John Sanford: Escape Clause

John Sanford’s latest thriller is a Virgil Flowers novel. Virgil Flowers works for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, employed as a detective working out of Mankato. We often find him towing his boat behind his pickup with Lindy rigs in the tackle box, ready to take on the wily walleye whenever one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes is between where he is and where he’s headed. Flowers works Southwest Minnesota for BCA so we know his turf pretty well.

This time, the crime is the theft of two Amur tigers from the Minnesota state zoo. The evil doers plan the heist with inside help and execute very well. The Amurs are rare and beloved creatures to many so there is much consternation around this theft and Flowers is put on the case full time. Through Flowers investigative efforts, we learn the bad guys intend to butcher animals for their “medicinal” value in the Asian marketplace and have a standing offer of $250,000 for the processed animals. Bit by bit, Flowers unwinds the puzzle and locates the bad guys who are more than a little wacked out having murdered three folks who get in their way.

Sanford nearly always has at least one female bad guy in his stories and Escape Clause is no exception. This particular lady stands up in her sunroof and shoots up the vehicle of one of Flowers suspects. Other side plots involve Virgil’s girlfriend getting beaten up and his neighbor being firebombed (they got the wrong house in the dark). A family of six Iranian brothers show up to avenge the death of a seventh brother and continue to pop up in their RV from time to time. So lots of action, much of it bizarre in classic Sanford fashion.

Does John Sanford’s Escape Clause survive my acid test for a good read? You bet. As always, Sandford’s work is a real page turner and it’s hard to beat a book title that is a pun.


William Kent Krueger: Northwest Angle


This story by regional author William Kent Krueger takes place on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. The date is July 4th, 1999. A rare weather system called a derecho produces straight line winds of over one hundred miles per hour in a broad swath across the lake. The result is the great Boundary Waters blow-down.

The story focuses on the Cork O’Conner family. Cork and his daughter Jenny are out on the lake when the storm hits. Cork maneuvers his launch in the lee of an island and they ride out the storm, then seek shelter on the island. While on the island, Jenny stumbles across a rude shelter inhabited by a young woman (dead) and an infant (alive). While on the island they are confronted by a man who is clearly searching for the inhabitants of the shelter and who is armed with a rifle. By the skin of their teeth, Cork and Jenny escape the rifleman and return to their resort with the infant in hand.

Since Lake of the Woods straddles the US/Canada border, someone with intimate knowledge of the lake and a fast boat can move goods between countries. Soon the O’Conners learn the rifleman at the island is likely Noah Smalldog, a rogue member of the Ojibwe band who is involved in smuggling.

Following reports of a fast boat docking at night at Stump Island, the O’Conners explore the island. There they meet members of the Church of the Seven Trumpets, a cult building a citadel on the island against end times which the Seven Trumpet folks say are coming soon. The O’Conners find themselves unwelcome and are run off the island.

In the meantime, Jenny falls in love with the infant and is fearful that Noah Smalldog is searching for the child. The story unfolds not unlike a Nancy Drew mystery, with appropriate twists and turns. Who is Noah Smalldog really? What are those Seven Trumpets people up to on Stump Island? Will Jenny be able to keep little Rabbit (as they call the baby)? The tale combines a blend of Christian and Ojibwe faith and philosophy. William Kent Krueger pens a great story and tells it well. The pacing is good and there is plenty to keep one’s attention. Did I want to read on? I sure did.

Northwest Angle: William Kent Krueger $7.50

William Kent Krueger at Book Shop Sioux Falls

Mystery Adventure at Book Shop Sioux Falls

  • Dave

John Sandford’s latest: Extreme Prey

Sandford’s latest takes us on a romp through Southeast Iowa. Lucas Davenport – Sandford’s main character – is now a civilian having left employment as a police officer with the State of Minnesota.  Governor Henderson of Minnesota reaches out to Lucas to help solve a problem. Liberal Democrat Michela Bowden in Iowa is running for President and Henderson believes she will eventually select him as running mate. Henderson has caught wind of a threat on Bowden’s life and wants Lucas to get to the bottom of it.

Lucas drives down to Iowa and quickly finds out that he must adjust his approach to detecting since he is working in another state without a badge, weapon or the level authority and access to which he is accustomed. Lots of doors get slammed, both with civilians and with Iowa law enforcement. Never the less, he pokes around and learns of the existence of a group of local folks who are the collected disenfranchised from across the decades. Some had been involved in a bombing of a dairy in the 60’s, some were stripped of their farms through foreclosure during the 80’s, and some are conspiracy wingnuts, blaming Jews or the Government for everything that has gone wrong in their lives.

Lucas obtains a list of the 180 odd members of this alliance and he and others begin interviewing folks on the list. Bowden is adamant that she must make an official appearance at the Iowa State fair in Des Moines, if only for the press. With 100,000 daily attendees, this excursion promises to be a logistics nightmare for Bowden’s security, so the pressure is on for Lucas to uncover the details of the plot and the identity of the bad guys. Davenport gets on his Sherlock Holmes freek, eliminating the impossible to find a small group of could-have-done-its.

Marlys Purdy and her son are on the hot list and time is running short. The media walk at the State fair is just 24 hours away but Lucas is still ticking off possibles. Lucas finally locks on the Purdy’s and the venue, but still has no idea what is being planned.  We get a really great tour of the Iowa State Fair, including the animal barns and wiener schnitzel on-a-stick, but tensions run high as Lucas and the Iowa law enforcement community struggle to respond to an undefined threat and to protect Bowden come what may.

