Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Escape Clause

Escape Clause
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the ninth and latest "Virgil Flowers novel" (that is, until Deep Freeze comes out Oct. 17, 2017), the cowboy-boot wearing, Leinie's-sipping, skirt-chasing Flowers, whose business-casual look is dialed a notch or two farther toward casual than most in his business, proves himself to be the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's choicest asset in his first adventure since fellow agent Lucas Davenport's separation from that agency. (Hint: This series is a spinoff from the 27-book series of "Prey" novels, featuring now post-BCA Lucas Davenport.) Either it's that, or it's the fact that everyone else in the BCA has been pulled off other duty to work security at the Minnesota State Fair, following the politically targeted bombing at the Iowa State Fair in Extreme Prey, but for one reason or the other, when two tigers are cat-napped from the Minnesota Zoo, Virgil gets the case.

I hope you're starting to pick up the pun in this book's title. "Clause," eh? OK, never mind.

Virgil's quarry in this book is not a pair of rare Amur tigers, but whoever stole them. The motive immediately, and correctly, suspected has to do with Chinese immigrants on the U.S. west coast being willing to pay virtually any price for traditional remedies, some of which involve the dried organs or ground-up bones of endangered animals. Thanks to his mind's quickness to make connections, it isn't long before Virgil suspects exactly the guys who are doing this to the irreplaceable cats. There's an inside guy at the zoo; there are two guys with connections to the Armenian mafia; there is a Chinese tycoon and his playboy son; and, at the center of the web, there's a sociopath who specializes in traditional medicine, since he was barred from practicing professional medicine.

This Winston Peck VI, M.D., becomes an increasingly absorbing character as he observes his own descent into murder and villainy with almost clinical detachment. Not that he isn't stressed out. His desperation not to get caught, his almost paralyzing anxiety, his growing dependence on Xanax and the number that plays on his brain, come close to eliciting the reader's sympathy, in spite of the cold-bloodedness with which he commits crime after grisly crime. It would be nice to say Virgil never misses a trick, and catches up with him step by dogged, methodical step. But actually, luck favors Peck most of the time, leaving the BCA's top investigator looking flat-footed while a reckless killer of man and beast slips past his surveillance, or spots him before he is spotted, time after time. The evidence that could help Flowers and his cronies Jenkins and Shrake find where Peck has stashed the tigers, keeps getting farther away. Whenever Peck makes a move that could get him caught, Flowers' attention is diverted by a separate case involving his girlfriend as a victim of assault.

And then, luck turns just enough to put Flowers and Peck together in one place, and you just know the backup won't arrive before one of them is dead. While a tiger's life teeters in the balance, a physically injured Virgil and a mentally unhinged Peck fight it out in one of the hair-raisingest scenes of suspense and violence I can remember ever reading. If the depiction of a habitual murderer as a Xanax-addled nervous wreck doesn't do it, I'm pretty sure this scene will make you remember the name of John Sandford - which is actually John Camp. Don't ask. Just go with it.

No comments: