"Storm Front" by John Sandford (Putnam, $27.95) is the latest in his popular series showcasing Virgil Flowers, a resident agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Although Sandford is well-known for his bestselling "Prey" books featuring Lucas Davenport, his Flowers series has been gaining in popularity.
Sandford's entertaining novel is a bit on the quirky side - there are no murders this time - but nasty, violent thugs and bad guys abound.
Flowers is investigating "Ma" Nobles in a case involving counterfeit lumber sales; he gets a call from Davenport asking him to help him in another tough situation.
Ellijah Jones, a minister and professor at a local college, has for years been involved in an archeological dig in Israel. He's made a remarkable discovery of an ancient inscribed stone, but instead of just turning it over, he steals it and smuggles it out of the country.
Jones has serious health issues and wants to auction the religious relic off himself, but things don't go as planned.
An Israeli investigator joins Flowers in the hunt for Jones - she notes all of the people who are after it: "Palestinian crazies, Syrian crazies, Egyptian crazies, maybe a couple of Israeli crazies. Turks. Some Americans too, I suppose."
Most of the book focuses on the search for the sacred object; Flowers gets assistance from various authorities who are also interested in tracking it down.
A television journalist and Jones' daughter Ellen add to the excitement with their contributions; other crimes are committed.
Jones proves remarkably elusive; when he's found, the real hunt is just beginning. You'll need a scorecard to keep track of all the plot twists and turns; it's a more complicated case than usual.
This is the seventh book in the series - in the novel's acknowledgement, he thanks his writing partner Michelle Cook for her contribution. Cook, a journalist and screenwriter, married the author in October.
Sandford (the pseudonym of Pulitzer Prize winner John Camp) is following a trend of best-selling authors like James Patterson and Clive Cussler. By having a writing partner, he's able to capitalize on his popularity and get more novels published per year.
Purists won't like it, but his legion of followers will still buy anything with John Sandford's name on it.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.
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This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, December 1, 2013.