Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sandford’s ‘Shock Wave’ Is Just Shocking Enough

John Sandford is a darned good mystery/thriller writer, and more than a one-note performer. While the Lucas Davenport “Prey” novels that made his fortune continue to draw readers, he’s added a second, related series character, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Virgil Flowers, who looks like a surfer boy, practices journalism as a sideline, and is pretty successful with the ladies (which explains the obscene nickname his colleagues have given him, which I won’t share here).

The Flowers books have a different flavor from the “Prey” books. They’re mostly set in rural Minnesota, and as you’d expect the crimes are generally more conventional, with less sociopathy and sadism.

I have to commend Sandford particularly for the way he handles politics in these books. If I were a lefty or a greenie, I might consider him a sellout (my spider sense tells me he’s a lefty in real life), but he passes by all kinds of opportunities to treat conservatives as idiots or monsters. In Shock Wave, his characters are well-rounded, credible, and generally sympathetic. Even Willard Pye, founder and CEO of “PyeMart” (obviously a stand in for Walmart), is not a caricature but a believable guy who has his own story.

The first crime is a bombing in the board room of PyeMart’s headquarters in Michigan, but when a second fatal bombing occurs at a building site for a new store in Butternut Falls, Minnesota, Virgil Flowers is called in to coordinate with the ATF and local police. The investigators figure there are two possible motives—environmental radicalism, or fear for their livelihood by local businessmen. Virgil and his allies set to work examining evidence and assembling lists of suspects (at one point by a radically novel method), and before long it looks like they must be getting close, because Virgil himself becomes a target.

Shock Wave is exciting, engaging, well-crafted, and politically even-handed. Setting aside the usual foul language and sexual themes, I recommend it pretty highly.

Lars Walker is the author of several published fantasy novels, the latest of which is an e-book, Troll Valley.

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