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Mad River by John Sandford

So Mad River is the latest installment in John Sandford's Virgil Flowers adventures.  The previous Virgil Flowers novels have been reviewed here on the blog, and you can find them by doing a search on the blog if you're interested.  This latest installment differs from previous ones by the fact that it is largely a manhunt--the culprits are known to the police, so there isn't much need for detecting much besides the whereabouts of said culprits before they drop more bodies in their bloody wake.

Virgil Flowers is literally just returned from a Bahamian vacation when his boss at Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Davenport, sends him into western Minnesota to work a double murder and then the massive manhunt that ensues.  Unfortunately for Flowers by novel's end things go sideways leaving him unable to tie up his investigation to his liking.

Jimmy Sharp, Becky Welsh, and Tom McCall just want to get to L.A. even if that means killing some people to get themselves a set of wheels that won't break down and leave them sit along and a couple grocery bags of money.  To get the latter, they break into a random house in the wealthy part of town, but the burglary goes wrong when Jimmy shoots a girl dead in cold blood.  Now they're on the run and then their car won't start, so they kill someone else, steal his car and take off for their hometown.  Once the trio from hell arrive there, bodies start dropping in their wake, and now the police are onto their identities if not exactly (as of yet) their whereabouts.  As local police, sheriffs' departments, state agents, and the National Guard converge on western Minnesota for the manhunt to end all manhunts,Virgil starts digging.

As we know from previous novels, Virgil deals in information and likes to dig up as much of it as he can on anyone and anything even remotely related to an investigation because you never what connections might kick loose.  But in depth information on his trio of suspects is scarce, and Virgil has a hunch absent any evidence that the first murder wasn't really as random as originally believed.  Unfortunately Becky, Jimmy and Tom didn't have many friends and those who did know them say that Jimmy and Becky are both dumber than a box of a hair, that Tom, while smarter than his murderous brethren, is not memorable in any way, and that Jimmy is mean and probably involved in drugs and prone to violence.  What emerges is a picture of three young people, each dealt bad hands in life, determined to claw their way out of their dead end town, embittered by their less than stellar life circumstances  and set to exact a little payback on those perceived to have done them wrong.

As the manhunt expands into neighboring counties and states, Virgil realizes that all the (circumstantial) evidence he's accrued points to the first murder being a hired hit, but it isn't enough for a conviction.  In other words, Virgil needs those kids alive to make his case stick.  A prospect that's easier said than done when the local sheriff's department on the kids' trail is hot for vengeance for a fallen brother and have decided to be judge, jury and executioner.  In the end this is one ride that won't end well, which might be the understatement of the year.

I recommend you pick up this quick read. Fans of Virgil Flowers and/or John Sandford won't want to miss this latest suspenseful installment.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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