Mad River (Virgil Flowers, #6) By John Sandford

    John Sandford é 2 Read & download

    The Virgil Flowers books are lucidly written police procedurals with humor, attention to details of setting in rural Minnesota, and good quirky characters. They aren't mysteries in the sense that there is anything for us to figure out; the good guys' and bad guys' stories are both followed and there's not much for the reader to puzzle out. Crimes are solved through interviews and require legwork and streetsmarts rather than science and tech. The appeal to the reader is not whodunit but watching the protagonist close in on the criminals.

    Virgil is a wonderful fictional invention, beginning with that amusing name. Virgil's first love is not detection but the outdoors, and his second job is writing articles for the slick hunting mags (and, increasingly, other national magazines). He is the son of a Lutheran minister who has stayed a deist on his own terms, despite the horrors he sees in his role as a cop, reflecting his basic kindness and optimism. He gets laid a lot and was married and divorced three times by his early thirties.

    In this book we see him once again use a very strange group detection system, akin to the mail-survey on guilt he used in Shock Wave. As fans of the effin' Flowers know, he hates carrying a gun, and when something bad happens here, Lucas complains to him about that, and Flowers offers up an honest explanation why it wouldn't have helped him.

    The climax of this novel comes a couple chapters before the ending. In Sandford's novels, sometimes justice doesn't prevail as the protagonist might wish, but the reader will be satisfied.

    The writing, as always, is clean and crisp and invisible, in that best way, where words disappear and only story remains. Sandford is a reader-oriented writer, a man who knows how to manipulate us, entertain us, and keep us turning pages. I've always loved Sandford's female characters; for a man of his generation, he surprises with his skill of making them strong, sexual (NOT sexy, mere objects of some man's sexuality, but sexual, powerful subjects of their own).

    One day I'm going for force myself not to read one of his novels in a single day, but I failed with this one; with prose this slick, it's impossible to put it down. Hardcover After all these John Sandford books I’m starting to wonder how there could possibly be anyone left alive in Minnesota.

    Three young people try to pull a burglary that turns into murder and starts them on a killing spree through a rural area. State cop Virgil Flowers is in hot pursuit, but it’s impossible to predict where they’ll go next and many an innocent person winds up dead as the kids rampage across the countryside.

    Sandford continues to add new layers to Virgil and differentiate him from the Lucas Davenport character so that this series is seeming less like a spin-off side project and more than capable of standing on its own. The ending really illustrates how far apart the two cops are.

    Virgil’s roaming around the area he grew up and interacting with people from his past reminded me a bit of the dynamic of Justified. Flowers isn’t a shooter like Raylan Givens, but he’s equally good at laying on the good ole boy charm and knowing precisely how to work a redneck to get the info he needs.

    It’s another fast and furious thriller from Sandford that ends up going in some surprising directions. Hardcover A modern-day Bonnie and Clyde? Three young low lives, Jimmy, Becky, and Tom rob and murder people for no reason. Davenport orders Virgil to a crime scene that appears to be a deadly home invasion. While Virgil investigates and follows the trails, the killing spree continues from town to town.

    There's not a whole lot of originality here, but it's fun to read about Virgil and how his mind works to capture the killers. As always the writing is top-notch and a fast paced crime thriller. Good ending! Hardcover Ok, there should be categories of rating. Since four stars equates with I really liked it I guess that'll suffice. But rating a Sandford novel four stars, as opposed to, say, Fahrenheit 451, is like giving pumpkin pie the same rating as turkey with greens (or in my case, tofurkey with spinach). Sandford is pure joy, but he's dessert, he's what you reward yourself with after you've done something prudent, level headed and good for you.

