Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rough Country

Rough Country
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

Canonically the third of approximately 10 Virgil Flowers thrillers, this story departs from the series' tendency to invent counties and cities that appear on no real-world map of Minnesota - such as a Buchanan County along the Mississippi River south of Winona in Deadline, or a Bare County wedged between three counties that actually fit snugly together in Mad River, or a Warren County between the adjacent Jackson and Martin counties in Bad Blood; or, in Shock Wave, a county town called Butternut Falls in the very real Kandiyohi County, where the county town is Willmar. Ensuring readers familiar with Minnesota will recognize the state they love, John Sandford (né John Camp, formerly a writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press) occasionally stirs real locations into the blend, and in this installment he sets the nail-biting action in and around the quite real city of Grand Rapids and county of Itasca. There, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Agent Virgil "that f***ing" Flowers finds, a guest at a women-only resort called the Eagle Nest has been shot dead by a sniper while paddling around in a canoe.

This turns out to be neither the first nor the last in a string of murders that may have something to do with the resort, but that somehow seems more likely to be connected with an all-girl country-western band that plays at a nearby honky-tonk. And though Flowers might look like an ex-jock hayseed who chases skirts, muskies, and murderers in that order, this case finds him achieving the most success in that third pursuit, with a cold case in Iowa, a chilling family secret, a talented singer's shot at a big-time music career, an ambitious accountant's shot at owning a lesbians-only lake resort, and a teenage man-of-the-woods who isn't quite right in the head, all tangled up together.

As much fun as it is to try to guess whodunit and why, it's even more fun watching Virgil Flowers try to figure it out. He's a deceptively complex character: paradoxically both laid-back and pushy, both principled and ruthless, both ruggedly tough and sympathetic, almost vulnerable. He blows a lot of time eating, drinking, shooting the bull, taking naps, and sneaking out in his fishing boat for some quiet time on the water; but at the same time, he pushes himself seemingly beyond the average person's limits of endurance, and makes every minute of that time - including the naps and fishing trips - a productive part of his crime-solving process. And though he doesn't always get great results on the lake or in the sack (particularly in this book, in which he is interrupted by a new plot development every time he seems about to get some), his stats as a case closer speak for themselves.

I have been remiss in mentioning that an Adult Content Advisory applies, not only to this book, but to the entire series. The books are, indeed, riddled with sex, adult situations, drugs (well, occasionally), alcohol (or, at least, barrels and barrels of Diet Coke), salty language, and above all, gruesome violence and death. If there is such a thing as parental controls when it comes to what you and/or your kids read, consider yourself advised. Then, lighten up and enjoy the fun. Sandford/Camp is due to put out a 10th installment of this series, titled Deep Freeze, Oct. 17, 2017.

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