Book Review: John Sandford’s Mad River

Posted January 19, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: John Sandford’s Mad River

Mad River


John Sandford

It is part of the Virgil Flowers #6 series and is a thriller that was published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on October 2, 2012 and has 387 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books in this series include MatchUp

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Rules of Prey, Shadow Prey, Eyes of Prey, Winter Prey, Silent Prey, Mind Prey, Night Prey, Sudden Prey, Easy Prey, Chosen Prey, Mortal Prey, Naked Prey, Hidden Prey, Broken Prey, Invisible Prey, Phantom Prey, Wicked Prey, Storm Prey, Buried Prey, Silken Prey, Stolen Prey, Field of Prey, Gathering Prey, Dark of the Moon, Heat Lightning, Rough Country, Bad Blood, Shock Wave, Deadline, Storm Front, Extreme Prey, Escape Clause, The Fool's Run, Deep Freeze, The Empress File

Sixth in the Virgil Flowers detective mystery thriller series (and loosely affiliated with the Lucas Davenport series). This revolves around Virgil, a laidback detective who enjoys the hunt, writes outdoors articles, and loves indie bands. It takes place in Minnesota in early April.

My Take

It starts bad and only gets much, much worse. The things people will do for money *shakes head*.

I may not enjoy the same types of music that Virgil does, but I do like how Sandford personalizes Virgil. His passion for music, his enjoyment of ticking off fellow cops and unsettling witnesses with those T-shirts, his writing — although I do miss how Sandford used to have him writing up scenarios about his crime scenes, his wondering if “politicans and hedge-fund operators were garbled cosmic computer code” while God was writing viruses after drinking Big Gulps and Satan was running denial-of-service attacks, and he must be hell with the ladies…

“‘Listen, I gotta tell you. I got four flat tires and no way to get them patched here in Bigham.’

‘Sounds like an emergency,’ she said. ‘Have I told you about our emergency roadside service?'”

That Budweiser comment got me laughing. Oh the joys of small town living, lol.

Geez, that Sheriff Duke…hoo, boy. Sounds like a real pisser what with that concentration camp he wanted to set up. I did appreciate what Virgil had to say about what court orders couldn’t do, lol. Just think, what if it could do that!!

I hafta agree with Virgil. I don’t like the Bare County sheriff’s department either. There have been a number of good cops in this series, and the Lucas Davenport series, and then there are the idiots who don’t think past their noses. Still, Virgil should have told Duke his concerns about the real reason for Ag Murphy’s death. I am curious as well as to why Virgil got called in to the deaths in Shinder. I can’t imagine it was all that much different from most murders…?

And I’m torn between not having to deal with the stupid schmucks and wondering about the other stupid schmucks. It was cold-blooded murder. On both sides. Shrake is the one with whom I agree. Any excuse would be fine, but not what Duke and his men did. Then there are the politics afterwards… I hate politics. That they affect so many decisions about our lives.

“‘And where are you in all this?’ Virgil asked.

‘I’m behind you,’ Davenport said. ‘Like, way behind you.'”

Virgil has some good advice for Barbara with no artistic talent. It’s kind of vague, but he makes a good point about some aspect of a subject will grab your attention. Sally’s experience with her dad’s business runs along this same line of attraction.

We finally get some real interaction with Virgil’s parents. His father cracked me up with that contrast between his obsession with Genesis and Ishmael at the start and then his willingness to take a gun and go in with Virgil. Then we swing around to that doubt Virgil has about his mother and Darrin Wanger. Certainly does provide a, hmmm, “rounded” perspective on the Flowers family.

I love how tight the O’Learys are. How concerned they are for each other. How they take each others’ temperaments and abilities into account, even how Virgil takes into account the good the O’Learys provide society. For contrast, there is the stupid threesome. How they lasted long enough to become adults, or should I ask why they lasted this long? Reading of their reactions to the people they kill. The betrayal and stupid stories they come up with. I want a bomb that kills stupid and/or mean people. Of course, then the stories wouldn’t seem so possible, would they?

I like it. Virgil is using a survey along the lines of what George Peck from Shock Wave, 5, suggested but with the Stillwater inmates. Pretty impressive results.

It truly amazes me how Sandford keeps coming up with one story after another that is so good!!

The Story

Bonnie and Clyde, they thought. And what’s-his-name, the sidekick. Three teenagers with dead-end lives, chips on their shoulders, and guns. The first person they killed was a woman during a robbery. The second was incidental. Simply in the way. Then, hell, why not keep on going?

It’s not until Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Virgil Flowers steps onto the Shinder murder scene that the clues begin to come together. As their crime spree cuts a swath through rural Minnesota, it’s a growing army of cops who join Virgil in trying to run them down. But even Virgil doesn’t realize what’s about to happen next.

The Characters

The laid back Agent Virgil Flowers roams a section of Minnesota and is pulled in for the really hard cases. He does, however, have a new-to-him boat, a Ranger Angler. It’s cool. Even the director of the BCA said it was okay. Lucas Davenport is Virgil’s boss down at the BCA. Johnson Johnson is an old friend of Virgil’s.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is…
…the state police of which Davenport’s division is only a part. Beatrice Sawyer is a crime scene tech along with Don Baldwin. Jenkins and Shrake are a couple of agents whom Davenport sends along when thugs are needed. I do like these two, *more laughter*. Cletus Boykin is a highway patrolman and a friend of Shrake’s. Henry Sands is the BCA director. Rose Marie Roux is the overall boss.

