It wasn’t all that long ago that John Sandford was known almost exclusively for his series of novels concerning Lucas Davenport, an investigator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a special troubleshooter for the governor. I am not forgetting the Kidd series; it’s just that we haven’t seen any action on that front for a while. Maybe someday, once again.
"BAD BLOOD is more thriller than mystery or police procedural, given that the who, what and why is revealed fairly early in the proceedings, at least to the reader."
In the meantime, Sandford has other stories to tell, and in the last three years, he has spun off a series from the Davenport mythos involving Virgil Flowers, a Minnesota state investigator. Flowers theoretically serves under Davenport in the same manner in which one can theoretically herd a group of cats. He does his own thing and goes his own way, giving his boss plausible deniability of his actions when he skirts the rules. As is documented in this fine series (of which the newly published BAD BLOOD is the fourth), Flowers seems to be known all over Minnesota, to law enforcement and civilians alike, by a cheerfully obscene nickname due to the fact that he and chaos seem to be more than nodding acquaintances. This has more to do with the type of criminal Flowers pursues as opposed to any particular actions on his part, although certainly both are elements that result in the combustion that inevitably occurs.
Sandford seems to have a country mouse (Flowers) and city mouse (Davenport) thing going with his two series, and that pattern holds true in BAD BLOOD. This particular volume begins with a train wreck sequence of deaths that occurs in and around rural southern Minnesota within a few days of each other and appears to be connected. The local sheriff requests the assistance of Flowers in the investigation; he agrees, but is barely on the scene before another death occurs. Flowers begins pulling investigative threads, literally, and concludes that these sudden, mysterious deaths in this otherwise quiet farming community seem to have some connection with the death of a young woman a year previously who also resided in the area.
Looking for some commonality among the deaths, Flowers concludes that the nexus of all these events is a local religious community that keeps to itself and does not welcome outsiders. To outward appearances, the church seems odd yet unremarkable, though in fact it is anything but. There is much that goes on behind closed doors in the area, as a quiet evil does unspeakable things. I thought of Edmund Burke’s famous statement --- “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” --- and, indeed, what Flowers uncovers will blow the lid off of the community. Literally. A rough justice is administered at the book’s conclusion, one that is equal to the crimes committed and all the more satisfying for it.
BAD BLOOD is more thriller than mystery or police procedural, given that the who, what and why is revealed fairly early in the proceedings, at least to the reader. This gives Sandford room to tinker a bit with the plot and let Flowers wander in ever-shrinking circles toward the truth. Then, of course, he has to prove it with admissible evidence, a task easier said than done. The star element, however, is the dialogue. When literary dialogue is mentioned, one thinks of Elmore Leonard, and rightly so. One should also think of John Sandford, who shines in composing the sharp-tongued but (mostly) well-intended repartee that reflects the rough camaraderie and hail fellowship of capable men in a field, doing bad business with good intent.
From the get-go, Flowers has been presented by Sandford as a bit of a good-natured rake. While he came up dry in the romance department in his last outing (2009’s ROUGH COUNTRY), Flowers finds his brain leaking from his ears, metaphorically speaking. If you know what I mean. For so many reasons, BAD BLOOD is very, very good indeed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010