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.

Escape Clause by John Sandford

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Virgil Flowers is to Lucas Davenport as Joe Pike is to Elvis Cole, or as Clete Purcell is to Dave Robicheaux, or as Hawk is to Spenser. If that makes sense, you have likely read novels by Robert Crais (Pike/Cole) or James Lee Burke (Purcell/Robicheaux) as well as by John Sandford, for whom Lucas Davenport has been a solid character, as he works away in Minnesota, solving crimes in the “Prey” series – sometimes with the help of his buddy Virgil Flowers, and sometimes without. And then sometimes Virgil gets his own novel (just as Joe Pike has, in the Crais series).

Escape Clause is the latest from John Sandford, and is the ninth featuring Virgil Flowers (aka “that fuckin’ Flowers”) as the protagonist. In this one, the story opens with a story about two rare, beautiful and extremely valuable tigers who have gone missing from the zoo, and Virgil is called in on the case. As is usual in Sandford’s books, this isn’t really a whodunit, as the facts of the crime are laid out from the get-go. It is more about the chase, and this one is doubly interesting – in addition to the “chasing the bad guys” story, there is the tension of whether the tigers will still be alive when they are located.

Along with trying to find and save the tigers, this book includes detail about Virgil’s relationship with his girlfriend Frankie and her sister Sparkle, who have moved in for the summer as she does research into migrant workers, which doesn’t go over well with some locals. As if that weren’t complicating enough, she thinks Virgil is quite a guy:
“You mess around with Sparkle,” Frankie told Virgil, “you could get yourself stabbed.”
     “She carries a knife?”
     “No, but I do.”

There are some repeat characters in this story and some mention of other people and events that have happened in earliet Sandford books, but this one easily stands on its own, and people new to Sandford should feel comfortable jumping in!

The side story about the migrant workers doesn’t really add to the main story, but perhaps we will see more of Sparkle or this issue in future Sandford books. This is straightforward entertainment that doesn’t demand too much of the reader, but offers a lot in the way of entertainment. I give it five stars just because I enjoy Sandford’s books, and this one is a good example of bringing in new people without diminishing the role of favorites such as Virgil.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.