Tag Archives: John Sandford

More fun with that f*in’ Flowers


John Sandford

So, everybody knows John Sandford, right?  Tall, rugged-looking guy, Pultizer-prize winning journalist, modest demeanor, writes about fourteen books a year, all of which end up on the New York Times best seller list?  (Okay, it’s his real-life persona, John Roswell Camp, who won the Pulitzer and he doesn’t actually publish fourteen books a year – it’s just 31 novels since 1989.)  He’s got a new one out, and it features Virgil Flowers.   If Lucas Davenport is the urbane, big-money family man, Virgil’s his rough-edged, woman-loving cousin.

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey

In this post, I likened Virgil to Jimmy Buffet.  I also think Matthew McConaughey could take the movie role, slipping easily into Flowers’ classic rock-n-roll T-shirts.  (Click here for a list of said t-shirts.)

Now there’s a new Virgil Flowers novel out, just as rollicking and convoluted as ever.  stormf rontStorm Front features a dying college professor who steals a priceless – and potentially world-changing – ancient biblical artifact from a dig in Israel.  Professor Elijah Jones sets course immediately for Mankato, Minnesota, home territory for our own Virgil Flowers.  Virgil’s busy.  He’s got buxom criminals to investigate.  Closely.

Jones’ goal is to ransom the artifact to the highest bidder, thereby securing the future of his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife, who is going to need a lot of very expensive care after her husband’s death.  Of course, this being a Virgil Flowers novel, there’s a whole cast of unusual characters, including a faux-historian from the Israel Department of Antiquities (Yael Aronov One) who’s so fit and kick-ass that we’re not surprised too much when we find out she’s really probably from Mossad, the real Yael (known as Yael-Two, and much dumpier and home-loving than Yael One).  Also: Tag Bauer, an enterprising TV showboat of a “field archeologist,” various spies and hit-men, the above-named buxom criminal with previously unknown ties to Elijah Jones, and Jones’ daughter, Ellen, who insists that her father, despite his end-of-life larceny, is not a bad man.

As always, several of the characters are charmingly over the top,  the reader is required to wend her way through a labyrinthine plot, and all’s well that end’s well at the conclusion.  Some folks don’t care for this:  on Amazon today, although there are 206 five-star reviews, there are also 72 one-star reviews.   Put me solidly in the three-star territory… you’re not going to learn a lesson of any kind in a Virgil Flowers novel, and there’s no character development to speak of, but you are going to have a heck of a ride.

New Sandford good for fans

preySilken Prey is the 23rd in the John Sandford‘s Lucas Davenport series, and I think the series might be getting a bit worn.  Fans are sure to disagree, but this particular outing is low on suspense and high on watching the plot unfold.  Political dirty tricks are even dirtier than usual when rich, beautiful, and sociopathic Taryn Grant runs for the Senate.  Incumbent Porter Smalls looks like he’s going to win the race, but Grant’s team frames him by placing child pornography on his computer.  The next thing you know, his lead disappears, Grant’s speeding to the Senate, and there’s a string of dead bodies.  Davenport ‘s working for the governor to get to the truth, but he always seems  to be a step or two behind.

Compadres Virgil Flowers and Joe Kidd give a hand, and there’s a brief side plot featuring Kidd’s wife Lauren, but all in all, things don’t work out particularly well for anyone besides former Secret Service agent Alice Green, who’ll make the leap to Governor Henderson’s staff, and for Taryn Grant herself who gets to keep her ill-gotten Senate seat and will probably show up as an evildoer in a future Sandford book.

Silken Prey is not one of Sandford’s most compelling novels.  It’s clear from early on who the bad guys are, nobody you care about is in any particular danger, and it’s a foregone conclusion that all of Grant’s accomplices are going to end up dead, not just because she’s a smart, scheming, conniving sociopath, but because the whole book will fall apart if any of them are left alive.  Still, the story’s okay, the familiar banter among is as comfortable as old jeans, and it’s a fun way to spend an early summer afternoon on the porch.  Wine and cheese optional, but heartily recommended.

Action! Starting with Sandford’s Stolen Prey

I’m on a roll with some books that feature a lot of action, starting with John Sandford’s latest in the Lucas Davenport series, Stolen Prey.  It’s a great read and Sandford keeps the tension high and the action coming.  Particularly cool is that the plot features his adopted daughter, Letty.  Letty was the smart but wild (bordering on the feral) 12-year-old introduced in 2004’s Naked Prey.  You’ll note it’s been eight years, but Letty (and presumably Lucas) has only aged three years.

