Review

Dark Of The Moon

by John Sandford

DARK
OF THE MOON may be John Sandford’s most riveting and
suspenseful novel to date. In this labyrinthine, stand-alone story,
the familiar Lucas Davenport makes only a few cameo appearances.
The hero of this tale is “Virgil Flowers --- tall, lean, late
thirties…hair way too long for a cop’s --- [who had]
kicked around for a while before joining the Minnesota Bureau of
Criminal Apprehension.” After working with him in INVISIBLE
PREY, Davenport “made him an offer he couldn’t
resist.” Flowers agreed to join this elite unit only if he
was given “the hard stuff,” and for three years he has
had extraordinary successes.


Flowers is given an assignment that takes him to “the old
town of Bluestem,” a place with a different pace and
personality when compared to the Twin Cities --- or so it would
seem --- until millionaire Bill Judd, a selfish con man, is
mercilessly killed. Judd was reviled and hated in the community
because he was responsible for fleecing his friends and neighbors.
He had brought his “investors” a “pie in the
sky” get-rich-quick scheme that went bust, and almost
everyone lost all of their savings. Judd was the only person to
benefit from the failed enterprise. He was a miser who lived a
lonely life isolated from the town. His location gave the killer
(who called himself Moonie) a perfect opportunity to set fire to
the house and burn Judd alive. The authorities and townspeople were
overwhelmed by the brutality of the crime, and even though Judd was
a nasty character, no one could possibly understand who among them
could commit such a Machiavellian murder.


Then came the seemingly senseless killing of Anna and Dr. Russell
Gleason. Both in their 80s, they were long retired --- he from his
medical practice, she from her nursing career and her six terms on
the county commission. They had been greatly respected and well
liked in their community. Who could possibly want to kill and
humiliate these people? After ending the lives of the Gleasons, the
murderer dragged Russell from the house and propped him up against
a tree to make him look like a discarded scarecrow. This defilement
was even more chilling and macabre when authorities discovered that
the doctor’s eyes had been shot out of his head. For a town
with a history of little crime, this explosion of violence and the
forms it took added a terrifying element never before felt by the
townspeople. After all, in the space of a few weeks, three murders
were committed. As fear rippled through the population, the body
count was not yet at its end.


The crimes had occurred before BCA Agent Flowers arrived on the
scene. Virgil is a charming and more-than-competent law enforcement
officer who seems to hit it off with the sheriff, Jim Stryker. Both
men are devoted to their jobs and to making sure that those who
rely on them get the justice they deserve. The two colleagues are
very cognizant of how small towns work: everyone knows everyone
else and their secrets. Feuds and fights erupt only to die down
when need or care brings the antagonists together; gossip and rumor
keep everyone “busy.” The population is suspicious of
newcomers and memories die hard. Nevertheless, thrice-divorced
Flowers wins them over and becomes involved with Joan Carson, the
sheriff’s sister.


As the investigation slowly moves along, the theory that emerges is
that the nexus of the crimes lies with Bill Judd. They are
convinced that his murder is connected with something that happened
in the past that somehow touched a whole cadre of people. Following
this line of thinking leads Virgil from one older or elderly
resident at a time. When he gets to Michelle Garber and shares his
theory with her, she says, “[W]hat could possibly have
happened back then --- think of the worst possible thing --- that
would have brought [anyone] back here to kill people. And…how
could [he] even get around town without being seen?” If he
lived in Bluestem at any time, he wouldn’t be instantly
recognized or could he have been a “fringe” person no
one paid too much attention to?


As each clue is uncovered, Virgil begins to see a pattern limned in
old scandals. Irregularities emerge when some people seem to be
rewriting history while others appear to be telling it straight. He
realizes he must begin to look into the pasts of those kids who are
now middle-aged and track down anyone who might remember what
happened 30 years ago. Clearly, someone is out for revenge, but at
first no one can think of any particular event that would foster
such hatred.


As the body count has been rising, the only thing the corpses seem
to have in common are the mistakes they made in their youth,
coupled with the adults who were there to cover them up. In the
’60s, when societies broke open, these people were running
around like most of their young counterparts --- indulging in free
love, drugs, rebellion, orgies and speeding cars --- all of which
led to something abominable happening in Bluestem. Now someone has
exploded in a rage that had to be festering for years, and people
are dying.


Then a break comes in an extraordinary conversation Flowers has
with an elderly woman in a nursing home. When Virgil visits her,
she tells him that she saw the “man in the moon.”
Although this clue doesn’t seem immediately relevant or make
sense, in the end the whole case turns on it.


In DARK OF THE MOON, John Sanford has introduced a strong character
who emerges as the alter ego of Lucas Davenport. While the two are
deep thinkers, they ruminate about different issues and have
varying perspectives on the way to live life. What brings them
together is their love of the puzzle --- the game itself and the
moves necessary to outthink the “bad guy.” Flowers is
more laid back, has a bit of an attitude and is more of a rolling
stone than Lucas. His wardrobe is very simple, he wears t-shirts
with logos of rock bands and sometimes, when he has to “dress
up,” he dons a jacket over his t-shirt. The impression he
leaves on readers is of competence, compassion, curiosity and total
commitment to solving complicated crimes. Actually, he resembles
the tall silent type of old cowboy movies.


DARK OF THE MOON has a taut plot with sharp angles against the
atmosphere of shadows and light. Sandford has always produced a
cast of well-limned characters, and in this novel he does a
sterling job of it. His crisp style moves readers along at a fast
pace, turning pages as quickly as they can. Whether an old fan or
someone new to his work, feel confident that there will be no
disappointments in DARK OF THE MOON.


   



















Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 22, 2010

Dark Of The Moon
by John Sandford

  • Publication Date: September 30, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425224139
  • ISBN-13: 9780425224137