Tag Archives: Virgil Flowers

‘Bloody Genius,’ by John Sandford

Virgil had never seen a purely ideological murder, Republicans being too cautious, Democrats generally being bad shots.

I don’t like John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers character as much as I like his more famous detective, Lucas Davenport. But I quite enjoyed Bloody Genius, the latest in the Flowers series. I notice that it’s gotten a lot of poor Amazon reviews, but I had a good time.

Virgil Flowers is a deceptively laid-back agent for Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He dresses like an aging rock musician, and goes fishing on company time, but he closes cases.

This time he’s called to Minneapolis (which he hates; rural Minnesota is his stomping grounds) to investigate the murder of a famous genetic researcher at the university, who was battered to death in his study carrell in the library. No motive is apparent, and the murder weapon is uncertain – though his heavy laptop computer is missing.

Virgil probes the murky waters of academic rivalries, and the victim’s sexual escapades, and his family relationships. But the real culprit and the real motive will be new ones in his experience.

As often happens with these books, they take me to places I’m familiar with, at least to some extent, and I enjoy that. And I like Sandford’s observations of the world, though Flowers’s eyes – quite often they’re politically incorrect.

I was surprised by the observation, at a couple points, that the University of Minnesota’s team colors are red and gold. Even I, the opposite of a sports fan, know they’re maroon and gold.

But I particularly liked Harry, an old guy Virgil meets in a bar. Harry informs Virgil that he can recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “Gunga Din.” As it happens, those were my performance pieces back in the day. Harry might almost be me, except that I don’t hang out in bars.

As always, cautions for lots of foul language and adult themes.

‘Holy Ghost,’ by John Sandford

Holy Ghost

John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers novels take a different approach from his more famous “Prey” novels starring Lucas Davenport. Virgil investigates in small town and rural Minnesota, and he generally handles less horrific crimes than Davenport. But that makes the stories no less interesting, and the puzzles in Holy Ghost are plenty challenging for any reader, I’d say.

Wheatfield, Minnesota was a moribund little town until the young mayor and a friend come up with a questionable scheme for reviving the economy. It involves a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the local Catholic church. They mean no harm, though they certainly profit from the situation. Pretty much everyone is happy with how things are going (including a skeptical visiting priest), until somebody starts shooting at visitors.

Virgil Flowers, former lady’s man (he’s now in an exclusive – though unmarried – relationship), and part-time outdoor writer, goes to Wheatfield in his capacity as an agent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He meets a series of colorful characters (described pretty much without condescension), and pokes into everybody’s business in his low-key style. These are simple people, but the mystery is not simple at all.

I liked Holy Ghost the best, perhaps, of any of the books in this series. And that’s in spite of the depiction of a religious hoax, which is handled more casually than I approve of. But I liked the treatment of small-town people, and the dialogue was often quite funny.

Cautions for language, dirty jokes, violence, sexual references, and lighthearted handling of religious matters.

‘Deep Freeze,’ by John Sandford

Deep Freeze

John Sandford’s novels are always entertaining. The latest Virgil Flowers novel, Deep Freeze, delivers pretty much what you paid for.

As you probably guessed from the title, this story takes place during the Minnesota winter. Virgil Flowers, laid-back agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is called back to place he has no desire to revisit – Trippton, in the southeastern part of the state. He recently closed down a murder ring there involving some of the town’s most prominent people. This time a woman has been found floating in the warm recycling runoff from the local water treatment plant. Evidence in her home indicates she was murdered there and dumped in the river. She was a local VIP, the town banker. She had had a meeting with her old high school classmates the night she died, planning a reunion. All the obvious suspects seem to have ironclad alibis.

At the same time, Virgil is asked to assist a female private detective who has the blessing of the governor. She has been hired by the Mattel Corporation to hunt down a ring of locals who are altering Barbie Dolls to make them into sex toys. Virgil is reluctant to get involved in this case, partly because the illegal business is helping out some people in tough economic circumstances. But he’ll do what he can, when he can. Especially after a bunch of them attack him and leave him badly injured.

If you read Sandford, you know what to expect here – a pretty good mystery with amusing, colorful characters and a lot of obscene dialogue and dirty jokes. One thing I’d advise author Sandford to do is to sprinkle a few more Scandinavian names among his characters, especially the poorer ones. I don’t say that for reasons of ethnic pride (or not entirely). When his rednecks get to talking, I have trouble not imagining them speaking with southern accents. It would help if a few of them were named Olson or Lindquist; it would be a reminder.

Recommended for Sandford fans. If you can’t handle a lot of f-bombs, you’d do best to stay away.

‘Escape Clause,’ by John Sandford

Escape Clause

Eleven years: Peck would give everything to have had those eleven years back. For one thing, he wouldn’t have messed around with those women in Indianapolis. If he’d gotten a regular doctor job, he’d be driving the big bucks now, fixing everything from Aarskog syndrome to Zika virus.

I’m fond of cop humor. Cop humor is black humor, often profane humor, the humor of people who’ve seen the worst things life can dish up, and have found ways of coping. John Sandford’s novels about Minnesota cops are full of cop humor, which is one of their charms. In comparison to his Prey novels, starring Lucas Davenport, his Virgil Flowers novels tend to lean more heavily toward slapstick. Escape Clause is perhaps the most comic of his novels to date, though there are several murders along the way.

In Escape Clause, we begin with the theft (kidnapping?) of two rare tigers from the Minnesota Zoo. There’s no mystery in this story – it’s a thriller. We know who the bad guys are (an eastern medicines doctor and a few thugs), and the suspense is in how fast the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, in the person of Virgil Flowers (the only guy they can spare because of security demands at the Minnesota State Fair during visits by presidential candidates) can figure out what’s going on and stop it.

Virgil is a good cop, though not a very good shot, and generally reluctant to even carry a gun. He also tends to take a lot of pratfalls in this outing. Simultaneous with this job, he gets involved with stopping some thugs, hired by a sweatshop owner to beat up his girlfriend’s sister, who’s doing sociology research on the illegal alien workers.

It’s all a lot of fun, and it’s mostly dirtbags who get killed. The climax is obvious a mile away, but no less enjoyable for that, on a visceral level.

An interesting new element in this story is the character of “Father Bill,” a Catholic priest who leads an odd life. He works as a supply pastor for the Minneapolis-St. Paul diocese nine months of the year, and is celibate then. During the summers he works at a resort and has a girlfriend. This is kind of jaw-dropping, but I suppose it’s not unthinkable in today’s church. Virgil, whose father is a Lutheran pastor, makes some small effort to talk him over to the Protestant side.

Anyway, I had a good time with Escape Clause. Cautions for lots of bad language and adult situations, also the death of an animal (almost always more traumatic than human death in a novel).