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Book Review: Dark of the Moon by John Sandford

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I’ve been a fan of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport novels for years, since Rules of Prey first came out. The writer’s real name is John Camp, and he’s an award-winning newspaper reporter. Sandford writes in a clipped, full-ahead narrative that is easy and intriguing to read. He’s so casual about his storytelling that most readers don’t realize how many layers of character and action they’re picking up at one time.

Davenport has become iconic to a degree. There’s nothing he hasn’t faced, and readers don’t tend to worry about him as much as they could. However, Sandford creates a new character in Dark of the Moon.

Virgil Flowers works for Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the same as Lucas Davenport. In fact, Davenport is Virgil’s boss. At least, as much as Virgil’s willing to admit that he has a boss. Virgil tends to be a free spirit and innocent, though he’s got a trail of ex-wives and girlfriends in his wake. In fact, he’s a nice guy as well, which is why all the ex-romantic interests tend to enjoy his company in spite of how things worked out. Davenport has had real issues with women, but Virgil just seems to like — and be liked by — all of them.

When he’s on the job, Virgil tends to wear rock and roll concert tee shirts, and he likes all kinds of music – even hurdy-gurdy. I liked that about him because I’m the same way about my superhero tee shirts. I felt like I knew Virgil from the very first time he stepped onto the page. Davenport is harder to get to know, and I don’t really want to think how he thinks about the world.

But Virgil Flowers? He’s a combination of a lot of guys I’ve known all my life. At his core, he’s a fun-loving guy, and the detective/investigator biz just kind of wraps around that. Virgil is smart, but not so smart that the reader can’t keep up. In fact, he often takes himself to task for not being just a little more clever.

Davenport assigns Virgil to a series of gruesome murders that take place in Blue Stem, Minnesota. I’m familiar with the area and know Blue Stem doesn’t exist, but the town feels like a lot of other little towns I’ve been through in that region. And all of the other towns Virgil mentions in the book are there, so it’s a blast reading about all the geography when I know it.

Davenport’s books — and I hate that I keep making comparisons because it doesn’t really seem fair — tend to take place in Minneapolis or other metro areas. I hope Sandford keeps Virgil working the small towns because he’s got a real knack for them.

Dark of the Moon turns out to be a solid mixture of mystery and thriller. I was constantly aware of Virgil’s investigation as he looked for the “man in the moon,” and I was aware of how all that could be twisted. The clues were there, and I closed in on them at the same time Virgil did. I liked the “Homer” episodes Virgil wrote when he worked through ideas and new scenarios. I also enjoyed the fact that Virgil is a magazine writer on the side. Davenport designs games, which plays into the cold logic and game theory he uses so much in his books, but Virgil plays off his understanding of people and himself.

The second book, Heat Lightning, is out there now, so I’ve got to track it down. John Sandford has another winner on his hands and I’m looking forward to getting to know more about Virgil.

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