If you were to ask fans of crime series fiction to list their 10 favorite series and authors, it is more likely than not that you would find John Sandford’s name listed twice: for Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers. The Davenport books have evolved over the course of two decades into one of the most reliably readable contemporary series in the mystery genre; some 20-odd titles down the road, Sandford continues to publish some of his best writing in his most recent work. The Flowers series is a relatively recent spin-off from the Davenport universe, but is formed from the same elements that make the Davenport books such a joy to read: sharp characterization, witty dialogue and, at heart, a gritty, often puzzling mystery.
"If SHOCK WAVE is any indication, Flowers has a better than even chance of equaling if not surpassing Davenport in the hearts and minds of Sandford’s legion of readers."
Sandford’s latest novel, SHOCK WAVE, is the fifth installment in the Flowers series. Flowers is abruptly pulled off of a vacation by Davenport to investigate a bombing in the scenic but obscure Butternut Falls, Minnesota. The explosion occurs at the construction site of a new and controversial PyeMart store. The incident was preceded three weeks prior by a similar bombing at the PyeMart headquarters in Michigan, so that the almost inescapable conclusion is that the two terrorist attacks are linked. A mad bomber creates a wonderfully excruciating ticking clock in Sandford’s extremely capable hands, given that there are a plethora of suspects in Butternut Falls, and Flowers needs to begin weeding them out, even as more bombs explode with deadly intent and force.
When the dust settles and the smoke clears, Sandford is a fabulous storyteller above all else, and while I didn’t flinch while starting my car in the days following my reading of the book, I might have thought things over for a second or two before I turned the key in the ignition. Or the doorway. Or wherever. Yet the shock isn’t the entirety of the novel. In Sandford’s hands, Flowers creates a bunch of odd and memorable characters, some of whom wander into and out of the book for chapters at a time, while others appear and disappear but make their presence known.
One of them is an oversexed teenage boy whose appearances are brief but who provides what for me is the line of the book. Then, of course, there is the mystery of who is setting off the bombs. Sandford engages in a touch of tough but fair misdirection that sends Flowers off one way while the bomber goes the other, so that the evildoer almost gets away with it. That’s not going to happen, though, with Flowers on the job, vacation time or not.
Flowers and Davenport are somewhat different characters personally; professionally, however, they are cut from the same cloth. They also bring a similar wisecracking attitude to the proceedings that is unsettling for their targets but highly entertaining for the readers. And Flowers, being a worker bee and not the boss, gets to exercise his penchant for smart remarks just a bit more freely in the field. If SHOCK WAVE is any indication, Flowers has a better than even chance of equaling if not surpassing Davenport in the hearts and minds of Sandford’s legion of readers.