Virgil Flowers, of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, works an altogether unremarkable murder and a surprisingly inventive case on the side.
The night before Gina Hemming is fished from a frozen river, someone bashes her in the head with a champagne bottle shortly after a meeting of the committee to organize her 25th high school reunion. Since Gina holds the power of the purse over virtually everyone in Trippton—she inherited the town’s bank on her father’s death—and the bruises on her body suggest habitual S&M play, there are lots of suspects, from Lucy and Elroy Cheever, whose business loan application she was about to deny, to heavy-equipment operator Corbel Cain, her sometime lover, to Fred Fitzgerald, who recently purchased a whip from Bernie’s Books, Candles 'n More. But none of them murdered Gina; the opening chapter shows lovelorn exterminator David Birkmann, who’s been carrying a torch for her since their school days, killing her when she indicates in the most direct way possible that she doesn’t return his interest. The investigation is every bit as routine as it sounds, and it’s nice for Virgil that Sandford has thrown in an unrelated complication: the arrival of LA gumshoe Margaret Griffin, who’s gotten the Minnesota governor’s support in serving a federal cease and desist order against Virgil’s classmate Jesse McGovern, who’s been doing a brisk mail-order business hawking her X-rated creations, Barbie O and Boner Ken. On second thought—since the Barbie knockoffs get Virgil beaten up by four oversized females and his truck burned to the ground—it may be less nice for Virgil than for his fan base.
As so often in Sandford’s small-town adventures (Escape Clause, 2016, etc.), the greatest pleasures here are incidental: clipped conversations, quietly loopy humor, locals mouthing off to and about each other. Pull up a seat, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy.