A while back, Virgil Flowers was just a supporting character in John Sandford’s long-running Prey series. He’d help Lucas Davenport out on an investigation, then fade into the background again until Sandford revived him for another cameo appearance. But here we are now, with Escape Clause, the ninth book in the Flowers series, and perhaps the best, thanks to its fresh take on a traditional plotline. This time around, Virgil is hunting a group of thieves, who have stolen rather precious loot from the Minnesota Zoo: two Amur tigers, whose bodies could be mined for various remedies. Question is, can Flowers apprehend the thieves before the tigers are killed?
Whenever I think about my favourite crime writers, I always overlook Sanford, which is a serious injustice on my part. Sandford’s novels aren’t ground-breaking, but they are exemplary, exceptionally well-constructed, and highly polished police procedurals / thrillers. He writes the kinds of books you’ll bomb through in no time, and enjoy every second. So, what makes his novels – Escape Clause, in particular – so compulsive, then? Beyond his stark style and ability to craft brutally violent, adrenaline-pumping action scenes, it’s Sandford’s villains that truly stand out, never more evident than that of Winston Peck VI, an M.D. barred from practicing after it was discovered he was groping unconscious patients.
Make no mistake: Peck is a bad dude, but he’s not a killer. At least, he never planned to be, but as the authorities close in on him, he does what he feels he must in order to survive. If that means ending a few lives, well, so be it. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it. He’s not a psychopath. Or is he…? Some of the novel’s best moments see Peck debating his mental state, adding layers to what could’ve been a very rote villain. Lots of crime writers nail their protagonist and the puzzle that needs solving; few are as capable of conjuring such enigmatic bad guys.
Exciting, absorbing and intriguing, Escape Clause is the perfect crime thriller for this time of the year, as the weather begins to warm up, and readers are looking to wile away a few hours at the beach with an enthralling book. It’s not all flawless; there’s a secondary plot thread involving Virgil’s girlfriend’s sister, which feels very much tacked on, and a tad unnecessary – but it doesn’t overshadow the effectiveness of the ‘A’ plot.
If you’ve never read Sandford before, don’t feel put off by the fact this is the ninth entry in a series. Escape Clause is a fine place to start, and I bet it’ll have you scouring your local bookstore for Virgil Flowers’s earlier capers. Then, don’t forget, you’ve got the Lucas Davenport books to savour. Man, those of you who are new to John Sandford are in for such a treat.
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 20-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom