Mad River by John Sandford
NPR Interview of John Sandford
Mad River is the 6th book in the Virgil Flowers series, a spin off of the Prey books which feature Lucas Davenport in his growing role in Minnesota law enforcement. This time out, Virgil gets called in to investigate a rash of murders, seemingly unrelated, but in far too small of a town for them to be coincidental.
Becky Welsh, Jimmy Sharp and Tom McCall are losers from rural southwestern Minnesota (Bare County) who tried to start a life in the Twin Cities, but failed. When they return to their small burg, all hell breaks loose and the body count starts to grow. Becky and Jimmy both had pretty rough upbringings and came out a little on the sociopathic side. Not only do they feel no remorse for their crimes, they kind of get off on them.
Enter Virgil Flowers, the preacher's son, and all around good guy, good writer/fisher/outdoors -man, excellent investigator, who is not too lucky in the love department as his three very short, failed marriages can attest. Flowers is from the same area as the teenage crime wave that is Becky, Jimmy and Tom and he knows about life there. The rural sprawl of farmland makes hiding easy and it also makes it hard to know just who is still alive and well. Just how do you solve a case when you know who the criminals are, but you can't find them? Mixed in with the teens' crimes is the murder of Ag O'Leary Murphy, the daughter of a rich local family who left her husband, the patently unlikable Dick Murphy shortly before being gunned down in her childhood home. Virgil knows what's going on, but he needs witnesses to make the case.
It doesn't help that the local sheriff is a man so crazy that he actually tried to open a concentration camp in his county and fought to make it a reality, despite the unanimous disgust from all quarters. Sheriff Duke and his police force want the three teens out of business and they won't be happy until they all go down like Bonnie and Clyde in a hail of bullets.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a John Sandford fan. When other authors grow lazy in their writing or trite and sloppy in their story telling, I feel the need to part ways. This has been happening throughout my life. I outgrow writers whose books I'd been reading religiously and put them and their books in my rear view mirror. I'm looking at you Carolyn Keane, Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, etc. You know, the mystery writers who put thinly veiled and glorified versions of themselves in the story. The authors who are really just phoning it in at this point. The ones who write the books you figure out before the end of the first chapter. They started fresh and interesting and then either the writing, or the character quality goes so far downhill, that you can just no longer bear to witness it. Or, waste your valuable time and money on it.
I can not imagine feeling that way about Sandford. His characters are rich (in the case of Lucas Davenport, figuratively and literally) and multi-faceted. They are flawed people who believe in, and fight for justice. Sure, I got hooked on Rules of Prey when the high speed chase would have been visible from my house in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, had I still lived there. Oh, and had it actually happened. That book covered a lot of territory I remembered well from my family's years in Minnesota. The fact that the book was so well written and the story so gripping kept me coming back for more. And, they still do.
Even more important, Lucas Davenport was my mother's literary boyfriend. I think she would have been really proud that I continue the tradition, because I definitely think of Virgil Flowers as my literary boyfriend.