Tag Archives: Lucas Davenport

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.

That F-in’ Flowers

Good heavens, that John Sandford is prolific.  I discovered this author in the early 1990s, when his “Prey” series, featuring Minnesota cop cum videogame developer Lucas Davenport, was new.  Since then, Sandford has published 21 in that series (Buried Prey the most recent), as well as four books in the Kidd series, two standalones, and five recent books with private eye Virgil Flowers.  (You can read my review of Bad Blood, a previous Flowers book, here.)

I got the ARC for the new one in the Flowers series, Shock Wave, from Murder and Mayhem in Muskego and it’s hot off the press with an October 4, 2011 publication date.  (Brief MMM plug:  Fun conference, $30 reg fee includes lunch, and my book bag had easily over $100 of new and not-yet-released mysteries.  Awesome.)

I picture Flowers as a young Jimmy Buffet, all inappropriate Hawaiian shirts, long blonde hair, and a devastasting way with the ladies.  Cops who come in contact with Flowers – Davenport’s friend and longtime off-the-record colleague – call him “That fuckin’ Flowers,” primarily because he’s often at the center of any off-kilter investigation.

My Virgil.

Shock Wave has a ripped-from-the-headlines story, wherein big-box chain Pyemart wants to come into a small Minnesota town, upsetting the ecological and socioeconomic balance.   Somebody’s trying to keep them out.  With bombs.  It’s up to Virgil to figure it out.

As always, there’s a potential love interest.  (Amusingly, he explains the sobriquet “that f’in’ Flowers” with faux modesty, explaining he has a certain popularity with the ladies.)  Plot twists and characters who are not what they seem.  Plenty of breezy fun balanced by actual and potential mayhem.

I enjoyed Shock Wave.  Sandford fans will, too, as will anyone who’s looking for a solid PI story with amusing characters.  It’s not deep, it’s not insightful, but it’s fun and perfect for an afternoon’s read, preferably with a warm beverage and a dog by your side.

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.