Monday, June 25, 2012

Enter Virgil Flowers

Dark of the Moon is the book that introduces Virgil Flowers, the second major series character to be created by John Sandford. Virgil is an investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is run by Lucas Davenport, Sandford's better-known protagonist.

Virgil is pretty laid-back for a cop. His wears his hair long and his standard uniform is a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt sporting the name of some (often) obscure rock band. When he needs to dress it up for a special occasion, he throws a sport coat on over the tee-shirt. Married and divorced three times before we even meet him, Virgil is attractive to the ladies and is more than a little attracted to them. Virgil leaves the CSI aspects of an investigation to others; his technique is to drift into town, chat up the locals, and stir the pot a bit. Once he sets things into motion, he watches the pieces fall into place and eventually grasps a solution to the problem. Most of Virgil's cases take place in the state's smaller towns and Virgil is assigned to assist the local sheriff's office which is often overwhelmed by a criminal problem more serious than the locals usually see.

In this case, a particularly brutal murder occurs in Bluestem, a small rural community. Virgil is driving in to assist when he comes across a roaring house fire. Bill Judd, the richest, and perhaps most hated man in town, has apparently died in the fire, and it's clear that the fire did not occur accidentally. Virgil realizes that the two crimes must be connected and begins probing into the history of the town and of the victims, looking for a connection that might point in the direction of the killer.

Virgil finds any number of such connections in a tiny town that appears to have a surprisingly robust sexual and economic history. And almost immediately, he finds himself in a relationship with a very attractive woman who has a number of tangled ties to the victims herself. Before Virgil can deduce a solution, other Bluestem residents will fall victim to an especially clever killer and it will take all of Virgil's physical and mental agility if he's going to save the day.

This is a fun read and an excellent beginning to what has turned out to be a very entertaining series. There's lots of action and a very clever, convoluted plot. As in the case of Sandford's Prey novels, featuring Lucas Davenport, there's also a fair amount of wry humor that does not seem at all inappropriate, despite the serious nature of the crimes that Virgil is investigating. Sandford's legions of fans will certainly not be disappointed.

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