Tag Archives: novel

‘Mad River’ is an excellent read!

If you take a look at the “Books” tab at the top of the page, it will be no secret that I’m a big fan of author John Sandford. I just finished his most recent Virgil Flowers novel, “Mad River,” and loved it.

Sandford’s books aren’t great literature; he doesn’t even try for that. He just tells a great story.

The Virgil Flowers series is one of two of Sandford’s crime novel series. His primary, and longest-running series is the “Prey” series, which he began about a hundred years ago. That series of books focuses on a Minneapolis police detective, turned assistant chief, turned state investigator, Lucas Davenport. Davenport is smart, rich, urbane and smart-assed. Several years ago, Sandford took one of his secondary characters from the Prey books, Virgil Flowers (also known by his friends and colleagues as “that f_cking Flowers”) and created a second series of crime novels. While Davenport and his crew work the Twin Cities, Flowers works crimes out in rural Minnesota.

While it is helpful to read some of the books in order, it is not necessary. While with some authors (Patricia Cornwell, for instance) there are often important plot references to previous books, that is not so with Sandford’s books. It helps to know the characters, but you can pick up any of his books and fully enjoy it without having read any others.

Sandford’s strength is in his characters. His protagonists are the kind of people you would love to go hang out with for a while. He even creates bad-guys who can generate some empathy. And since all his main characters are wise-crackers, the dialogue can be great.

In Mad River, Flowers is standing on a street corner drinking beer with a friend when he gets a call from Davenport to work a multiple murder in a small down several hours drive away. When Flowers tells Davenport he won’t be in any shape to drive for a few hours, Davenport agrees and tells Flowers to be careful with the alcohol and driving.

“It would be best if you were gunned down in the line of duty and not killed in a drunk-driving accident.”

Mad River focuses on a trio of teenagers who start a minor killing spree across the Minnesota countryside – a kind of Bonnie and Clyde with a sidekick. The main plot isn’t a mystery, since there is never any question about who did the deed. It’s Flowers’ job to catch the kids before they kill two many more people, and hopefully before the local sheriff’s department takes things into their own hands and kills the kids first. There is also a sub-plot about what prompted the trio to start their crime spree to begin with.

As always, Mad River is a well written and compelling crime novel. Grab it for your own enjoyment or buy it as a Christmas present for a good friend or family member. They will thank you for it.

Teen love, cancer and an unfinished sentence

I stepped way outside my normal pleasure reading comfort zone with “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. However, it was a good trip and one I recommend.

The book is narrated in the first person by Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16 year old girl with thyroid cancer who is being kept alive by a new miracle drug. Her parents think she is depressed and  force her to attend a support group with other young cancer patients. That is where she meets Augustus, a bone cancer patient/amputee in remission. Initially, she doesn’t want to get involved, but (as you can probably guess) the inevitable happens and they become a couple.

Hazel is also obsessed with a fictional book “An Imperial Affliction,” about a girl with cancer. “An Imperial Affliction” ends in mid-sentence with many plots unresolved, because, it is assumed, that Anna either dies or becomes too sick to write. Hazel is determined to track down the reclusive author to find out how the various fictional stories played out.

The story is a little bit of a romance story and a little tragedy. Green does a good job telling  a story about a depressing subject without the story being depressing itself.

I thought it was a little odd for a middle-aged man to be writing a first-person account through the eyes of a 16 year old girl. His writing seemed very believable, but then again, I’m a middle-aged guy so I don’t have any real reference to judge it.

It’s not all giggles and fun, but “The Fault in Our Stars” is an interesting read and well worth the effort.

John Sandford’s latest a winner of a summer read

John Sandford is one of my favorite authors. He has several series of cop/crime fiction going and they are all great.

I just finished the latest in his “Prey” series – Buried Prey. It’s slightly different than many of his previous novels, but very good. It is an excellent summer read.

The main character in the “Prey” series is Lucas Davenport. When the series started, nearly 20 years ago, Lucas was a homicide detective in the Minneapolis Police Department. Lucas is smart, urbane, quick-witted and rich. (Not a bad combination. I want to be Lucas when I grow up.) He got all the tough cases. At the present point in the series, Lucas is the head of the Minnesota “Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.” And again, he gets all the tough cases.

In Buried Prey, building excavators unearth the bodies of two young girls, dead for a quarter century. It is a kidnap-murder case that Lucas worked as a young cop. Much of the book is a flash-back, as Lucas recalls the details of the summer the girls disappeared. Lucas is besieged by guilt over the case. The police were quick to close the case and pinned the murders on a homeless man who was killed by the police during his arrest. Lucas knows deep in his heart that the homeless man was innocent, but being a young cop, he went along with his bosses and “caved in.”

Sandford brings out some of Lucas’s personality characteristics that remain hidden in most of his books, including self-doubt, a sense of guilt, and a near-pathological drive for revenge.

As with nearly all of Sandford’s books, Buried Prey gets a thumbs-up. Very good!

Clancy’s newest not up to expectations

I just finished Tom Clancy’s latest book, Dead or Alive. I have always been a Tom Clancy fan, but I have to confess, I was not impressed with this latest effort, which was co-authored by Grant Blackwood. Maybe that was the problem.

I have been a big Clancy fan ever since he came out with his first big one, The Hunt for Red October. I have read all his fiction thrillers, and most of his non-fiction. I love his stuff. Maybe that’s why I was disappointed at his latest effort.

Clancy returns to the plot line and characters of his earlier book Teeth of the Tiger. As a matter of fact, I re-read Teeth before starting Dead or Alive, just to bring myself up to speed. The second book simply picks up right where Teeth left off.

The main characters, Brian and Dominic Caruso and Jack Ryan Jr. are back, working for the secretive terrorist-hunting organization known as “The Campus.” They are joined by old friends, John Clark and Ding Chavez.

This time the bad guys are working a complex scheme to launch a series of attacks on the US, and it’s up to the guys at “The Campus” to stop them.

Clancy likes to weave together different story lines — seemingly unrelated, but we all know better. (After all, if they weren’t related, they wouldn’t be in the book.) Then they come together to create the plot. However, the biggest problem with the book is that there are so many plotlines that develop so slowly, it is difficult for the reader to keep track of them all.

At least a couple of plotlines never do develop and apparently were inserted just to introduce characters or set the scene for the next book in the series. In one, an Army ranger, is accused of murder for what he did on the battlefield. This premise could be the basis of an entire novel in itself. Instead, the legal issue is dropped and the character is assumed into The Campus team. There were a lot of pages of narrative, just to introduce a new and not advance the main plot of the novel.

In another, Jack Ryan Sr. decides to run for president once again. This also just sets the scene for the next book because after he makes his decision to run, the authors drop the plot line. Ryan is last seen working on his autobiography.

For a true Clancy fan, it’s a good, but lengthy effort. However, if you would like to read a book with a similar plot, but tighter plot development and more compelling characters, try “The Afghan” by Fredrick Forsyth. It is simply outstanding.