for the story with strong gritty action and dialogue. What do you like best about this kind of opener and what are you aiming to do for the reader right off the bat?

I knew the book had to start with the prison break, which is an inherently violent situation, but I never do violence just for violence’s sake. My main goal was to present the five fugitives as understandable, maybe even sympathetic. It’s too easy to write off villains as pure evil. To me, it’s much more interesting that these hardened killers have sweethearts. They have loyalties. They are victims of violence themselves. I want the reader to be shocked by feeling some empathy for these ruthless men — possibly even rooting for them to get away.


Certain Southtown characters were involved in human trafficking. While it was not the same circumstance, we immediately thought of last year's case in Victoria, Texas, where smuggled illegal immigrants were found dead in a truck due to weather conditions. What inspired this aspect of the story? How did you conduct research for it?

The incident in Victoria was creepy for me, because it happened a few months after I wrote a similar scene in Southtown. It just goes to show you — fiction has to try very hard to be stranger than fact. My inspiration wasn’t one particular story. Living in South Texas, I hear horrible tales about human trafficking all the time — slave labor ranches, immigrants suffocating in boxcars, etc. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life here, and it makes for powerful drama. I didn’t have to do much research. I simply drew on that reservoir of South Texas experience.


As a native Texan, one of our staff members loved reading about cities that are familiar to him (i.e. San Antonio and San Marcos). What are the special challenges and/or advantages to writing fiction set in/around the town you currently live in? Are there other areas of Texas that you would like to explore in a future Tres Navarre book?

I had to live in California for ten years before I appreciated South Texas enough to write about it. That distance helped me see what a rich, colorful setting my home state is. One of my challenges is staying true to the character of the place while fictionalizing the details. Sometimes, a fellow native will call me on some technicality, like: “Hey, there’s no Mexican restaurant on that street.” And I’ll say, “Yeah, but there should be.”


Tres' relationship with Maia Lee is the story of two people trying to make a life together against some significant odds. What it is like for you to write pages that are this filled with sexual tension and a long distance relationship?

Tres and Maia are my favorite characters. It’s great fun writing about them and watching their relationship develop over the course of the books. No romance is perfect. Long distance relationships are especially hard — a lot of people can relate to this. I know I can. I think of Tres and Maia’s relationship as the oxygen of the novel — no matter how action-packed the plot is, you can’t keep a fire hot without oxygen.


You capture the fog that Sam is going through so vividly. What was your reference for his memory loss and the frustration he is facing as he struggles to cope with it?

I’ve watched several relatives and family friends succumb to dementia. It was a very personal decision to explore that condition from the sufferer’s point-of-view. More specifically, the flash of inspiration for Sam was a family friend—a retired FBI agent who had started to lose his memory. On certain days, he would forget that he was no longer an active agent. I found that sad but absolutely fascinating.


One of the things we like is that your writing is very cinematic. There is a continuity and flow to it that works so the visuals are very clear. Example: a scene in the restaurant where Maya is telling Tres that Quentin Yates is coming for him. That scene reads like a tight movie script. Are you running the scenes through your head like film as you write?

Okay, the teacher in me comes out, now — my own learning style is visual. I think best in pictures. That’s why I write scenes the way I do. It’s weird, though, because I don’t watch a lot of movies. I hardly ever watch TV. And yet a lot of people tell me I write cinematically.


What writing comes easiest for youthe action scenes, the relationship scenarios or the setup for the action you know is coming?

Nothing is easy. However, action scenes seem to flow more for me and need less revision.


Southtown is your fifth novel to feature Tres Navarre. What is the most rewarding part of writing about a continuing character? What is the most challenging aspect?

As a reader, I enjoy series books because each installment is like visiting with old friends. Writing about Tres is the same way. After five books, his voice is extremely familiar to me. I can slip into it like a comfortable pair of jeans. The most challenging part is making sure the facts agree from novel to novel, and coming up with new, fresh ways to describe continuing characters without boring readers who’ve been with the series since the first book.


