Virgil Flowers, agreeing to check out the most minor crime imaginable in sleepy Trippton, Minnesota, finds himself in a steadily deepening pool of felonies.
You may think dognapping is no big deal, but try telling that to Winky Butterfield, whose two black Labs have been carried off by D. Wayne Sharf. As Virgil’s friend Johnson Johnson tells it, this latest theft is only part of a much larger pattern that’s riled the dog-loving citizens of Buchanan County to demand action—if not from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, then from themselves. Eager to avoid a vigilante outbreak, Virgil (Storm Front, 2013, etc.) agrees to look for the missing pooches and promptly finds a meth lab that seems like a much bigger deal, at least to the BCA. Little does he know that a completely unrelated matter is about to nudge Trippton into wholesale violence. Members of the Buchanan County Consolidated School Board, tipped off that has-been reporter Clancy Conley is about to blow the whistle on their long-running embezzlement scheme, vote to have Conley killed and then are forced under pressure from Virgil’s investigation to target ever more victims in order to cover their tracks. The school board meetings, in which cutthroat discussions of ways and means end with formal endorsements of murder that would do any parliamentarian proud, have a subversively comic edge that perfectly complements Virgil’s straight-faced attempts to turn the board members against each other by urging everyone involved to rat out everyone else as they circle the wagons in ever shrinking patterns. The meth investigation winds up quickly and quietly, but Sandford keeps one last surprise up his sleeve for the denouement of the dognapping case, and it’s a doozy.
Exhilaratingly professional work by both Virgil and his creator that breaks no new ground but will keep the fans happy and add to their number.