Virgil Flowers (Mad River, 2012, etc.) chases after a biblical relic that turns every person whose path it crosses into a criminal.
Lutheran minister Elijah Jones has lived a long time without stepping over the line. But the inscribed stele that turns up on the Israeli archaeological dig on which he’s a volunteer is too much of a temptation for even a dying man like Jones to resist. Sneaking off with the priceless relic, he high-tails it home to Mankato for the express purpose, it would seem, of presenting Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with a new challenge. And quite a challenge it is, because what’s engraved on the stele is so controversial that it’s avidly sought by Yael Aronov, of the Israeli Antiquities Authority; Mossad killer Tal Zahavi; Turkish torturer Timur Kaya; TV archaeologist Tag Bauer; professor John Rogers Sewicky, who teaches ancient mysteries classes at the University of Texas; Lebanese college student Faraj Awad, who may or may not be a liaison for Hezbollah; assorted Beltway types who decline to identify their government agencies; and several lesser fry, from Elijah’s daughter Ellen Case to counterfeit lumber merchant Florence “Ma” Nobles, who are both presumably just out for the money. The wholesale pursuit of the relic by everyone in the Central time zone carries serious comic potential, but Sandford, unlike Elijah, sticks to the straight and narrow as he conscientiously follows everyone who’s embarked on this treasure hunt. The effect is to muffle Virgil and his senior colleague Lucas Davenport (Silken Prey, 2013, etc.) without creating anyone equally engaging to take their places.
Quite a departure for Virgil and Lucas, but this is not a case that plays to their considerable strengths.