Rod Davis' 'South, America' a lively addition to Southern gumshoe roster

Dallas Morning NewsJune 28, 2014 

"South, America" by Rod Davis; New South Books ($24.95)

As a longtime Dallas resident, I am a fan of its many fictional gumshoes. My all-time favorite scene remains the climactic ending of Howard Swindle's "Jitter Joint," published in 1999, which takes place at the big waterfall billboard on I-35 near downtown.

With that predisposition, author Rod Davis had me right from the start of his new novel, "South, America." By the way, don't miss the comma in the title. That pause is important.

Davis' hero is a former Dallas television weekend anchor and former Oak Cliff resident freelancing as a writer and private investigator in New Orleans.

In his personal life, Jack Prine is largely aimless, but looking for a new start. He has come to the right place.

"Here, you watched for a while and then you found the best thing to do," Prine, the narrator, says of the Big Easy. "It didn't have to involve rules of law."

The plot is straightforward:

Prine discovers a body, meets the victim's sister, and together, while romance flourishes, they try to find her brother's killer and preserve a multimillion-dollar inheritance.

Throw in some voodoo, the mob, race relations in the pre-Katrina South (the book is set in 2000), as well as some classic and modern art, and you have a recipe for a good page-turner.

"I put on a freshly laundered white shirt and some dark trousers and went to meet a beautiful woman with a dead brother and a troubled mind," Prine says of Elle, the sister.

He's white, she's black, and people notice as they travel from New Orleans to Alabama and then the Mississippi Delta, once called the most Southern place on earth.

There, on top of an observation tower near the big river, Prine meets the most interesting character in the book: Big Red, a mob enforcer, who later becomes an ally.

"Damn. Never seen the Old Man from a perch like this before," says Big Red, who then proceeds to use his fists to punctuate his conversation with Prine.

In creating Prine, Davis appears to draw from his own background. Davis was an Army lieutenant, like Prine, and he worked as a journalist in the Dallas area, including as editor of "American Way" magazine and a senior writer for "D" magazine. He also has been a travel editor and a food editor and is currently director of the Veterans Support Office for the Texas A&M University System.

Davis' first book was a nonfiction look at voodoo, published in the late 1990s. His first novel, "Corina's Way," received good reviews after it was published in 2003.

The subtitle of "South, America" is "A Jack Prine Novel." From that and the book's ending, it's clear that Davis plans more adventures for at least some of his characters.

Here's hoping the author brings his hero home to Big D at some point. Prine is a strong addition to the growing roster of fictional Dallas investigators.

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