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.

 

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Greg Iles: Natchez Burning

Greg Iles writes of Dixie as a place where the past is never really past. In this thriller, Penn Cage, a lawyer and mayor of Natchez, Mississippi struggles with a tangle of small town issues involving family, racial divide, and the KKK and others who take even more extreme positions on race relations.

Penn’s father Tom Cage, a beloved local physician whose practice knows no racial boundaries, fathered a child by a black employee in her twenties. Viola Turner departs to Chicago where she raises their child on a modest stipend from Tom. The tension between Tom’s unacknowledged love child and Tom Cage pervades the story. No one’s hands are clean.

The existence of a splinter group of KKK members who style themselves the Double Eagles is an open secret in Natchez. For the Double Eagles, the KKK was far too passive. Murder and mayhem are the Double Eagles calling cards and nothing is too extreme. Brody Royal, the leader of the Double Eagles and a successful business man has statewide political contacts and cronies in the leadership of the state highway patrol. There is no limit to the lengths Brody Royal and the Double Eagles will go to ensure the past remains buried. Only the Adams county sheriff is free of Brody Royal’s influence and positioned to support Penn Cage.

When Viola Turner returns to Natchez dying of cancer and in pain, she turns to Tom Cage for a dignified death. Tom is prepared to ease Viola’s remaining days, but the Double Eagles learn of Viola’s return and inject her with a lethal dose of pain killer then frame Tom for murder. Penn rushes to his father’s defense, but Tom’s guilt over the affair renders him unwilling to communicate with his son.

Penn’s girlfriend, Caitlin, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her father’s chain of papers and a tough aggressive agent for change. She teams up with Henry Sexton, publisher of the local Natchez paper to expose the Double Eagles and Brody Royal. Penn is torn between his loyalty to Caitlin and his desire to keep his father alive and out of jail.

Did I want to keep reading? The story is dark and was difficult for me to read at times. But Greg Iles writes masterfully with gut wrenching twists and turns all the way along, and the ending is thrilling if gruesome, so yes it’s a real page turner.

-Dave

Natchez Burning: Greg Iles – $8.50

Greg Iles at BookShop Sioux Falls

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