Storm Front: A Virgil Flowers Novel
I will happily confess that I wait all year, every year, for the arrival of new Flowers. That would be Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Agent Virgil Flowers, who is both savior and headache to his boss, Lucas Davenport. Flowers and Davenport each have his own series, created by John Sandford; while the Flowers series was spun off from the Davenport canon, each man appears in the other’s timeline on a regular basis. Flowers is a bit of a rake, knighted with an alliterative and cheerfully obscene nickname that seems to follow him almost everywhere he goes. STORM FRONT, the seventh and latest book in the Flowers series, finds Sandford raising his own bar yet again, presenting his most complex and entertaining plot to date.
"STORM FRONT, the seventh and latest book in the Flowers series, finds Sandford raising his own bar yet again, presenting his most complex and entertaining plot to date."
The story begins not in Florida but in Israel at the site of an archaeological dig. A team has discovered a stele --- a piece of stone bearing an inscription --- that upon initial examination has the potential to upend three of the world’s major religions and shake up the geopolitical state of several countries, one in particular. Elijah Jones, an American minister who is an expert on ancient carvings and the like, is on the dig, until he isn’t; he awakens one morning, misappropriates the stele, and zig-zags his way back to his home state of Minnesota. Jones is not exactly circumspect in his return, practically dropping a trail of breadcrumbs in his wake and exercising just enough stealth not to get caught. Israel, of course, wants the stele back, and sends an expert to Minnesota to re-appropriate it. Flowers is tasked by Davenport to assist the expert and apprehend Jones, given that the United States takes a somewhat dim view of one of its citizens stealing from an ally.
However, it quickly develops that there are a number of additional parties interested in obtaining the stele, each for different reasons, and not all of them are friendly. Sorting them out is an impossible task for Flowers, who finds himself crosswise not only with the players, but also with Jones, an old friend of Flowers’s father, who in turn is a minister himself. Jones is offering up the stele for auction, which needs to be completed quickly, given that Jones is dying of cancer. The stele makes for a marvelous McGuffin, which at one point pops into Flowers’s hands and then right back out. Of course, that is not the only reason Flowers has his hands full, so to speak, as he has another case that crosses with the Jones matter. Things get extremely interesting (though they are never boring) before all is resolved, and the reason for Jones’s uncharacteristic theft and flight is ultimately brought to light just as the book ends.
STORM FRONT is a lot of fun and is more of a caper novel --- and perhaps a bit more lighthearted --- than the other volumes in the series. If there’s a flaw, it’s that there might be just a few too many pursuers of the stele by the time the book ends. Maybe I’m just grumpy because one of them, my favorite, seemed to disappear about halfway through the story only to reappear in the final third. Still, any Flowers is good (wonderful) Flowers, particularly one with an unusually --- dare I say it? --- heartwarming ending, in more ways than one.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 11, 2013