I’ve been a fan of John Sanford mystery / thrillers for many years. My brother-in-law introduced me to the Prey series, featuring Lucas Davenport, back when there were just a few books in the series. Dark of the Moon is Sanford’s first entry in a spin-off series featuring Virgil Flowers, who’s now a detective for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. But it’s very much a backlist choice, since it was published in 2007.
Flowers gets called to the small town of Bluestem to investigate a house fire with its owner trapped inside. Bluestem is a town where everybody knows everything about their neighbors. Or do they? This first incident sets off a cascade of murders, which rock the town and its inhabitants. And Virgil has to unravel the intense gossip, deep resentments, and myriad clues to uncover the truth. And the killer.
I’d classify this as a “traditional” detective story. Nothing supernatural or quirky here. It’s a straightforward whodunit. And sometimes that’s refreshing, in a gory kind of way.
Virgil is a guy’s guy. He and his fellow male characters were clearly operating long before #MeToo came into view. In fact, they are part of the reason for this renewed awareness in our real world. He’s pretty crude, commenting on a woman’s body parts and then taking her to bed shortly after. Talk about “insta-love,” or really just promiscuous sexual behavior.
But I digress. Flowers is also a crack detective. He has a style all his own, with longish hair and vintage concert t-shirts. As observant as he is about a beautiful woman, he uses those powers to track down the killer just as effectively.
Sanford knows how to write a great mystery. He creates characters with dimension, but makes the story about action and suspense. He never gets sidelined into unnecessary detail, but you still have to pay attention to guess the culprit.
If Sanford gives us a diamond with Davenport, then Flowers is his rougher, less polished colleague. No matter his personal quirks, I enjoyed the process Flowers uses to solve the crime. If you like old-school detective stories with plenty of twists, this is a book for you.