Here’s a warning to serious fans of the mystery novel: do not open John Sandford’s “Mad River” at bedtime if sleep is on the agenda. Mad River roars along like the rapids, twisting and turning the plot and teeming with action.
“Mad River” follows agent Virgil Flowers as he chases a trio of young misfits on a killing spree in rural Minnesota. Five people are dead by page 40. Although Sandford reveals the killers almost immediately, the fun is in the chase, and of course there’s some unexpected plot twists along the way.
Flowers works for the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, an elite squad of investigators organized by the governor. Based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the BCA steps in when local police are stymied or when a case takes a political turn.
In this case, Flowers tracks a former high school bully turned psychopath and his girlfriend, a beauty with sociopathic tendencies along with their weak-minded friend as they blaze a path of death and mayhem through rural Minnesota.
The chase takes Flowers to his own home town and the surrounding area. Although he would rather be knocking back a beer with his buddies or pursuing his passion, fishing, than tracking three rampaging youths, Flowers is in his element.
The case takes on national attention in the press. Flowers’ boss, Lucas Davenport, informs him in a phone call. “You made all the national talk shows. They’re saying Bonnie and Clyde. They’re saying Natural Born Killers. You could probably sell an option on a movie, if you move fast. Everybody in the world is headed your way, and they’re all hoping for a big bloody shoot-out.”
Working with local Sheriffs and police departments, Flowers follows the clues and discovers a sinister murder-for-hire conspiracy gone horribly wrong.
The popularity of Sanford’s novels is in large part due to his creation of likeable and believable characters. Each book reveals more personalities, backstories, family members, philosophies and political ideals. After two or three books in the Prey series (22 novels featuring BCA chief Davenport) the characters seem to become part of the reader’s family. Flowers originated as part of that family.
In “Mad River,” the sixth in the Virgil Flowers series, more of the character’s inner workings are revealed. An unlikely detective, Flowers is tall, handsome and fit, with longish blond hair and a propensity to wear jeans and T-shirts featuring obscure rock bands. He looks more like a California surf bum than a cop. He’s also a ladies’ man with three ex-wives and always working on another prospect.
But there is a deeper side. He is also a talented writer. Flowers has published several articles on sport fishing, and is now being courted by Vanity Fair to submit more serious feature stories.
Flowers also has a unique style of investigating. Unlike police detectives who like to keep information close to the vest, Flowers will talk about his theories on a case to anyone willing to listen, sometimes sharing confidential information. Like Colombo in the TV series, he will even let a suspect know what he’s thinking.
This is a must-read for Sandford fans and highly recommended to new readers.With “Mad River,” Sandford has once again proven to be a master of the mystery/detective genre.