Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Storm Front

Storm Front
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

It begins in Israel, but most of this mystery-thriller unfolds in the part of Minnesota where I went to college. So, apart from everything else, it's a bit of a homecoming for me; I haven't been back there since the beginning of this century. It was fun to see the towns of Mankato (where I went to school), St. Peter (home of Gustavus Adolphus College, where many of my friends went to school), and other burgs in that area, at least through the eyes of fictional crooks and cops; though, after living in Missouri as long as I have, it takes some effort to check the urge to add an "s" at the end of St. Peter. One of Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Virgil Flowers' two cases in this book has to do with a Gustavus anthropology prof who absconds from an archaeological dig in Israel with a priceless artifact that, if authentic, just might spell the end of Judaism and the modern state of Israel.

The Rev. Elijah Jones represents a branch of Lutheranism whose grip on the Bible is just loose enough to be capable of the theological and text-critical enormities unleashed in this novel; if awful Christian doctrine could be described as occult, I would be hanging an Occult Content Advisory on this book along with the Adult ditto that, with this series, invariably applies. But that's no excuse for Jones to go rabbiting off with a stone that seems to mention Solomon in an early form of Hebrew script, and a certain Egyptian Pharaoh in hieroglyphics, as though they're the same person. He obviously doesn't have pure motives, since he's already trying to sell it to the highest bidder, even before Virgil can tell whether the Israeli Antiquities Authority agent shadowing him on the case is really who she says he is.

While Virgil tries to reel in the terminally ill renegade minister before he does something worse than steal a national treasure, his garage gets fire-bombed, seriously endangering his fishing boat; which, as you know, is not cool at all. Also, he has to deal with a Mossad agent who has exceeded her brief, a couple of reluctant Hezbollah operatives, a pair of Turkish enforcers, a stone-cold Iranian killer, two rival celebrity treasure hunters, and an unspecified U.S. intelligence agency. And all that's before the target of his other investigation - a hot momma known as Ma Nobles, who is suspected of selling fake antique barn lumber - gets caught up in the stone-of-Solomon case for her own personal reasons.

If, like me, you have already peeked into some books farther down John Sandford's list of works, you might recognize Ma as a "doing business as" of Virgil's main squeeze from here on; so, it's interesting to see where that started. Their relationship is fraught from the start with the tension that results when opposites attract; though some of that tension may also come from the complexity of case involving all these characters' agendas, double-crosses, and power plays, not to mention gunplay, a kidnapping, a hospital prison-break, unusual vehicle chases, and the creative application of skinny-dipping as surveillance.

This is the seventh of nine-going-on-ten "Virgil Flowers novels" by the journalist formerly known as John Camp, also author of some 27 "Lucas Davenport" novels and at least 10 other books. I'm working through the parts of both series that my county's public library has in its collection. The fact that I've stopped reading anything else for the time being, bears witness to their addictiveness.

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