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Mad River (A Virgil Flowers Novel) Hardcover – October 2, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Three rural Minnesota teenagers, Jimmy Sharp, Becky Welsh, and Tom McCall, are on a crime spree. It started with the murder of a store clerk during a botched robbery. Victim number two died in a car heist as they made their getaway. Then they decide “what the hell” and settle a couple of personal scores. The kids are murderous but not dumb, and they avoid capture from an ever-growing cadre of pursuers that includes Virgil Flowers from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Flowers is the nominal head of the investigation, but he struggles to keep control of the various law-enforcement agencies involved. He’s determined to take the kids alive, an end game that’s not endorsed by his associates. As the pursuit continues, he’s able to establish phone contact with Welsh. At least one of the killers has moved from abstraction to human, and Flowers becomes more determined than ever to bring them in alive. Flowers is a complex character camouflaged by his long hair, rock-’n’-roll T-shirts, smart mouth, and fearlessness. The son of a minister, he is burdened by a spirituality that subtly influences his every decision. It’s more pronounced in this case as he fights the pack’s need for revenge and, in the end, leaves readers assessing the morality of the kids as well as their pursuers. This may be the best entry in a stellar series. --Wes Lukowsky


Praise for John Sandford's MAD RIVER:

“The best entry in a stellar series” – Booklist (starred review)

“A high-octane thrill ride. Virgil pulls out all the stops.” – Publishers Weekly


“Wonderfully entertaining” – St. Louis Post-Dispatch


“The greatest strength of Mad River lies in Flowers himself. It’s hard to think of a more balanced and genial investigative hero, yet he’s still able to keep cops and bad guys alike in line. The killers’ motivations and dynamic remain riveting until the final pages.” – Shelf Awareness


“There are few events more welcome in the literary world than the appearance of another John Sandford book. Mad River is shot through with dark humor from all sides [and] the violence that is the driving force of the book ratchets up the suspense to an almost excruciating degree.” –

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Product Details

  • Series: A Virgil Flowers Novel (Book 6)
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399157700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399157707
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,389 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Sandford was born John Camp on February 23, 1944, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended the public schools in Cedar Rapids, graduating from Washington High School in 1962. He then spent four years at the University of Iowa, graduating with a bachelor's degree in American Studies in 1966. In 1966, he married Susan Lee Jones of Cedar Rapids, a fellow student at the University of Iowa. He was in the U.S. Army from 1966-68, worked as a reporter for the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian from 1968-1970, and went back to the University of Iowa from 1970-1971, where he received a master's degree in journalism. He was a reporter for The Miami Herald from 1971-78, and then a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press from 1978-1990; in 1980, he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, and he won the Pulitzer in 1986 for a series of stories about a midwestern farm crisis. From 1990 to the present he has written thriller novels. He's also the author of two non-fiction books, one on plastic surgery and one on art. He is the principal financial backer of a major archaeological project in the Jordan Valley of Israel, with a website at In addition to archaeology, he is deeply interested in art (painting) and photography. He both hunts and fishes. He has two children, Roswell and Emily, and one grandson, Benjamin. His wife, Susan, died of metastasized breast cancer in May, 2007, and is greatly missed.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Three teen killers on a rampage in Minnesota. Law enforcement unable to find them. Locals roiling with fear and outrage as the murder spree continues to claim victims. No doubt about it, Minnesota authorities are furiously engaged in the pursuit of unpredictable killers, both officers and citizens enraged by the bold crimes, everything pointing to a bad ending for Jimmy Sharp, Becky Welsh and Tom McCall. The only calm voice in the middle of chaos is Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Virgil Flowers, who liaisons with notoriously hardcore Sheriff Lewis Duke of Bare County, where the parents of the killers live. Virgil wants to keep the young miscreants alive, working concurrently on a murder theory that triggers another, more complicated investigation dependent on the collaboration of the most impulsive of the youths, Jimmy Sharp. Jimmy's homicidal impulses are enthusiastically applauded by girlfriend Becky Welsh, Tom McCall a participant in the trio by convenience, dragged into the drama by the lovers.

Flowers is cast in the same mold as Sandford's popular Lucas Davenport, albeit a younger version, Davenport the star of Sandford's "Prey series" and now Virgil's boss. Like his mentor, Flowers is tall, handsome, rugged and familiar with the part of the state where the murders take place. His prose as vigorous and entertaining as in the Prey novels, Sandford builds the tension of a final confrontation through chapters describing the young killers and their victims and the unfolding conflict between what Virgil needs to happen when the three are caught and Sheriff Duke's intentions for the spree killers.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Robert McArthur on October 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
That "effin" Flowers, as both his friends and his enemies refer to him, is back in a superior police procedural/thriller from John Sandford. This novel is much darker than Sanford's previous books. For one thing, the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are not as sharply drawn. Things are not all black and white. It will perhaps leave you, as it did Flowers (and me) questioning some serious moral truths about the nature and shape of justice. Flowers ends up taking a position on this issue which you may or may not agree with depending on your own views. Everything is resolved in the end but Flowers has to make some choices which leave him unhappy. Flowers' boss Lucas Davenport and his two co-workers Shrake and Jenkins are back to help him out and it is interesting to get a view of Davenport different from how he presents himself in his own series of novels. Along the way we meet a new character, Sheriff Duke, who I hope either Davenport or Flowers will run into again. I downloaded my copy at midnight and ended up not being able to put it down. This is a great read.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful By T. Lee on October 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am like a previous reviewer - John Sandford just can't write them fast enough for me! I have read everything he has written, and he has a smooth, flowing style, but with carefully crafted plot twists, that suck the reader right in. Mad River is Virgil Flowers, a la John Sandford, at his best! Virgil is a smooth ladies' man, but an even smoother crime solver with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. If you are not familiar with the Virgil Flowers series, you will want to know more about this character after reading this riveting story of spree killing in small town America, with some back story intrigue to go along with it!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mary L Ray on October 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A book by John Sandford is something I look forward to twice a year. They never last quite long enough, but every word is absolutely entertaining and enlightening. Nobody can match Lucas Davenport of the Prey series or Virgil Flowers. This is quite possibly the best Flowers book of the six. Occasionally, Lucas makes an appearance and its even better. Virgil may have been divorced thrice, seems prone to fall into bed quickly, and occasionally makes a mistake BUT this is one good guy.
As he pursues a trio of loserish youth through the Minnesota countryside, he does not lose fact that they should be taken alive regardless of the fact that they have few redeeming traits. The characters are vividly drawn, Sheriff Duke being perhaps the most vividly anal character in my recent recollection. The plot twists and turns and takes off as even those characters with seemingly many redeeming traits prove to be less (A LOT LESS) than sterling. The author has the rare ability to realize that nobody is either all good or bad, or at least most people. Virgil comes off as a bit more idealistic than Lucas, which may shock some readers, but we're all human.

Halloween is fast upon us. Treat yourself to an absolutely delightful read!
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46 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Brian Baker VINE VOICE on October 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
... then maybe this book is for you.

I'm very ambivalent about this book. I've been a Sanford fan since his debut, and ambivalence is a very rare reaction for me.

This book has its moments, and we see aspects of Flowers's character we haven't seen before, especially his rage. But I don't think that's enough to counterbalance the essential lack of meat in the sandwich.

This is, for all intents and purposes, an updating of the Bonnie and Clyde story; a trio of sociopaths leaving a trail of dead bodies in the environs of a rural county in Minnesota, with Flowers on their trail in an effort to stop the carnage and bring them to justice. There's the added wrinkle of a possible murder-for-hire plot involved, and some conflict with a blood-thirsty local sheriff.

That's all there is to the plot, and it's thin gruel, really. A lot of chasing, not much detecting; much like the car chases on TV that so seem to mesmerize so many people and which I find duller than dirt.

The best I can give it is 3 stars.
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