5 stars out of 5
Ah, man - I finished it. Now I'll have to wait for who knows how long (well, maybe the author has an inkling) for Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Virgil Flowers to make his next appearance in print.
Sigh. You see, over many years of reading the previous books in the series (this, I believe, is the ninth) as well as the author's Prey series featuring Lucas Davenport, the two have made and stayed on my Top 10 list of all-time favorite leading men. But the free-wheeling, often irreverent Virgil beats the more reserved Lucas hands down in my book - except maybe in the 2011 TV movie "Certain Prey" starring hunky Mark Harmon as Davenport.
The point is this: opening this book, like all that preceded it, is like opening the door to welcome an old friend - and I'm always sorry when our visits come to an end.
Here, Virgil finds himself entwined in two concurrent plots, starting with the apparent theft of two rare Amur tigers from the Minnesota zoo. Tiger parts, it seems, are in great demand in traditional Chinese medicine, and the race is on to find them before they're chopped, ground and funneled into high-priced vials. Meantime, Virgil's girlfriend Frankie's sister Sparkle, visiting for the summer, has put herself in the crosshairs of some very nasty people as she tries to get the dirt on mistreatment of migrant workers to finish her doctoral dissertation. Because of his relationship with Frankie, Virgil can't be directly involved with the latter issue, although (as usual), the issue has a way of involving him whether or not he likes it.
There's no shortage of action that includes plenty of blood, guts, gore and bawdy language. And also as usual, Lucas makes the occasional appearance, if only by phone (he was Virgil's boss at the BCI before getting fed up with the bureaucracy and leaving, but the two remain in touch).
In the interests of full disclosure, I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. So lest I be accused of being overenthusiastic in my opinion because of my prior relationship with Virgil (I wish), I'll nitpick a bit - starting with the man himself. He seems to have mellowed a bit here, almost to the point of threatening his good ol' bad boy reputation. But after all, he is getting older, and he appears to be happily settled down with girlfriend Frankie, so maybe that's an inevitable progression. The ending, too, kind of gnawed at me; it was tasty, but a bit hard to swallow.
The verdict? It's another solid entry in the Virgil Flowers series (and for those who may be concerned, it stands alone well). Highly recommended!
Escape Clause by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam's Sons, October 2016); 400 pp.