John Sandford. Bad Blood. Center Point Large Print/GP Putnam, 2010.
During an upheaval move to new quarters, this book inadvertently became distraction-therapy reading, so whether I retained 50% of it is questionable. Nevertheless, I'd almost forgotten how engaging Sandford can be. The name Virgil Flowers had me picturing a weather-beaten, folksy Senior who solves mysteries by psychological deconstruction. Not at all. The lead character (repeated in a series) is not quite middle-aged, attractive, and irreverent detective for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Murdered corpses are falling like dominoes in a small town, more than local Sheriff Lee Coakley can handle. She works with Virgil to uncover the connections between them; it's very exciting reading when plans to trap the criminals come together. Ultimately it takes a mighty team effort to shut down a widespread conspiracy.
Virgil has a way of engaging the townspeople to spread chosen bits of police news and gather information. He also interviews families of the victims, gradually learning that the World of Spirit Church has isolated itself from what they call the World of Law. Among them are degenerate members practising incest and other forms of sick abuse on women and children. But a mock trial is a well-placed, semi-redeeming device. Virgil and Lee hook up ― predictably, satisfactorily. Aside from some gruesome descriptions that might have been more edited, Sandford proves again he is a winner.
One-liner: "I'm so goddam horny the crack of dawn ain't safe." (110)
Virgil could hear the winds coming up as he went to bed, and then the muffling effect of the snow.
He thought about God for a while, and the early and traumatic end of expectations. Bobby Tripp "would have been something," his father said, and those expectations were now gone and might never have existed.
And he thought about the commonality of comfort, stretching back over the centuries and millennia, a guy lying alone in a warm space, listening to a clipper just outside the cave, igloo, hut, teepee, motel, whatever,a long thread reaching all the way back to the apes. (104-5)
Coffee shop schmoozing:
"He told me he didn't know what the hell happened. He came home one day, and she said she was moving on, that she'd filed for divorce that day at the courthouse, and did he want pork chops for dinner, or meat loaf?"
The woman chipped in: "I talked to her for a minute, downtown, and she said she just got tired of his act. She said she didn't much want to marry him in the first place, and she'd been right."
"So she just went on down the road," Wood said.
"You know if he went for the meat loaf?" Virgil asked.
"More of a pork chop man," Wood said. (113-4)
The trip out took half an hour, the countryside not quite flat, but rather a series of broken planes, now a frozen wash of gentle blues and grays with the new snow. Virgil had read once that Grandma Moses was a primitive painter because she thought snow was white. The writer said if you really looked at it, snow was hardly ever white. It mostly was a gentler version of the color of the sky―blue, gray, orange in the evenings and mornings, often with purple shadows. When he looked, sure enough, the guy was right, and Grandma Moses had her head up her ass. (117)
John Sandford. Shock Wave. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011.
I know, I know, two in a row, but I do like Virgil. Moving to Minnesota crossed my mind (only once). Meanwhile, Virgil's next problem is a case of shocking serial bombs directed at PyeMart, a big-box store under construction in Butternut Falls. Who in the small town could possibly be the perpetrator? Or is the mayhem really directed at the corrupt town council members who voted for the new development? Virgil's usual modus operandi seems to be to cultivate the locals, getting them to do half the leg work, so to speak ― one might say crowd-sourcing at the main street coffee shop. But the clever bomber keeps them all guessing.
There's a (mostly) delightful cast of characters; Virgil works with media-loving sheriff Earl Ahlquist. Let me not forget that Virgil's no-strings relationship with that other sheriff, Lee Coakley (above), carried over. Barlow the ATF guy is back along with a couple more of Virgil's sidekicks. Billionnaire Williard T. Pye of the PyeMart Corporation is predictably arrogant. Despite the bombs, and the technical details that go with them, Shock Wave is much less ugly subject matter than Bad Blood and is a better introduction to the doings of Virgil Flowers.
One-liner: "They got morning news cycles on TV, and they are gonna be on you like Holy on the Pope." (218)
Two-liner: "You take a close look at postal workers. They're supposed to be crazier than an outhouse mouse."(71)
Meeting the locals:
"You in the Guard, too?" asked Virgil.
