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Detective Virgil Flowers is back in "Mad River"

  • Dec 24, 2012
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Mad River: A Virgil Flowers Novel by John Sanford is the latest in an increasingly enjoyable series. When you see the subtitle A Virgil Flowers Novel you know exactly what you are getting in the read--- a profane loner type cop who will be unorthodox in solving the case while also making the time to check out the available ladies. The job will get done, political and probably law enforcement big shots will be annoyed, and the body count will be fairly high.

Continuing the tradition in recent books of this series as well as the Lucas Davenport series, author John Sanford identifies the bad guys from page one. In this case it is two guys and a bad woman. They go by the names of Jimmy Sharp, Tom McCall, and Becky Welsh. They are on a killing spree because Jimmy likes to kill, makes Becky hot for him, and Tom just is along for the ride and whatever else he can get.

Virgil Flowers just got back home to Mankato, Minnesota after being in the Grand Bahamas chasing bone fish and women. It is after midnight and Virgil has been drinking, but Lucas Davenport needs him to sober up quick and hit the road. Lucas wants him to go investigate the death of a husband and wife named Welsh in Shinder, Minnesota. Whether or not it relates to the double murder that happened over in nearby Bigham a couple of days earlier, Lucas doesn't know. But, having four murders in that small of an area is mighty strange and he wants Flowers on it.

Considering Virgil grew up in Marshall, about thirty miles away from Bigham, he pretty much knows the area and the people. He also knows that there is going to be at least one obstacle to overcome while working with local law enforcement. Shinder sits in Bare County which is run by Sheriff Lewis Duke. Other local sheriffs call him the "Duke of Hazard" because of his actions which remind many of a certain media hungry Sheriff in Arizona.

As the group continues to kill and begins to internally self-destruct, Virgil Flowers and others work to stop them. A task made much harder by politics, a lack of clues, and increasing media attention. Still, a man does have to take a break at times for food, sleep, and the company of a beautiful woman.

Mad River: A Virgil Flowers Novel is another solidly good one in the series. Flowers is a fairly predictable character and that streak continues here. No new character revelations are present and one are expected in this series. The group dynamic of Jimmy, Becky and Tom is what one would expect as is the self-destructive aspects of things. What powers the read along is the action, fast pace, and whirlwind nature of events as things disintegrate in many different ways.

Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.

Kevin R. Tipple ©2012

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review by . December 09, 2012
While I've gotten burned out on the Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford, I like what he's doing with the Virgil Flowers character as a separate series of novels. Mad River is the latest installment, and I looked forward to getting it from the library when my name made it to the top of the hold lists. I wanted to like it... I really did. But it seems like the book was about a third too long with an ending that fell flat (in my opinion). I never got lost in the action, as much as I wanted …
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Kevin R. Tipple ()
Ranked #90
My stories have appeared in such magazines such as “Lynx Eye,” “Starblade,” “Show and Tell,” and "The Writer's Post Journal" among others and online at … more
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*Starred Review* Three rural Minnesota teenagers, Jimmy Sharp, Becky Welsh, and Tom McCall, are on a crime spree. It started with the murder of a store clerk during a botched robbery. Victim number two died in a car heist as they made their getaway. Then they decide “what the hell” and settle a couple of personal scores. The kids are murderous but not dumb, and they avoid capture from an ever-growing cadre of pursuers that includes Virgil Flowers from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Flowers is the nominal head of the investigation, but he struggles to keep control of the various law-enforcement agencies involved. He’s determined to take the kids alive, an end game that’s not endorsed by his associates. As the pursuit continues, he’s able to establish phone contact with Welsh. At least one of the killers has moved from abstraction to human, and Flowers becomes more determined than ever to bring them in alive. Flowers is a complex character camouflaged by his long hair, rock-’n’-roll T-shirts, smart mouth, and fearlessness. The son of a minister, he is burdened by a spirituality that subtly influences his every decision. It’s more pronounced in this case as he fights the pack’s need for revenge and, in the end, leaves readers assessing the morality of the kids as well as their pursuers. This may be the best entry in a stellar series. --Wes Lukowsky
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