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Mad River (A Virgil Flowers Novel) Hardcover – October 2, 2012
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*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.” – Bookreporter.com
Top customer reviews
This is a lucky murder for us, though, because it occurs far away from Minneapolis/St. Paul -- its in small-town Minnesota right down the road from where Virgil Flowers grew up. He comes onto the scene in time to discovery mayhem aplenty. He uses his "outside of the box" Virgil methods of detection to help him solve the case. I don't want to give too much away, but who but Virgil Flowers would travel to the state prison to quiz a group of inmates about what they'd do if they were hiding out?
I read this book over three days (that's fast for me), and I can attest that it is a solid Virgil Flowers effort. If you've read the last five Virgil Flowers novels (can you believe there have already been five?), then you, like me, probably can't wait until the next one comes out. We learn a little more about Virgil with every novel. We already knew that Virgil goes to sleep at night thinking about God. In this novel, we get to meet Virgil's parents (his father is a small-town pastor). We also get a better understanding of Virgil's ethics as a person and a cop. Here you'll learn that, in many respects, that Virgil is almost the opposite of Lucas Davenport -- which I suspect is exactly what Sandford had in mind.
I see from reading other reviews that some have criticized the writing style here, and I, too noticed that these books "feel" different from the Prey novels. I'm not really sure what it is, but I suspect it can be linked to the fact that Sandford has used various "collaborators" with each of the VF novels. As I understand things, however, the writing is 100% Sandford (none of that James Patterson book factory mess) and his fingerprints (meticulous plotting, the development of the recurring characters, and that quirky Minnesota sense of humor) are all over this one.
The suspense and the plot that you have come to love from Sandford -- they're here in spades. If you liked the last five, you'll love this one. Oh - and I think this could be the first VF novel without a reference to "That Effing Flowers." That was this novel's only disappointment.
Detracting from it though, were too many elements that were not believable. I like detective fiction that could have actually happened. SPOILER ALERT! One was the cop getting killed by an unaimed shot during the bank robbery. This is a million to one probability. Why didn't Sandford just make it an intentional, aimed shot, it wouldn't have changed the outcome. Another was the "focus group" at the prison. If you need a bunch of cons to predict what some vicious, but dumb, spree killers are going to do, what are the taxpayers paying the BCA for? Finally, there was the murders of all the villains by "good guys" right under the noses of Vigil Flowers and intense media attention and everyone gets away with it. I don't buy that things would come out that way in real life.
Also, I thought the ending was unsatisfying. I like my killers brought to justice in the end, unless it's clearly a cliff hanger that will be resolved in the next book, which there was no hint of here.
This story is about a trio of young adults who lose the thread and due to the difficulties in their lives and the lack of options go pretty much crazy and start taking out people with little to no regard. They feel helpless and futureless and as a result have no compunction about killing anyone. It threw me off a little at the beginning that he would show the killings being investigated and then the killings from the perpetrator's points of view, but once I caught on to that I really liked that insight.
Once again, a great book written by a master, not my favorite, but where JS is concerned that's not a put-down by any means; he just has so many great books.