She nodded. "Yeah, I did a tour with a Black Hawk unit. I was a crew chief and door gunner.""I did some time in the army, but I was a cop, and never had much to do with bombs, " Virgil said. They traded a few war stories, and then Mack nodded toward the road. "Here comes the VIP convoy. That'd be the sheriff in front, and that big black Tahoe is the ATF, and I don't know who-all behind that. They've been having a meeting at the courthouse."
"Good thing I'm late," Virgil said. "I might've had to go to it. ... You got media?"
"Yeah, and there they are," O'Hara said. "Right behind the convoy. Tell you what, and don't mention I said it, but you don't want to be standing between the sheriff and a TV camera, unless you want cleat marks up your ass." (18)
Pye and his efficient assistant:
Pye came through and said, curtly, "Thank you. And thank the good Lord that I wasn't in that car. That would have totally screwed up my whole happy hour."Virgil told him what he knew, which wasn't much. "Barlow can probably tell you about a detonator, but you can see ... they were trying to kill you, man.""No kidding." Pye raked his lower lip with his upper teeth a few times, looking thoughtfully out at the blast zone, then said to his assistant, "Pye spoke to Flowers for a minute, getting the lay of the land, then resolved to hunt down this monster no matter what it took."
She took it down in shorthand, and Virgil asked, "Are you writing a book?"
"I take down everything Mr. Pye says," the woman answered.
"Is that possible?" Virgil asked.
"Barely," she said.
"She damned well better get it all," Pye said. "I pay her enough."
"Barely," she said. (66)
Virgil went in and lay on the couch, his feet up on one arm. Lot of stuff going on. Had to think about it. After five minutes he hadn't thought of anything, so he called Davenport and told him what was going on. Davenport summarized it: "So you cleaned up the town, but you don't have the bomber."
"Well, let me know when you do. I gotta go."
"Why'd he try to kill me? That's what I want to know. If he'd killed me, he would have gotten a whole storm of cops in here."
"Maybe he was making a point of some kind, about resistance," Davenport said. "Or maybe he wanted a whole storm of cops in there." (277-8)
Jonathan Kellerman. True Detectives. Random House Large Print, 2009.
Brothers Moses Reed and Aaron Fox join forces, reluctantly, to investigate the disappearance of a college student. Moses/Moe is with LA police and Aaron is a private eye; the brothers could hardly be more different from each other ― birth order conflict provides the best tension in the book. Otherwise the story oddly lacks excitement except for two climactic confrontations, mainly settling for endless speculation about suspects and crime reconstruction, especially when murder enters the picture. Attempts at levity often reflect in-jokes among the LA film industry, but then again, one of the themes revolves around Hollyweird Star Power.
Alternating between the two brothers' points of view, there's something awkward and non-compelling about the plotting. The official police statement near the end by a suspect seems truly out of character. Psychoanalyzing is to be expected from the expertise of this very popular author, yet most characters are not fully developed. And puh-leeze, stop with the bold being used for italics and individuals' unspoken thoughts! Is this a thing now? Or something to do with large print books? Very disruptive. Overall not one of Kellerman's better efforts.
One-liner: Half an hour in this place and Aaron felt ready to molt his skin. (39)
Two-liner: "Negative space, young man. The less we have, the richer we are." (279)
Still gorgeous at forty-one, the mop of black hair glossy and carefully layered, the flawless ivory skin allowing her to pass for late twenties, Liana had the charisma and talent to be a movie star. After fifteen years of failure, she'd settled for the anonymity and respectable income of commercial voice-overs.
Freelancing for Aaron supplemented her retirement fund.
They'd begun as lovers, continued as friends and occasional business associates. Once-in-a-while booty-bumps did no damage; Aaron was proud of his ability to maintain complex relationships.
The exception being Moe ... (76)
"You learned nothing from me, that's your problem."
Moe felt his face turn to oak. "Didn't. Know. I. Had. A. Problem."
Aaron mimed a bell-press. "Mr. Reed? FedEx delivery. Carton full of insight being delivered to your door."
Moe groped for his car key.
"You are an utter and complete baby," said Aaron. "Talk about arrested development and dogmatic dysfunctional syndrome."
"Now you're a shrink?" (162)