Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mad River: A Virgil Flowers Mystery by John Sandford

Reviewed by Doris

I have been a John Sandford fan since the beginning of his Lucas Davenport Prey series.  Sandford is a master of the strong character driven police procedural with the added appeal of some humor and romance.  All of his books are set in Minnesota in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, and they have a hard edge of graphic violence.  One of Sandford’s strongest points as a writer is his creation of the bad guy. The Prey series with Davenport has some of the most frightening killers in fiction, and Lucas does not always get the killer. A few years ago, Sandford added a new protagonist when he introduced Virgil Flowers, another BCI agent who was in some ways Lucas’ protégé who now has his own series.  Mad River is the sixth Virgil Flowers novel, and Virgil has moved away from supporting character to leading character with his own strengths and methods of solving crimes.

In Mad River Virgil is traveling his old stomping grounds of rural Minnesota where he grew up. We meet his parents and others from his past which adds more dimension to the character. He is the son of a Lutheran minister and that often leads him to ruminating about the power of God and the battles of Good and Evil. Since he usually only gets pulled into cases of multiple or particularly brutal murders, these contemplations may be what keeps him grounded. Make no mistake though, Virgil is no Bible thumper. He is often the voice of reason when situations get tense. He has an amazing attraction to women, and for that has earned a nickname that is unrepeatable here. The nickname also has to do with his amazing “luck” in solving cases. While I continue to really enjoy the Lucas Davenport novels, I find the character of Virgil has become more appealing in many ways.

Mad River begins with three young people who are angry, living on the streets, and who fancy themselves the new Bonnie and Clyde and side-kick. Becky Welch, Tom McCall, and Jimmy Sharp have a bad attitude, not much conscience, and guns. They begin their crime spree with a robbery that goes wrong. As they travel the back roads with Virgil in pursuit, they leave a trail of death. Each time Virgil thinks he knows where they are headed, things change and it seems catching the trio is not going to happen without some lucky break for law enforcement. In what appears to be an accurate depiction of small town law enforcement procedures, Sandford weaves the violence at a fast pace. Virgil finds himself questioning both his abilities and those of the officers around him, and the twist at the end is both surprising and long foreshadowed.

The Virgil Flowers novels are Dark of the Moon, Heat Lightning, Rough Country, Bad Blood, Shockwave, and Mad River. All are available at both Avoca and the Main BPL.

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