Publication Date: October 2, 2012
In Mad River by John Sandford, Three kids with dead-end lives are on a crime spree killing everyone who steps in their path. Virgil Flowers (“top BCA agent and troubleshooter”) is following the leads to find the unpredictable killers before they strike again. Mad River (A Virgil Flowers Novel) is the sixth book in the Virgil Flowers series.
There’s something amazing about reading a John Sandford story. I’ve read all 34 of his mystery novels and while I’ve liked some of his novels less than others, I have liked them all.
Sandford has always written Virgil as a likable idealist. He believes in love — he’s been married three times. When he stops by to see his parents, his mother jokes asking him if he’s married anyone lately. He’s the guy who always wants it to work out. Appropriately, he has channeled his commitment inclination into a new love — a boat (those who read the last book will remember that he was blown up). In each and every novel we learn more about Virgil as we step further into his life. In Mad River, we get good interaction between Lucas and Virgil, and we see Virgil evolve not only as a cop but also as a serious journalist. He’s done a piece about Letty in which Vanity Fair has shown interest and is pretty sure they like the idea of a hard-nosed cop/reporter.
As always with Sandford’s novels, nothing is ever easy. There’s a mystery within a mystery and extremely blurred lines between the good guys and the bad guys. As you can imagine from the paragraph above, Virgil is not a big fan of blurred lines and moral dilemmas but finds himself facing a few in Mad River. The plot line flows logically — we find out the story behind the story as the co-conspirators do. Suddenly, everything they’ve done makes sense to them and they realize they’ve been a pawn in a game. Will they care? They were ready to turn on each other when we meet them. Mad River is a police procedural in which Flowers spends a lot of time chasing down leads but is never boring. As the story progresses, Virgil challenges others and himself to do the right thing … but the right thing is seldom the easy thing, as they say.
Sandford has said that he felt he wrote himself into a corner with Lucas Davenport with the inclusion in the series of Lucas’ wife, Weather. I expected when Virgil first appeared in Invisible Prey at a party that he would be a carbon copy of young Lucas. I could not have been more wrong. Virgil is unique and interesting. He’s able to cat around and stay likable because Virgil is in love with love. Sandford has also melded the two series perfectly so that we get different perspectives on the lead characters. With each novel, Sandford doesn’t pull any punches in his mystery storyline and the very nature of Virgil, both in this and the slightly darker Prey series, balances the grit in the storyline.
Overall this was a delightful novel. It was a great visit with old friends and I, for one, cannot wait for the next installment.
You can read an excerpt and buy Mad River by John Sandford on