Deadline: A Virgil Flowers Novel
Who would have thought that Minnesota (particularly rural Minnesota) would be such an exciting place? John Sandford once again demonstrates that the environs a couple of hundred miles and a world away from the better known twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are just as interesting --- and deadly --- as those of the large metropolitan areas. What begins and ends as an investigation into a mysterious and heartless multiple abduction case quickly becomes a murder investigation that, in turn, reveals a crime that has been ongoing for years.
At the heart of it all is Virgil Flowers, a member of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (MBCA) who reports to Lucas Davenport (who has his own, much longer-running series). Virgil, a good-natured rake who is a three-time contender and loser in the matrimonial stakes, is mulling over the possibility of a fourth aisle stroll as DEADLINE begins. He is called away from the hearth of his latest lover by a friend named Johnson Johnson, who resides in the Minnesota hinterland of Trippton, a small (and fictitious) municipality sitting on the Mississippi River.
"...certainly one of Sandford’s most ambitious efforts, balancing three (well, 2.5) plots, featuring a romantic relationship that has actually lasted through two consecutive novels, and introducing a new (and hopefully) recurring character late in the book who will charm your socks off."
Someone --- or several someones --- is stealing dogs from the residents of Trippton, and the scuttlebutt is that they are being sold to medical research firms as “lab dogs.” At this point, the mind kind of shuts down, whether or not one is a dog person. This is true of Virgil, of course, whose lifestyle doesn’t exactly permit a pet (of the four-legged variety, anyway). He goes about investigating the thefts in a workmanlike manner, but the trail only goes so far, at least at first. What Virgil does find is a crystal meth operation that he assists in shutting down in short order.
However, the incident involving most of the book’s length and breadth is the murder of local reporter Clancy Conley. Years of substance abuse have caused Clancy’s promising career as an investigative journalist to spiral down to sustenance-level employment, writing the equivalent of man-bites-dog articles for Trippton’s weekly newspaper, which consists primarily of advertisements. Despite the self-inflicted ruin of his life, Clancy’s instincts for a story remain intact, and his dogged insistence at following one of these stories results in him winding up face down and dead in a roadside ditch. Virgil is tasked by Lucas with investigating the murder, given that he is already in the area, but there is little evidence for him to follow.
Sandford lets the reader in on the who and why behind Clancy’s untimely demise almost immediately, and a great deal of the fun of reading this book is the manner in which Virgil takes what little he has and follows a meandering trail that leads him to a group of highly unlikely but very greedy embezzlers and murderers who otherwise would be, at least nominally, respected pillars of the community. But, you may ask, what about those dognappers? Virgil does not forget about them either, so by the time all is said and done, DEADLINE wraps up with one of the most satisfying endings to a novel that you are likely to encounter in a while.
DEADLINE may not be the best installment in the series, but it is certainly one of Sandford’s most ambitious efforts, balancing three (well, 2.5) plots, featuring a romantic relationship that has actually lasted through two consecutive novels, and introducing a new (and hopefully) recurring character late in the book who will charm your socks off. Then there are the principal villains of the piece, who may have some of their real-world counterparts in various municipalities in this fair land of ours looking nervously over their shoulders to see if the equivalent of Clancy Conley is standing in the doorway.
Regardless of where you might rank DEADLINE in the Flowers firmament, it is, by any standard, another work of Sandford’s that is not to be missed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 10, 2014