Generally, it’s not critical to read the Davenport series in order – each one is strong enough to stand on its own – and while many of the characters evolve, it’s not a giant deal since the plots are pretty Lucas-centric.  In this case, however, I definitely would recommend going back and reading Naked Prey if you haven’t had the pleasure.  In that novel, Letty is a surprisingly fresh and fully realized character, maybe a bit over-quirky, as a child who has grown up fast because she had to.  She and Lucas develop a bond and it’s no surprise when, after Letty’s mother is killed, she comes home with him.

Fast forward a few years, and in Stolen Prey, Letty’s a teenager.  Dealing with her mother’s death wasn’t easy, but high school is a snap and she loves her new family, including baby boy Sam.   She’s sympathetic and somewhat vengeful when dad Davenport is mugged at the ATM.  And she’s quick-thinking and ruthless when Mexican hit men target Davenport in an effort to prevent him from solving the murder of a software entrepreneur and his family.

The crime story in Stolen Prey is inventive and  engaging, and while many authors go with the first person POV in this type of novel, Sandford really makes the most the third person and multiple points of view.   The suspense builds throughout and the threat feels very real.  The book is fast-paced and violent, and if you like your crime on the cozy side, it’s not for you.  If you’re made of sterner stuff, you’ll enjoy this one.

NYC’s ThrillerFest over

So I’ve been filled with envy and regret in recent days, perusing my Facebook page and seeing all those people I know and love (or at least interact with on FB and enjoy their books) at ThrillerFest in New York City.  Here’s why:

  1. Firstly, I do love me a thriller.
  2. The author line-up was phenomenal.  Lee Child, Karen Slaughter, John Sandford.  And more.
  3. And it’s not just for fans, it’s got great stuff for writers, including agent pitch sessions.   Think CraftFest and AgentFest.
  4. Finally, it’s in New. York. City.  Like many, I heart New York.

Of course, all the good stuff doesn’t come free.  As with the Broadway vacation I took with my son in the spring, it adds up quickly.  The cheapest thing was to attend only the Awards banquet at $197.  Attending the whole kit-and-kaboodle (ThrillerFest, CraftFest, AgentFest and the banquet) was $899 if you make your plans and pay the fees nine months in advance.   Must clear my calendar for July 2013 and save my pennies.

John Sandford’s shockeroo… and don’t forget Lit Fest

John Sandford celebrates the maturity of his “prey” series – 21 novels featuring Minnesota cop Lucas Davenport – with a look back at the past.  Construction workers have uncovered the plastic-sheathed bodies of two little girls under a concrete slab, and by so doing, uncover an episode in Davenport’s past that has nagged at him for many years.

And thus the reader slides back to 1985, getting a view of Lucas as a uniform cop, sharp, headstrong, and willing to bend the rules, but still young enough to be willing to set aside his own instincts for the advice of wiser and more experienced colleagues… plus the promise of the career path he desires.  It wasn’t really a quid pro quo, but it was definitely understood that making waves wouldn’t do.  It suited everyone’s interests to consider the case closed with the death of the main suspect.

This is Lucas pre-Weather, pre-kids, and well before the big bucks that came his way as a video game developer.  In fact, in Buried Prey, Lucas is fooling around with his second game and isn’t expecting any big payoff.  He’s still a devil with the women and a loyal friend.

As I mentioned, the girls’ kidnapping was closed when the suspect died, but the mystery lived on.  The discovery of the girls’ bodies led to the realization that the suspect couldn’t have committed the crime, and Davenport’s left with a sick feeling… not only did he miss the opportunity to solve the case 25  years ago, but there’s every likelihood that the real bad guy has been out there, attacking little girls, year after year.

And so he has.  Davenport rejoins his old colleagues to unearth the truth and finds several cases with the same MO… including one where the girl got away.  The killer, cunning but not all that smart, is backed into a corner and is forced to kill again to cover his tracks.  Despite his deep-seated preference for knives, he comes out guns blazing and there’s a resulting shocking death (I’ll say no more). Needless to say, the criminal gets his comeuppance.