    If you like the thriller genre I highly recommend you drop your current thriller and pickup Mad River. You'll love Virgil Flowers (this is the fifth Flowers novel), and you'll absolutely be blown away by how smart, funny, technically staggering and cinematic this novel reads. This guy - Sandford - is still at the top of his game. I'd like to think it's because he grew up in my hometown, Cedar Rapids. If I was a betting man I'd guess he went to Regis (the catholic high school), or Jefferson (that other side of town). I like to think it's his CR roots because then I have a chance. We drank the same water, almost at the same time (maybe a decade apart). Alas, I've tried to write like Sandford and come up startlingly, stunningly and lamentably short. This guy's a genius on the salient character trait. He wastes no words. And when you start one of his novels (true for the Prey series, also), you're picked up by the nape of your neck and spun along like a whirling dervish, given plenty of laughs along the way, and shocked by some of the scenes you encounter.

    All I can say is, I'm awaiting the next one in the series, after he comes out with his next Prey novel. They're usually about six months apart and I always love the fall and spring - I just wish I was better at pacing myself. Hardcover Jimmy Sharp is the de facto leader of two other loser kids from rural Minnesota, his girlfriend, Becky Welsh and a guy named Tom McCall who's hanging around with them because he's attracted to Becky and apparently because he has nothing better to do.

    While working as a waitress at a homecoming dance, Becky spies a diamond necklace worn by the wealthiest woman in a small neighboring town. Now, Jimmy leads his two confederates on a middle-of-the-night mission to break into the woman's house and force her to give up the diamonds. But no sooner are the three in the house than all hell breaks loose and Jimmy shoots someone before there's a chance to grab the diamonds or anything else of value.

    The three flee from the scene only to discover that Jimmy's junker car won't start. But they spot a man walking toward a car in the parking lot where they've stashed the getaway car. Jimmy runs up behind the man, shoots him, and steals his car, and just that quickly their crime spree has begun.

    Virgil Flowers, the laid-back, long-haired, rock and roll-loving agent of the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is assigned to the case. (When asked why Minnesota has a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as opposed to a Bureau of Criminal Investigations like many other states, Virgil's creator, John Sandford, responds that while other states may investigate criminals, in Minnesota, they apprehend them.)

    In his efforts to track the three killers and end their spree, Virgil almost immediately locks horns with the local sheriff and his deputies who seem hell-bent on executing the three kids on the spot, rather than bringing them in. Virgil is the son of a Presbyterian minister and has a moral code somewhat stronger than that of the sheriff. He also takes his job as a lawman seriously, and so he's determined to capture the suspects and see that they get a proper trial.

    It turns out that here's a lot of places to hide out in rural Minnesota, and the three fugitives also catch their fair share of lucky breaks, which means that their killing spree is going to go on for a while, frustrating Virgil and everyone else involved. From the selfish standpoint of the reader, though, it's great to watch the story unfold and as always, it's enormous fun to watch Virgil in action.

    Even in the midst of a story this grim, Sandford works in a lot of wry humor that does not seem out of place or inappropriate. As always, it's fun listening in to the conversations between Virgil and his boss, the legendary Lucas Davenport. We even get to meet Virgil's parents in this book and they seem like very nice people. All in all, it's a great ride and fans of this series will eagerly devour the book. It's sure to make new fans for Virgil as well. Hardcover

    They thought they were Bonnie and Clyde. And what's-his-name, the sidekick. Three teenagers with dead-end lives, chips on their shoulders, and guns. The first person they killed was a woman during a robbery. The second was incidental. Simply in the way. Then? Hell, why not keep on going?

    It's not until Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Virgil Flowers steps into the Shinder murder scene that the clues begin to come together. As the crime spree cuts a swath through rural Minnesota, a growing army of cops join Virgil in trying to track the teenagers down. But even Virgil doesn't realize what's about to happen.

    Librarian's note: as of 2021, there are 13 volumes in the author's Virgil Flowers series. The last was published in April 2021. It is part of the Prey series but Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers share the billing - Ocean Prey. Mad River (Virgil Flowers, #6)


    Dude keeps getting better with every book. His latest ten books are easily better than the first ten. I also recommend the Virgil Flowers series over the Prey novels but I like them all. I've done a few of these on audio lately and I think Sandford uses the same narrator for all his books. The reader is excellent and consistent. I may stick to these in audio now since quality narrators are a somewhat rare commodity.

