Deep Freeze by John Sandford

OK, I’m biased. I admit it! I love Virgil Flowers (aka “That f—– g Virgil Flowers,” as he is often referred to). Virgil is an investigator with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), sometimes sidekick to Lucas Davenport (one of Sandford’s most frequent protagonists), hunter and fisherman, wildlife photographer, and all around good guy.

So I was pleased to settle in with Virgil’s latest adventure in Sandford’s new title, Deep Freeze (with thanks to Penguin Group/Putnam and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review). Virgil’s most recent adventure takes him back to the town of Trippton, Minnesota, where in Sandford’s Deadline he dealt with a corrupt and murderous school board. Now, a successful local businesswoman has been found dead, frozen in a big block of ice. Apparently she is part of a group that has been planning a high school reunion, so members of the planning group all need to be investigated.

The book opens with the murder, including the identity of the murderer, so it isn’t really a “whodunit”—but Virgil is on the case, so we know it will be solved somehow, and it will be entertaining. At the same time as this murder is being investigated, Virgil is tasked by the governor to deal with another situation in Trippton: some women are making a living by modifying Barbie and Ken dolls in an interesting (some might say obscene) way. When Virgil starts to investigate, he is beaten by a group of women who just want to be left alone to make a living in this economically distressed time and place. This story parallels his murder investigation throughout the book.

I love the way Sandford captures the  locations in his work. This time, I felt cold just reading about the Minnesota winter weather – but I could still visualize the natural beauty. And as usual, Virgil meets up with interesting characters, which Sandford captures perfectly. This time, we again encounter Johnson Johnson, one of his best friends. Sandford (and Virgil) warm my heart with observations like this: “Pretty people, Virgil believed, both male and female, had a totally unwarranted, unearned lifelong advantage over average and ugly people.” And “As he drove up the driveway, it occurred to Virgil that if it had been a scene from a Stephen King movie, somebody was gonna die and it was gonna be ugly.”

This title is part of the Virgil Flowers series, but stands on its own. Although there is plenty of the expected humor in this book, beneath the laughs it really is is a fairly dark story of rejection, economic hardship, and violence. Great talent to combine those two things so well. So, overall, I really enjoyed the experience of reading it, and I will eagerly grab the next Sandford release – but I have to say this one loses a star for the ending. I hated it. Just didn’t work for me. (Not the ending of the mystery – the actual final paragraph).  Four stars.

Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry

40 thieves cover

This fast-paced novel from Thomas Perry focuses on two couples: Sid and Ronnie (Veronica) Abel are married detectives, retired from LAPD and now working together in their own agency. Ed and Nicole Hoyt are married assassins who live in the San Fernando Valley and sell their services to anyone who will pay them. A year ago, a middle-aged research scientist from a private corporation was murdered, his body (with two bullet holes in the skull) only discovered when it clogged a storm drain on its way to the ocean. His employers hire the Abels to delve into the case after the LAPD has come up with nothing but dead ends.

There are some interesting questions floating around: the victim was African-American: was this racially motivated? Were industrial secrets involved (the corporation has some mysterious military contracts)? Was the victim’s divorce a factor? Why do people start shooting at the Abels as soon as they begin to dig in to the case? And who hired the Hoyts, anyway?And why?

Perry does a great job revealing important pieces of the puzzle as the story unfolds, and we learn more about the Abels, the Hoyts, diamond thieves and the LA storm drain system.

The end may require a slight bit of the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief, and at one point I thought “hmm, is this written with the big screen in mind?” – and I have some ideas for casting the movie. The rapid growth of suburbia around LA and the varied locales throughout the Valley will make great locations for shooting the film J

The characters are well developed, and the Abels are prime candidates for another adventure. The writing is strong, the plot is tight (with some unexpected twists and turns), and the pace is fast. I really enjoyed this book (I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Perry’s work!) and look forward to the next in what I hope will be a series. Five stars. I appreciate the opportunity to read an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.