Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sanford's dark novel may not suit all

"Bad Blood" by best-selling author John Sandford (Putnam, $27.95)
is the fourth book in his popular series starring Detective Virgil Flowers.

Sandford is well-known for his excellent "Prey" series, featuring
Lucas Davenport, head of Minnesota's special Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

But Davenport plays only a minor role in this novel.
The quirky Flowers is at the forefront when he's called
to look into a series of deaths in a rural county.

Lee Coakley, the area's new female sheriff, contacts Flowers
for assistance in investigating the unusual murder of Jacob Flood,
a farmer who died while delivering a load of soybeans at a grain elevator.

Flood was killed by Bob Tripp, a teenage employee who hit him
over the head with a T-ball bat and tried to make it look like an accident.

The local cops don't believe the story.
They arrest Tripp and throw him in jail.
The next day, his body is discovered in his cell - an apparent suicide.

Meanwhile, the officer on duty, Jim Crocker, is found dead at home.
Coakley and Flowers are trying to find a link between the deaths.

Their diligent work uncovers another unsolved murder of a young woman a year earlier.
All four were members of a strange religious cult.
As they dig deeper, they discover many dark secrets of the community,
only to be stonewalled by various cult members.

Flowers, the son of a Lutheran minister, is in fine form as he confronts
the Bible-thumping cult members who quote frequently from the
holy book to justify their behavior.

The dark humor adds a needed lighter touch to the novel,
and the growing relationship between Coakley and Flowers adds additional entertainment.

It's a top-notch, compelling crime novel, but it may not be for everybody.
Unwary readers may not be initially prepared for a plot that covers a
variety of dark subjects including child abuse, rape and incest.

"Prey" fans who enjoy solid police procedural novels won't be disappointed, however.
Sandford, (the pseudonym for John Camp) is likely to gain new readers
who will want to catch up on Flowers' memorable earlier appearances.

Ray Walsh, owner of the Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly for the Lansing State Journal since 1987.
(Originally published by the Lansing State Journal on September 26, 2010.)

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