Classic Sandford. The story is compelling and regional, taking place around Cedar Rapids, and so is full of familiar place names (Marlys lives north of Pella). You’ll get no spoilers from me, but Davenport may get re-badged.  Did I want to keep reading? Yes, always. Great stuff.

John Sandford: Extreme Prey – $14.45

John Sandford at Book Shop Sioux Falls

Mystery/Adventure fiction at Book Shop Sioux Falls


Have you met Virgil Flowers?

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Virgil Flowers is Lucas Davenport’s guy in Southern Minnesota. Minnesota author John Sandford’s books always star Lucas, but if the action is down south in Minnesota, Virgil Flowers will be checking out the scene – probably towing his fishing rig in case there is some down time. The stories are action filled, real page turners and right in your backyard.

These tall paperbacks just came through the door. If you have not met Virgil Flowers, this is a great opportunity. $5.00 each.

John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers series at Book Shop Sioux Falls

John Sandford at Book Shop Sioux Falls




New Arrivals: William Kent Krueger

Minnesota author William Kent Krueger’s recent novels Ordinary Grace ($8.00) and Trickster’s Point ($7.50) are now available. They never stay on the shelf here for long…snatch them up while they’re still in stock!

Last week William Kent Krueger was featured on MPR’s Minnesota Writers Week, which you can listen to or read about here if you missed it.

Deadline by John Sandford: A review



Your friends and neighbors on the school board may not be the kind of people you thought they were. They might be murderers. And after they kill the reporter who has uncovered the millions of dollars the board members have embezzled from the school budget, more and more people crop up who need to be murdered in order to keep the lucrative secret.

But fear not. Virgil Flowers is on the scene. He’s already in town, in fact, trying to uncover a dog kidnapping ring as a favor to his friend Johnson Johnson. Dogs in the area have been stolen and are on their way to labs for loathsome experiments.

Just who and how many people will end up dying at the hands of the school board is anybody’s guess. And will Virgil find the beloved pets before they are shipped off to have unspeakable things done to them?

Sandford is in his element with the eighth Virgil Flowers installment. Virgil is his sweet, sexy, nonconformist self, skirting Davenport’s orders (a little) while he hunts the murderers and the dognappers. Is this what he was up to while Davenport was up to his ears in dead bodies in Field of Prey, and Virgil was “unavailable?” We think so.

A good, fun read. Deadline, by John Sandford. $13.95 at The Book Shop.

Regional Book: 1994 Memories of Bygone Years

Memories of Bygone Years: 1994 Official Handbook of the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers’ Reunion is packed with old photos, illustrations, and ads of everything John Deere. The Book Shop price is $12.00.

Johansen, Sandford, or Slaughter?

I’ve recently read three of Iris Johansen’s books, three of Karin Slaughter’s, and most of John Sandford’s.  I cannot recommend Iris Johansen to anyone who is interested in actual detective fiction, although that is the section in which we at The Book Shop display her novels.  We put them there because we don’t have an “adventurous romantic wish fulfillment” section.  The underlying plot of each of the three I’ve read is the same–a supposedly independent woman becomes embroiled in a nasty, life threatening situation not of her own making.  Also involved is a smart, dangerous, good looking man who comes to protect her, and he naturally falls deeply in love with her during the ensuing adventure, and she with him.  The specifics of the individual plots are not uninteresting, but the unbelievable progression of the romance and the poor writing are too profound to overcome.  I won’t be reading any more of them.

Karin Slaughter has a much better style, and while we do learn about characters’ personal lives, they are not a predictable as Johansen’s.  Her stories are well put together, complicated, and exciting.  The only drawback from my point of view are the horrific depictions of violence to which we are subjected.  Even recurring characters are the victims of difficult to stomach abuse by criminals, and when they survive, there doesn’t seem to be any devastating emotional effect of the ordeal.  Victims are still functional, and while sometimes reminded of the abuse, manage to live their lives quite normally.  I try to remind myself that it is fiction, after all.

Similarly, Sandford’s stories are intricately plotted and keep us eager to find out who done it.  His characters are sympathetic and, of course, noble, brave, and honorable.  We like them.  But as with Slaughter, the violence can be downright nauseating, and victims of it seem to bounce back with no ill effect.  He also has a tendency to pile up the bodies, increasing the actual murder rate in Minnesota to a quite unbelievable degree.

Overall, I’ll keep reading Sandford and Slaughter.  As dreadful as the violence is, it’s easier to take than the fantasy romance Iris Johansen makes us slog through.

International Intrigue in Mankato

Storm Front A Virgil Flowers mystery by John Sanford


Mankato is awash in spies, a Mossad agent, Hezbollah, would-be movies stars, artifact collectors, an actively dying professor, a brilliant and beautiful redneck with 5 sons, and Virgil, in Sanford’s new novel.

“That f—ing Flowers,” as he is known in the law enforcement community, is charged with escorting an Israeli antiquities expert who is to authenticate a “stele” that has been stolen from a dig in Israel by a terminally ill Gustavus archeology professor.
Can it get more complicated than this? Can Virgil untangle this web of evil and deceit? Not without the help of an “unnamed” government agency. Undaunted, and not even exhausted, Virgil works his usual magic and all becomes (semi) clear.

Exciting and fun, though a little confusing, Sanford’s latest will keep you turning pages late into the night. A good read.

$13.95 at The Book Shop