    I don't think I'll ever tire of Sandford's writing in any medium. Hardcover I do love that f***in' Flowers! Hardcover John Sandford is so consistent it's just not fair to the other writers in his genre. You'd think by now he'd have phoned one in or written a clunker, but he hasn't. He's the good book factory. It's as simple as that.

    The only reason Virgil Flowers isn't my favorite thriller/mystery/cop character is that Lucas Davenport beat him to the top spot and hasn't done anything to relinquish it. It would have been easy for Sandford to make Flowers a young version of Davenport, hell, I doubt any of his readers would have even minded if he had, but once again in Mad River, Sandford continues to evolve the Virgil Flowers character in a similar, yet divergent path from Davenport and it just makes these Fucking Flowers books that much more enjoyable. And you know this little fling with Flowers is serious now, we get to meet his parents.

    The action is solid, the pace--like with all of Sandford's books--is superb and the continued development of Flowers as a character is excellent and is illustrated perfectly toward the end of the book when Flowers does some very un-Davenport-like things, against the advice of Davenport himself. And as long as I'm on the subject, I love the interaction between the two. Davenport is only a minor character in this series, but he's an important one, drawing the many contrasts between himself and Flowers. And I particularly like the way, as different as they are and think, that they get along so well and have each other's backs. There are some really subtle things in these interactions that I really enjoyed, it makes it easy to be a fan of both series.

    I also find myself looking forward to the inevitable appearance of thug-life version of R2-D2 & C-3PO that are Jenkins & Shrake. Always good for some dry humor and another way to contrast Flowers unique style, the two characters are a welcome recurring part of these books.

    My only complaint is that I can't spend more than a day or two reading Sandford's books. I devour them. When I'm reading one, everything else on my to-do list gets reassigned and procrastinated.

    If you're a fan of this series, this book will not disappoint. If you've never read one, it's time to jump in, and while this book is a perfectly acceptable place to jump in--the series is new enough that you should definitely go back and start from the beginning. You can't go wrong reading them all. Hardcover There are only three authors whose books I will preorder, no matter what they write.* John Sandford, Lee Child, and Zoë Sharp. All three for the same reasons: I learn a great deal about writing from them; they each have a unique talent; they never disappoint; and, despite being deep into their respective franchise formulas, every book they write is fresh.

    John Sandford’s unique talent lies in constructing the villains. His bad guys are perfect descriptions of the lowlifes who turn to crime to solve their problems. No evil overlords with bazillions in cash and secret armies marching around in his books. His criminals are the kind you read about in the true crimes section of your local paper. Poorly educated, abused in some way or another, and nearly-sympathetic morons who, for one reason or another make a stupid decision to start killing people. What separates Sandford from any other writer today is the ‘reason’ they start killing people.

    Plausibility is a key ingredient for any writer: Would a group of killers on the Orient Express really commit gross overkill when they could have just pushed the victim out the door? If a stranger on a train proposed to commit your murder for you provided you commit his murder for him, wouldn’t you go straight to the cops? We generally set these cynical questions aside to enjoy the story. Not necessary with John Sanford’s writing.

    His gritty, realistic killers start out as simple minds executing what should be a simple plan. Then things spiral out of control. Because they’re not the brightest bulbs in the pack, you understand why they make the second and third bad decisions. Then you find yourself feeling sorry for them. Sorry for the mistakes they’re making. Sorry for their stupidity. Your rational mind is torn between jailing them and just killing them.

    This time around, Mr. Sandford tops himself. Not only does he create the excellent criminals we love to hate, but he also makes a good guy who shakes our faith in the criminal justice system and makes us examine our personal concepts of right and wrong. There is a scene in this book that blew me away. I saw it coming but refused to believe that a good guy could do something so heinous. Yet he did. And he did it so well he might get away with it. Whether he should or not could keep you thinking for a long time. (Personally, I have no reservations. I know exactly what should happen to this good-bad guy, but this is a book review, not a political statement. You can thank me later.)

    In the climax, Mr. Sandford creates another situation in which we must examine right versus wrong and justice versus vigilantism. In doing so, he leaves certain issues unresolved. Some people like iron resolutions. This is not one of them. This story is closer to reality than any other thriller I’ve read. And reality is never pretty. This book is more than a mystery/thriller; it’s a philosophical treatise of the best kind. You will think about it long after you close the book.

