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Heat Lightning by John Sandford

I'd previously read John Sandford's first Virgil Flowers novel, Dark of the Moon, a few years back and found it to be a quick, well written read.  Recently I discovered he has since written three more Flowers titles and decided to start with the second title and read through to the fourth and most recent one.  Heat Lightning is the second Flowers installment.  The darkness of the crimes committed that must be solved in the novel are leavened by the lighter presentation of Flowers and the story.  It works well together--a dark crime doesn't always need dark prose to back it up.

Virgil Flowers is Lucas Davenport's go to man in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension when there's a sensitive, tough or otherwise puzzling case to solve.  Flowers has a high clearance rate and can often turn around a case in about a week.  This  particular case is especially perplexing with quite a few red herrings thrown into the mix to throw everyone--Flowers and the reader included--off the scent of the true culprits.

Someone is murdering veterans in Minnesota.  A lemon is shoved into the mouth of the victim before his body is dumped in a symbolic fashion in the literal shadow of the local veterans' monuments, and Virgil Flowers is on the case.  While veterans keep dying, Flowers' keeps digging until his investigation reveals a connection between all the dead men that goes back several decades and across an entire ocean to Vietnam in the waning days of the war.  A local man put together a group of men--mostly all veterans of the war--to return to Vietnam and move out a shipment of heavy construction equipment abandoned by the American government in the wake of the American military withdrawal from the country.  Things go according to plan until a loose cannon in the group cuts down an entire Vietnamese family living adjacent to their work site.

Flowers is certain that the killings--by now it's obvious they're committed by a professional assassin--stem directly from the massacre in Vietnam all those years ago.  All the dead men were in the group who was stealing the equipment.  But who hired the hits: the man who massacred an entire family and wants to keep it under wraps or some other as yet unknown person connected to the massacred family?  And how does a left wing anti-war activist with a Vietnamese wife and, it turns out, ties to the CIA (that cannot proved) figure into the present day murders?

As always Flowers makes a love connection in this case, but how closely tied is his lady love to the murders? And how smart is it for the investigator to get involved with a potential witness or daughter of a potential suspect?  The fast developing investigation hums along at a quick clip in this fast read and while perceptive readers will spot the probable culprit well before Flowers, this novel is definitely worth the read.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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