Dark of the Moon by John Sanford

I have long been a fan of John Sanford’s “Prey” series, featuring Lucas Davenport of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. In this book, Sanford focuses on a different member of the BCA, Virgil Flowers, with the same excellent results.

Virgil arrives in the tiny town of Bluestem in a rush of rain and fire – he’s speeding through a driving rainstorm and his first stop is a massive blaze on the outskirts of town. The home of the town’s wealthiest resident is a ball of fire and all the indications are arson. But that’s not why Virgil has come to town – he’s here to lend a hand with an unsolved murder; Russell and Anna Gleason, a retired doctor and his wife, were shot to death in their own home, the doctor posed in the front yard with his eyes shot out. The investigation winds its way through decades-old rumors of wild sex parties, fundamentalist preachers, meth labs and small town politics, leaving Virgil wondering if the killer is someone close to him – perhaps very close indeed.

I thought that Sanford captured the dynamics of a small town very well. The way that histories intermingle and everyone knows everyone’s business is very different from investigating a crime in the city. Even the politics within the sherriff’s department rang true. (I’m a small town girl and my father is on the town council in my home town, so I get to hear a lot of stories.) Even the complicated loyalties that develop when friends and neighbors have known each other for generations are perfectly portrayed.

There are some plot holes. Virgil talks to anyone and everyone about the case, and although he explains it as an investigative tactic, I have to think that he’d get himself fired in the first week if he really played so fast and loose with the details. One key point (a gun found in a shoe) is never completely explained and a local woman finds online a piece of information that the police researcher needs a court order to obtain. Like Lucas Davenport, Virgil is a real Renaissance Man – an outdoorsman, hunter, writer, photographer and investigator; almost too good to be true. Still, the story provides enough meat and enough twists and turns to be a very pleasant read. Or listen, in my case, since I picked this up on audiobook and it managed to provide a couple of “driveway moments.” Sanford fans shouldn’t miss this one. You can order your copy on on Amazon.com.

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