Monday, May 8, 2017

Dark of the Moon

Dark of the Moon
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

Although this is the first of what will soon be 10 Virgil Flowers mysteries, I had the feeling I was arriving late for the party as I read this book. The reason for that feeling is that this series, as a whole, is a sequel to the (at latest count) 27-book Lucas Davenport series, each of which has the word "Prey" in its title, from 1989's Rules of Prey to Golden Prey, published only weeks ago as I write this. Lucas Davenport, I am finding out, is a crack solver of homicides for the Minnesota-based Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; Flowers, known to everyone who loves him as "that f***ing Flowers," is his protégé. They both have the charm of being phenomenally successful case closers, in spite of (in Flowers' case, at least) being super laid-back, cool, easy-going, and not consciously aware of what makes him so good at the job.

Flowers is a supremely entertaining character. He wears his hair long, sports rock-band T-shirts under his sport coat, walks around in cowboy boots (except when he doesn't), sneaks away to go hunting and fishing whenever he can manage it, and moonlights as an outdoors writer and photographer, with a number of magazine credits to his name. He has given up religion, but (being a pastor's son) can't get to sleep at night without thinking about God. He turns his case over in his dreams and, now and then, in brief pieces of fiction writing. He is sexed to the max, with three ex-wives, and he develops a more-or-less casual romance in record time. He hates carrying his gun, and even after doing a tour in the military, he has never killed anyone before this case. But he is also, as this book shows, a tough customer, tough and shrewd, catching up quickly from several steps behind the killer to a step or two ahead.

In this case - not his first, but our first following him around - Flowers is on his way to a small town in southwestern Minnesota to work on the murder of an elderly couple when, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm, the home of the most hated rich man in Bluestem, Minn. goes up in a pillar of fire. He is soon convinced the two crimes are connected, and then a couple more bodies drop. The victims all seem to have known their killer. It seems some deeply disturbed individual is taking revenge for a wrong buried deep in the small town's past. The most unnerving thing about it is knowing the killer is probably within a half-mile of you, could be someone you see every day. Flowers himself wonders whether it might not be the woman he is sleeping with, or her brother, the town sheriff, with whom he played high school baseball.

Other suspects emerge, of course. There's an ex-convict preacher who leads a heavily-armed cult of race-baiting followers, for one. That possibility leads to a bloodbath involving a convoy of federal agents. There are the hated rich guy's heirs, starting with one legitimate son and multiplying from there, as the fruits of sexual indiscretions start coming out of the corn. There is anybody who was hurt by a Ponzi scheme the old creep pulled back in the 1980s, including the family of one man who committed suicide over it. There is, according to one demented old lady, anyone connected with something horrible that happened to "the man in the moon," whoever that is. As Flowers focuses his investigation on a narrower range of suspects, using rumor and personal manipulation to work the evidence for him, his own life becomes increasingly imperiled. Obviously, he must be getting close to something that somebody doesn't want to be revealed.

I found this book and its immediate successor, Heat Lightning, along with two of the more recent Lucas Davenport novels, all together at a garage sale last week and couldn't wait to read them. I've enjoyed every funny, sexy, gruesome, suspenseful, puzzling, exciting page, and I plan to go on reading John Sandford titles as often as I can.

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