For readers who may be new to the series, could you please share background info on Tres?

Tres Navarre is third-generation Texan who is not very good at acting like a Texan. He doesn’t own a pair of cowboy boots and he dislikes guns. He has an English Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, with a specialty in medieval literature, but fell into P.I. work when he couldn’t get a teaching job. His father was the Bexar County Sheriff for many years, so Tres’ connections with South Texas law enforcement run deep, not always to his benefit. He has a sarcastic sense of humor, totally unlike me, and a steady girlfriend Maia Lee who is, unfortunately, both stronger and more intelligent than he. Aside from this, Tres is a blues fan, a tai chi martial artist and a former bartender. He has a cat named Robert Johnson who lives on enchiladas and Friskies tacos.


Tell us a little about your writing schedule. How do you juggle teaching and writing at the same time?

The secret is that I love what I do. Otherwise, I would’ve quit teaching a long time ago. I get up early in the morning and work while the house is quiet and my thoughts are fresh. I revise late in the evening after my children are asleep. I write a lot on weekends, and of course during summer vacation. 


How do your students react to your status as a published author? Have many of them read your work?

They know I’m published, but it doesn’t come up in conversation a lot. Middle school students have too many issues of their own without focusing on their teachers. For the first thirty seconds of the school year, they think it’s cool that I write books, then they notice they have a zit or they develop a crush on somebody, and life goes on as normal. Quite a few have read the books. I tell them not to, of course, but they do anyway.


Last year's Cold Springs was a stand-alone novel. Do you have other non-Tres Nevarre projects in the works?

 
Cold Springs was a huge growing experience. I’m very glad I did it, because it pushed me as a writer and made the subsequent Tres Navarre books much stronger. However, I plan on staying with the series at least for the immediate future, partly because all the mystery/thriller ideas that are coming to me at the moment fit nicely into the Tres Navarre framework.


Are there any plans for the Tres Navarre series to be developed for film or television? In your opinion, what actor would make a great Tres?

There are no immediate plans for television or film. As I said, I don’t watch much TV. I doubt I could name five current male movie stars, much less pick a good one for Tres Navarre. Even if I could, I intentionally try not to think in terms of casting. Tres is Tres. I don’t want to start thinking of him as a vehicle for movie star X.


What can you tell us about your current work(s) in progress? When can readers expect to see it?


You can expect three more Tres Navarre books in the pipeline over the next few years. In the installment after Southtown, Tres and his old friend Ralph Arguello will become fugitives themselves in order to clear Ralph in the shooting of a police officer. I won’t give away the real kickers in the plot, but expect the return of Guy White, the suave mobster from Big Red Tequila, and a fairly huge crisis in Tres’ personal life.

Praise

Praise

"Superb ... Tres Navarre walks a thin, highly believable and surprisingly suspenseful line that should delight old Riordan fans and win new ones." 
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"If not the king of Texas crime writing, Rick Riordan is certainly among the princes!"
--The Denver Post

"Riordan's Navarre is tough to beat, mentally or physically.... Inspires as many laughs as gasps..... Any reader who waits impatiently for every new Dave Robichaux or Stephanie Plum mystery can add Riordan to his to-be-read list."
--San Jose Mercury News

"As soon as you start reading Riordan, you understand the acclaim. His voice is fresh yet sure, with insights so trenchant they nearly provoke tears. And Riordan's characters, even the minor ones, are achingly believable."
-- Booklist, starred review, on Cold Springs

"Riordan writes so well about the people and topography of his Texas hometown that he quickly marks the territory as his own."
--Chicago Tribune

"There's a reason why this guy keeps winning awards....a master stylist. I can't wait for his next."
--Harlan Coben?

Tres Navarre is "[A] hard-nosed private investigator who never lets justice interfere with personal loyalties.... Riordan shifts his storytelling back and forth between heroes and villains in a tale of revenge and misguided efforts at justice."
--Washington Post


From the Hardcover edition.

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