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Escape Clause by John Sandford

Escape Clause is the ninth Virgil Flowers novel by John Sandford.  I have previously reviewed the first eight installments of this series here on the blogs.  Here's a link to the last one: Deadline.  And you can click on the John Sandford tag or search John Sandford on the blog to find the others.  In this installment Flowers takes on a wild case that quickly escalates from thievery/catnapping to murder.

When two rare, endangered tigers are catnapped from the state zoo, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension puts their best investigator on the case that could become a public relations nightmare if the tigers turn up dead.  Unfortunately scant clues and even less evidence leads to few leads for Flowers to follow up.  So he does what he does best: he starts asking questions, gathering information, and learning the local players in the illegal animal poaching and traditional medicine communities.  Eventually he bumps up against a name, Winston Peck, M.D., a shady character in the traditional medicine community in Minnesota; however, little actually ties Peck to the theft of the tigers.  A stray print at the crime scene yields another name, Hamlet Simonian, a small time criminal with a long rap sheet.  After Simonian's name and photo are released to the press, Peck's carefully controlled operation begins its slow but steady spin out of his control.  To clean up loose ends, Peck kills Simonian as well as some of the other players in the tiger-napping ring.

Flowers' investigation, taking heat from the media when hours turn to days with no tigers in sight, is unexpectedly complicated when an RV full of Simonians turns up in Minnesota; its occupants determined to find out what's being done to bring Hamlet's killer to justice and to conduct their own clandestine investigation to exact vengeance in the form of a pound of flesh.  Little does Peck know that the cops are the least of his problems.  If the tiger doesn't eat him first, the Simonians will kill him and no doubt feed the corpse to the tiger unless Flowers can roll him up first.

Meanwhile Flowers' girlfriend, Frankie, gets beat up in a case of mistaken identity.  After her sister Sparkle turns up to research the shady employment of undocumented workers at a shady, local factory for her dissertation, both women become targets of the factory's hired goons.  This turns out to be more distraction than threat in terms of Flowers' investigation, and nothing really comes of Sparkle's research (yet).

This is a page turning, highly readable thriller shot through with the subtle humor for which the Flowers novels have become known.  Fans of Sandford and especially the Flowers novels will enjoy this installment.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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