    Somewhere in the vastness of the Internet, I found something written by Mr. Sandford about his background in journalism. I searched like the crazy to find it again for this review, but you know how fast that river flows … gone. Anyway. He said he was surrounded by great writers wherever he worked in the newspaper business. No doubt this aided him, but he surpasses everything I’ve read in the papers he mentioned. He does it with ease and an honest mid-western voice. He does it with confidence and beautifully written passages. Whatever background he had produced one of the strongest voices in fiction today. You can hear the Midwestern accents in his characters, you can feel the dusty farm roads, you can smell the tilled earth.

    It is a brave author who can write stories filled with real people who use real four letter words and think real thoughts about sex and religion. In these godless days, many authors leave religion, and its accompanying quagmire, out entirely. Easier that way. Not Mr. Sandford. Below is a passage from his character Virgil Flowers, who is the son of a Midwestern pastor:

    …he thought about God, and whether He might be some kind of universal digital computer, subject to the occasional bug or hack. Was it possible that politicians and hedge-fund operators were some kind of garbled cosmic computer code? …That prayers weren’t answered because Satan was running denial-of-service attacks?

    See? A guy who can think up shit like that—well, you just sign up to preorder anything he’s putting on a shelf.

    Bottom line: Mad River is a must-read for intelligent readers. You might like it too. It also makes a good holiday gift for that know-it-all friend of yours who always spouts left or right wing dogma. Shut him up for a week.

    Peace, Seeley

    For more reviews, visit my website

    * Unless they start writing poetry. So far, so good.

    Special NOTE: MY REVIEWS ARE MY REACTIONS TO THE BOOKS I READ. I have no relationship, financial or familial, with the authors. I do not expect, but would not refuse, any reciprocal reviews or recommendations. Just sayin.

    Hardcover I liked this portrayal of desperate frustration among the police trying to catch a young couple on a killing spree. This police procedural is the 6th in a series featuring Detective Virgil Flowers of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He is easy to like for his down home charm and humor and for his pragmatic and persistent determination to find justice. I don’t rate it highly because I just wasn’t moved much emotionally by the tale, nor did I come away with much in the way of insight into human nature.

    It all starts with Jimmie and Becky, a pair of aimless youth down on their luck, along with a friend Tom along for the ride, seeking to rob a household of jewelry. A killing by Jimmie during execution of the crime puts them on the run, and attempts to garner cars and hideouts leads to more killings. As the body count rises, the massive manhunt by Virgil and local sheriff departments always seems to be one step behind. The rural Minnesota landscape is just too vast. As in the films “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Natural Born Killers” (which are explicitly referred to), Jimmie and Becky start getting used to killing as a matter of course. As hopeless as their situation is, they somehow imagine a romantic future where they can live the American Dream, kids and all. Virgil tries to make sense of it all:

    What part could they have in God’s plan? Were they simply put here to kill people at random, because, for some people, people needed to be killed at random?

    A mystery. He remembered a bumper sticker he��d seen in St. Paul that said: “Remember: Half the People Are Below Average.” That, he thought, was probably the key to Jimmie Sharp and Becky Welsh.
    They were below average, and God had made them that way. There was no way that they were ever going to be anything but that; they could watch all the above-average people they wanted, on television, driving around in big cars and making enormous amounts of money out of nothing … or just working at the post office, or going to trade school to be plumbers or carpenters. They’d never be able to do that. They were condemned from birth to a life of hard times and trouble.

    This is it for “depth” of insight. As in the Springstein’s song about the spree killer Starkweather, we are left with a message “They wanted to know why I did what I did. Well sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world.”

    Fortunately, Sanford brings in a secondary plot of another person involved in the first murder, someone who put Jimmie onto the household picked ostensibly for robbery. Through much of the book, Flowers is frustrated in his efforts to resolve his case on that, despite tantalizing progress in his mounting pieces of evidence against the likely culprit.