Ruffe Ignace is a reporter with the Star Tribune in Minneapolis who has helped the police in the past. Sandy Hunstad and Brett Thomas are special prosecutors.

Bare County is run by…

Sheriff Lewis Duke, a.k.a., the Duke of Hazard ’cause he believes in “Guns, Punishment, Low Taxes, and the American Constitution”. Deputies include Darrell, John Largas, Dan Card, and Jim Clark. Bob Drake is their crime-scene guy. Dave Jennings is the duty officer that day. Ross Price is investigating the Bigham murders.

Mickey Burden is a public defender. Josh Meadows is the county attorney.

Shinder, Minnesota
George and Ann Welsh were trash and Becky’s parents. Margery Garfield was their neighbor. Carly Redecke works at the Surprise market which Butch owns and is a friend of Becky’s as is Caroline O’Meara. Mickey Berenson keeps track of everybody. James Sharp, Sr., was Jimmy’s abusive father. Jolene O’Hara was Jimmy’s mother who took off.

Don Larson works at Gerald Ford Elementary School. Ralph was one of the teachers. Harvey, Earl, and Sue are some of the townspeople. Bernice Sawyer and Harriet Washburn were friends of Marsha O’Leary’s from high school.

Bigham, Minnesota
Marsha Hogan O’Leary had gone to her high school reunion and shown off. Bad move. John O’Leary, a doctor, is her husband. Mary and Agatha O’Leary Murphy are their daughters and Jack, James, Robin, and Franklin are their sons; the three older boys are all pre-med. Mary Hogan is Marsha’s mother. Laura Deren, a bookkeeper who wants to be a CPA, was Ag’s best friend.

Emmett Williams was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His sister is LuAnne Rogers married to Bradley Senior who’s a plant engineer. Virginia McCall is Tom’s mother and doesn’t deny a thing. Robert Frett is the assistant principal in charge of discipline. George is a young teller. Bud Wright is an editor at the Bigham Gazette willing to put in Virgil’s request.

Marshall, Minneosta is…
…in Lyon County and the town where Virgil grew up. Rev. Flowers, Virgil’s father, is with the Lutheran church. Lots of priests and pastors know him and/or are friends with him. Darrin and Marcia Wanger (he’s president of a local bank in Marshall) are friends of the Flowerses. Don McClatchy and his wife own a McDonald’s in town as do Rick and Nina Box. Father Paul Berry is a Catholic priest at St. Mary’s and one of Rev. Flowers’ golfing buddies. Mr. Carew lives next door to the Boxes; his wife, Viv, wants to know about the Buds. Sally Long was the girl who got away, partly because of Carol Altenbrunner and Linda Smith. Barbara is a student who rents a garage loft from Sally.

Dick Murphy is Agatha’s estranged husband. Stan Murphy is his jerk of a father who always swings towards the money. Randy White is a friend of Dick Murphy’s, and he works for the county road department. Stan is Randy’s supervisor. I can’t help but like his reactions, lol. Donny Morton shoots pool with Dick. Marjorie Kay talked to Becky at the pool parlor. George Petersen is an over-the-road trucker. Royce Atkins is a roofer and Duane McGuire are a couple more friends of Dick’s. Martha Atkins is Royce’s mother.

Honor Roberts, a fence, is one of the people in Lucas’ database. Roseanne Bush is another; she owns The Bush, a tattoo parlor, and I think Roseanne’s Billiards although it may be part of The Bush. Clarence and Edie Towne lived in a farmhouse. Dale Jones works a gas station by the Mad River. Arnie Schmidt and his wife foster four kids who are all mentally challenged. David S. Gates lives alone on his farm.

Jimmy Sharp is the leader of this stupid pack. And I do mean stupid, lordy. Becky Welsh was pretty enough to think she should go to Hollywood, but what she learns in the old guy’s house…yep, she’s gotta be stupid not to have figured this out. The useless Tom McCall was in high school with them and has been hot for Becky since 9th grade.

Mankato, Minnesota, is…
…where Virgil lives. Cornelius Cooper owns the Rooster Coop in Mankato. Bob “Bob-Bob” Roberts is a cop there. I think Georgina is the police dispatcher.

Ronald Deutch is Tom’s landlord in St. Paul. At Stillwater Prison, Ron Polgar is the assistant warden and James Benson is the warden. Daisy Jones is an on-camera reporter. Doctors Rogers and Wu treat Virgil. Mary Lawson and that Momentus golf club of hers went to town on Rolf.

The Cover and Title

The cover is in the style of a classic painting with a less than classic landscape: a broad sweep of hilly land, a dirt road with a lone telephone pole in the middle, a red pickup speeding down that road, raising dust behind it, all under a looming, stormy sky and a closeup of a broken link fence. The painting at the bottom of the cover takes up less than half with a brief notation of the series information. Above is a deep burgundy background with the author’s name in an embossed gold and white.

The title is the ultimate meet-up at the Mad River bridge.