Thursday, May 11, 2017

Heat Lightning

Heat Lightning
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

I found this second of 10 "Virgil Flowers novels" together with its predecessor, Dark of the Moon, at a local garage sale last week, and was kept up late several nights in a row by the addictive pleasure of reading them. I suppose one reason I get a kick out of them is that they're set in Minnesota, where I lived many years and where most of my family still lives. It keeps mentioning places I'm familiar with; the main character even lives in the town where I went to college. Settings and characters I recognize come recognizably to life in their pages. But also, they're just fun books. They have a fascinatingly cool, laid-back, skirt-chasing, joke-cracking, outdoorsy, smarter-and-tougher-than-he-looks crime solver in the main-character slot - a guy who can be described roughly as a 30-something cross between a surfer dude and a cowboy, and who gets out ahead of a coordinated team of serial killers when they've written him off as a harmless hick.

Virgil Flowers works the southern Minnesota range of the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, under the command of Lucas Davenport (hero of his own 27-novel series by the same author), who once memorably promised to give him "the hard stuff." His involvement in the case featured in this book began with the execution-style murder of a New Ulm, Minn. title company owner, found propped up against a veterans' memorial with a lemon stuck in his mouth. Bodies continue to drop, looking exactly like that, but spread out all over the state - including one victim, a former St. Paul cop, left practically on the state capitol lawn. Stopping these crimes is especially urgent, as the Republican National Convention is coming to the Twin Cities in a week or two. But as Flowers pieces together the connections between the victims, he realizes there's a hit list, and the guy in charge of the RNC's security is either on the list, or he's the one calling the hits.

Time is running out, especially after Flowers himself unwittingly leads the killers to one of the victims. He enjoys the unusual (for him) sensation of realizing he's been played for a fool, but only for a moment, before beginning a race toward a deadly showdown with a team of killers whose motives and methods are full of disturbing implications. It's a mystery married to a spy thriller married to a tale of political intrigue, with elements of tragedy and a spark of romance thrown in for fun, and the guy who breaks it all open is going to be a dude who wears rock band T-shirts under his sport coat and, now and then, takes a break from chasing killers to go fishing. How very Minnesota.

Besides the aforementioned 37 novels featuring either Virgil or Lucas, John Sandford is the author of four Kidd novels, the recent "Singular Menace" trilogy co-authored by Michelle Cook, the "Lincoln Rhyme vs. Lucas Davenport" novella Rhymes with Prey co-written with Jeffery Deaver, the recent science-fiction novel Saturn Run co-authored with Ctein, and the novels The Night Crew and Dead Watch.

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