Buried Prey will be a hit with Sandford fans and new readers alike.  Although I’ve read and enjoyed the other books in the series, you don’t need to read them all in order to understand the relationships or the backstory in this one.  It’s fun to see the young Lucas… like many crime novel heroes, he has a tendency to be smarter, suaver, and bigger than life.  In this one, his flaws show.

Hey, Lit Fest Tomorrow!  Be sure to go!  I’m totally excited except for the fact that the weather forecast has changed and now SUNDAY is the sunny day.  But I’ve got tickets to stuff and I’m planning to meet my long-time friend Anne there, so I will just stick an umbrella in my tote bag (along with an extra book bag) and get myself on the el.  It will be fun no matter what.

Quick review: John Sandford’s Bad Blood

Gotta admit it, I like that Virgil Flowers.  He’s got a way with the women, but he’s a love-em-and-leave-em kind of guy.  He gets called in on the interesting cases and he’s not above bending the rules.

Plus, John Sandford is as smooth a writer as they come.  Here’s a sample from Bad Blood, wherein a good kid murders a bad man.

With Flood profoundly unconscious, or maybe already dead, Tripp lifted the man and pushed him into the grain flow, face up, reached out, and pulled his mouth open.  Soybeans were spilling from the truck like water from a pitcher, flowing around the unconscious farmer, filling his mouth, nose ears.  They gathered in his eye sockets, and in his shirt pockets, and in the John 3:16 hat. They squirted down into his overalls, slipping through the folds of his boxer shorts, hard and round, looking for a resting place in a navel or a fold of skin.

That’s some nice writing.  I like the flow of the words, the rhyme of sockets and pockets, the way his words make you feel the ever-rushing trickle and flow of the beans that will finish the job.

Bad Blood is a police procedural, of course, and it’s more of the how-do-we-prove-it than the who-did it variety.  Once the pieces fall into place and you think you’re just going to march through the rounding up of the bad guys, Sandford surprises you with a genuinely scary twist.

The book is an engaging read and well-crafted, the characters are likable, but I never really got emotionally connected with the evil of the crime.  Sandford’s characters say it’s horrible and talk about the fact that the victims are damaged, perhaps irretrievably… but the only victims we actually see don’t draw you in and make you see the horror.   These are girls, ages 12 to 15, who are matter-of-fact about what occurred to them and that they didn’t like it and we are supposed to be struck by how insane they must be to be so calm.   Plus, since we do not get the characters’ thoughts – just what they say and do – it’s easy to stay disengaged.

Overall, Bad Blood is well worth reading.  A quick look at the average rating on Amazon shows it a 3.6 out of 5 – I think that’s a bit low!

Wow! NYT book review astounding

I’m truly astounded.  The New York Times Book Review section runs short reviews of mysteries, PI’s, police procedurals, etc. on single page – typically four or five books will be reviewed.  Space is limited, so generally, I can count on this space for a quick look at several books I may wish to put on my library hold list, or even buy.  Some are going to be a genre (true crime) or type (translated from Portuguese) I’m not interested in.  But generally, reviews are positive.  After all, there are so many deserving books out there, why devote 4-5 column inches on a book that wasn’t good?

That’s why it’s astounding, and upon reflection, refreshing that Marilyn Stasio has reviewed the The Other Side of the Door and found it to be unworthy.    She’s even snarky!  The book’s conceit is that it withholds the identity of the victim and the role of the protagonist.  Who is it?  Did she murder that person?  Just find them?  What?  But to make it work, she has to have the main character say things like “Do you want to know what happened? and have her friend answer “Do you want to tell me?”  “Not yet.”   “Then wait.”

Marilyn’s comment on this back-and-forth?  “Take your time, ladies, and turn out the lights when you’re done.”  Love it.

I can only imagine that the reason for including the book in the ever-so-tight column is that it is written by Nicci Gerrard and Sean French (as Nicci French), and their books are usually reliable interesting and entertaining – so Marilyn probably received the review copy, expected to enjoy it, and felt ripped off.  Good for her for point it out.

Other books reviewed include Thomas Perry’s new one, Strip, The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard, and Storm Prey, John Sandford‘s 20th Lucas Davenport novel.  These four all go on the Literary Lunchbox library list.  Sorry, Nicci and Sean.  You can read the whole column and enjoy it yourself here.