Monday, November 10, 2014

Virgil F. Flowers Vs. The Board of Education


by John Sandford
Putnam Adult

4 out of 5 school boards banned this book.

Anybody who ever served on a school board and had to listen to people complain about the curriculum or the budget or what the cafeteria served could probably relate to this book in which a small town board votes to start murdering people. That’s one way to keep parents from whining about their kid’s grade point average….

Minnesota state cop Virgil Flowers has come to a rural community at the request of his old fishing buddy Johnson Johnson to look into someone who has been stealing dogs to sell to research labs. As he tries to track down the missing pooches, a local newspaper reporter is murdered, and Virgil finds clues that it’s linked to a massive embezzlement scheme by the local school board. Virgil’s investigation riles the board and soon more bodies are dropping as they attempt to cover up their scam.

This is a prime example of what Sandford does well. He cooks up an interesting criminal scheme, lets us see what the bad guys are up too, introduces one of his main characters, and then the game begins. While the stakes are deadly serious, there’s also plenty of humor along the way with cop thugs Shrake and Jenkins making an appearance to back Virgil up and give him a lot of grief in the process. 

As a longtime fan of the Lucas Davenport series, I continue to appreciate the way that Sandford contrasts Virgil as being the more laid back and the softer of the two who is more concerned with right and wrong. Yet Virgil also has a sly way of flouting the rules to get his way that infuriates many and is why he is generally referred to as ‘that fuckin’ Flowers’, and he’s more than capable of pulling some sneaky moves to get things rolling his way.

The school board scheme is a great hook to hang a story like this on, and Sandford does a nice job of laying out how a small town criminal conspiracy like that would work as well as the carnage that could happen once things start going sideways. The subplot with the missing dogs is also a good one with Virgil having to try and keep angry owners from going vigilante.

The more books Sandford puts out, the more impressed I am at his ability to deliver entertaining thrillers that keep the elements fans like while still providing enough fresh ideas to prevent them from becoming formulaic and stale.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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