Big Red Tequila (The First Book Review!)
Moving away from home is a disjunctive experience. Even when you want to get away from the place you are leaving to strike out on your own, to make a fresh start in a new town, there’s a part of you that misses it. I lived in San Antonio, Texas for 12 years, through my adolescence and the burgeoning adulthood of my college years. Just three weeks ago, I moved to New York City, New York, looking to start a career in publishing. There are more opportunities in publishing here and the city is more vibrant, but I will always have a soft spot for San Antonio. It wasn’t my intention to read Big Red Tequila for this purpose, but I feel like I can reminisce about my former Texas home through this book because it portrays the city of San Antonio so vividly. Perhaps it’s not as detailed as Joyce’s Dublin in Ulysses, though I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read Ulysses, but Rick Riordan definitely captures the spirit of San Antonio. I recommend it for the homesick Texan and curious foreigner alike. Although Big Red Tequila captures San Antonio’s spirit, keep in mind that it is fiction and specifically a mystery novel. There’s more to San Antonio than the mafia, murder, and tequila mixed with Big Red.
Now that I’ve lost my credibility with half my readers for outing myself as a Texan, let me continue my review; actually, I also consider myself a proud Georgian, Washingtonian, Virginian, and Californian as well; I’m proud of all my hometowns. Big Red Tequila is the story of a man named Tres Navarre, who has returned to San Antonio after ten years in San Francisco to reconnect with his high school sweetheart Lillian and solve the mystery of his father’s murder. It’s been ten years since Tres witnessed his father’s murder and skipped town, but as soon as he’s back in San Antone a new string of murders connects his father’s death with the shady dealings of some members of the mafia and upper echelons of society, giving him the chance to finally put his father’s spirit, and his own, to rest. The general plot will be familiar enough to fans of the mystery genre, but the book excels in its evocation of the setting as I’ve said before and a quick pace and plenty of twists make this an exciting novel. However, I won’t reveal any more of the plot, lest I ruin it for the prospective reader.
The other thing that struck me about this novel was the characters. The narrator and main character, Tres Navarre, is a mixture of the academic intellectual and blue-collar everyman. He’s a former English teacher who performs tai chi, lives in a run down apartment, and investigates his father’s murder by pissing off powerful people who would like nothing better than to have Navarre run out of town, put behind bars, or shot in a dark alley. He’s also a sarcastic smart-ass; his irreverence makes him more endearing and adds humor the novel. I don’t usually think of murder mysteries as funny, but the humor is handled as well as the seriousness in Big Red Tequila. It’s no surprise that Big Red Tequila resulted in the Tres Navarre series, since the character is fun to read and must have been fun to write. I was also quite fond of the other characters, particularly his ex-girlfriend Maia Lee, who is at least as talented kicking butt as Navarre but much prettier, Ralph, a wild pawn store king willing to get his hands dirty to do a friend a favor, and Navarre’s half-brother Garrett, who’s a pot-smoking hacker and Jimmy Buffett fan. Oh, and there’s Navarre’s cat, Robert Johnson; Robert Johnson likes enchiladas.
Those of you who are familiar with Rick Riordan are more likely to have read his children’s series, the Percy Jackson series, the Heroes of Olympus series, or the Kane Chronicles. I’ve only read the Percy Jackson series, which I would highly recommend to fans of Greek mythology of all ages; though, it’s worth noting that older readers who are familiar with Greek mythology will understand the sly jokes and references to mythological stories better. Yet, I am biased about my assessment of the Percy Jackson series, since I knew Rick Riordan in middle school; he was my English teacher in sixth grade and History teacher in eighth. Mr. Riordan was always an engaging storyteller in class, the kind that changes his voice for the different characters and knows when to slow down or speed up the story to add drama. He was also a great teacher and I looked forward to his classes. Part of the pleasure I took in reading The Lightning Thief and the subsequent books in the series was because his voice spoke through the story. I didn’t have the same feeling reading Big Red Tequila.
One of the things about being a child is that it skews your views of adults and when you grow up you have trouble changing that view of the adults you knew as a child. It’s weird to think of my middle school teacher writing about murder and sex and drinking and smoking pot, even though I was aware that he wrote adult novels when I was in his class; he didn’t start writing children’s/young adult fiction until I was in high school. The Percy Jackson series gels with my old perspective of Mr. Riordan and that’s okay; his new YA series are pretty cool. But I’ve found new reasons to like Mr. Riordan because of Big Red Tequila. Part of it is reminiscence for San Antonio. Part of it is the onset of a new respect for the adults that were in my life as a child as I make my way to adulthood, trying to find a job in the big city. And a small part of it, which I’m still kind of ashamed of, is that part that wants to name drop Rick Riordan and say, “Yeah, well I knew him before his novels were being optioned for movies.” Seriously though, check out Big Red Tequila, especially if you’ve already read his children’s work. It’s a fast-paced, engaging read and it will give Percy Jackson fans a new appreciation for Riordan’s work.