I've been a huge fan of the Virgil Flowers series from the very beginning, and I always eagerly await a new entry. Unfortunately, though, I don't think that Bloody Genius measures up to many of the other, better, books in the series. That's certainly not to say that I thought it was a bad book--I genuinely enjoyed reading it--but only that it didn't meet the high expectations that I have for this author and this series.
As the book opens, a wealthy and distinguished professor at the University of Minnesota is murdered late one night while sneaking into one of the university's libraries in the company of an unidentified woman. It appears that the professor may be using his private carrel in the library for a little late night clandestine "research" when he encounters an intruder. The intruder smacks the professor over the head with the professor's heavy laptop computer, leaving him dead on the floor. The professor's female friend hides in the stacks, hoping that the killer won't discover her and then, once the killer is gone, she hightails it out of the library without bothering to call the police.
As a practical matter, there are no clues and the police are completely baffled. The professor has been involved in a battle with the members of another department--one of those conflicts that could only seem important within the confines of academia--but there's little evidence to suggest that this brouhaha is the cause of his murder. The professor's family is well-connected politically and so, with the case stalled, the governor reaches out to the Minnesota BCA and has Virgil Flowers assigned to the case. Virgil joins the lead detective on the case, Margaret Trane, and spends a couple of weeks poking around, asking questions and trying to find a solution to the case.
As always, it's great fun to watch Virgil in action, and the interactions between Virgil and the other characters are often very witty and amusing. But that's par for the course in these books. The problem, at least for me, is that this case really doesn't seem worthy of Virgil's attention. Also, there's not nearly as much danger and tension in this book as there is in most of the others in the series. This case seems more like a parlor game of sorts, or maybe an old Agatha Christie whodunit, and there's not nearly as much at stake as there is in most Flowers novels.
As readers of the series know, a few books ago, Sandford decided to have Virgil settle down with a woman named Frankie who is now pregnant with twins. Up until then, one of the great pleasures of reading these books was watching Virgil flirt and otherwise interact with the attractive women who often populate these books. Sometimes these interactions led to something and sometimes they didn't, but they were always a lot of fun to read. Virgil is now effectively neutered, though, because he's not the sort of guy who would cheat on a woman to whom he has made a long-term commitment. There are at least a couple of women in this book who are attracted to Virgil and with whom, in earlier novels, he might have developed some chemistry. But we know from the jump that while Virgil might admire them, he's not going to pursue them and, for me at least, it feels like readers are being cheated out of one of the most enjoyable aspects of the earlier books.
Sandford has indicated that he's going to be taking a break from the Flowers novels if not abandoning the character altogether, save for an occasional appearance in a Lucas Davenport novel. If that's true, perhaps it's just as well to leave Virgil settled and about to become a father. I wish he had gone out at the end of a more interesting case, but I take comfort in the fact that I have a shelf full of great Virgil Flowers novels that I can always go back to and enjoy.