Saturday, October 3, 2020

Bloody Genius

Bloody Genius
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

Barthelemy Quill, a rough-around-the-edges neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota, is sneaking into the Wilson Library one night with a female companion when he surprises someone who (like himself) isn't supposed to be there. The intruder bashes his head in with a laptop computer and escapes without seeing, or really being seen by, the woman. Two weeks later, the case is still unsolved, and the dead man's sister puts a bee in the britches of the Governor of Minnesota, who passes the word for Minnesota BCA Detective Virgil Flowers. And as fans of "that f***ing Flowers" would expect, as soon as he's read in on the case, weird stuff starts to turn up.

The lead Minneapolis detective on the case is at first resentful, then impressed, but pretty soon both she and Flowers are just as baffled by the overabundance of leads as she was by their previous lack. Was Quill's death connected with an apparent blackmail tape apparently involving a breach of medical research ethics? A drug deal gone wrong? Sexual intrigue? An estranged wife's chances of inheriting big money? A lawsuit against the university? A theft of some maps from an adjacent archive? A philosophical conflict with the cultural sciences department that, in a couple of recent incidents, moved past incivility to outright violence?

Red herrings everywhere. At one point, something between copyright piracy and industrial espionage seems to be on the ticket. A cultural sciences student getting beaten half to death could be just a random mugging, but signs that he was targeted suggest that a connection to the Quill case is likely. Then a stoner-dude friend of Quill's daughter turns up dead of an overdose that could equally likely be an accident, suicide or murder – but, again, seems somehow connected. Someone has a screw loose in or around the U of M, and Virgil's laid back approach, listening seriously to suggestions by people outside the investigation that most cops probably wouldn't put up with, somehow seems to cut through all the false trails and zero in on the truth.

The Flowers attitude makes for a fun ride-along, as always. The man truly has amazing resources, from fellow BCA agents Del Capslock (who can always put you in touch with the right dirtbag) and golf-obsessed thugs Jenkins and Shrake (whose scenes are reliably the funniest pages in the book), to a guy at the hotel bar who correctly predicts (based on TV crime shows) that the killer will turn out to be somebody Flowers has already met but didn't consider a suspect at the time. If memory serves, it's actually an idea the surviving victim has while he's staring at the ceiling of his hospital room that cracks the case. If by "cracks" it is possible to mean "sets Virgil and Co. on a final, perilous, high-speed chase against a homicidal loony who's been hidden in plain sight all along and now has another victim at his mercy."

This is the 12th and, to date, latest "Virgil Flowers" novel by the author of 31 "Lucas Davenport" thrillers and several more. I wouldn't have read all 12 if I didn't like that f***ing Flowers and his coterie of supporting characters. His mysteries often dip into dark, chilling scenes of death and evil, and the good guys don't always come away unscathed. But whether he brings it or simply spots it along the way, when Virgil's at the wheel, laughs and sex appeal and intelligence and interest in the outdoors and a sense of good, solid, dependable character always climb aboard for the ride.

I also don't mind that his cases also tend to showcase the charm of urban neighborhoods, small towns and rural areas that I know because I've been there myself. For example, Virgil lives in the town where I went to college, and my grandparents lived in the next neighborhood over from where much of this book takes place, and every few pages he stops somewhere I've been. He's even a Lutheran pastor's kid, like me. So, Virgil's like a friend of mine, and I wish him the best, and I hope things work out all right with him and his girlfriend Frankie and their twins on the way and the novel he's thinking about writing, etc. Just as long as it doesn't mean this is the last novel he stars in.

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