Warning: This review contains adult language although I’ve heard it from ten-year-olds. Well maybe not in Latin.
Audiobook. Eric Conger and Sandford are perfectly matched, especially when Conger is reading the Virgil Flowers series. He has just the right articulation and sardonic quality to his narration that truly adds to the enjoyment of a fun series. I really enjoy them.
Virgil, a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent, is asked by a friend, Johnson Johnson, -- Johnson’s father was enamored of outboard motor manufacturers and his brother was named Mercury Johnson -- to investigate who has been stealing dogs in the area. During the course of that investigation he discovers a meth lab, and a local man is murdered. The main investigation focuses on the members of a local school board (no spoiler here, the reader is fully apprised of the conspiracy from the start) that has been ripping off the district and splitting the proceeds among themselves, the superintendent and the security guy.) I found it stretching credibility a bit to accept such a successful conspiracy among so many people and that what is portrayed as a very small community has such a huge district budget, but the story does work and in any case the details are irrelevant.
I do have a small gripe with regard to how most writers regard town size. I live two miles east of a small town. The population is 1,800 people. (One PT cop.) I used to live near a smaller town with a population of 176. Those are small towns. The school district ( where I now live) covers a very large area encompassing several other small towns and has a budget of about $6 million. The closest large town, about 17 miles away, has a population of about 28,000 and the school district’s budget is about $40 million, similar to the one in this story. The interaction of the characters in this story is much closer to a town of 1,800 than one of 28,000. But a small town with the characteristics Sandford describes would never, imho, have a budget approaching $40 million permitting embezzlement on the scale he describes. But I suppose writers who live in cities assume a small town is something around 100,000. That’s a big city. Then again, you can read about the Queen of embezzlers, Rita Crundwell, who stole $57 million over several decades from Dixon, Illinois, population 16,000. (In classic understatement one of the city commissioners said of her financial stewardship as comptroller, "she looks after every tax dollar as if it were her own." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rita_Crundwell)
This has to be the best Virgil Flowers story yet. Some very funny scenes and conversation, often in the midst of serious situations. I loved the boat chase across the Mississippi near the end using two very slow fishing boats followed by a golf cart chase ending in a sand trap. And the Attorney General’s representative who, when discussing extradition from the Cheeseheads said he would need to look up the Latin legal phrase for “Fuck Off.” (My high school Latin is very rusty, but, I believe it’s Futete. Don’t even ask what “Te futueo et caballum tuum” means. The Internet is amazing.)
Virgil’s new girlfriend, Frankie, does some farming and Virgil (Sandford under his real name, John Camp, wrote a book about farm life in southwestern Minnesota), when given the choice between following a hay wagon and throwing bales around or having his testicles dropped in a bear trap, has to take a while to “think about it.” I know exactly why the delay, having had to throw about a thousand bales a day into a barn daily for several summers. It’s dreadful.
If you haven’t tried the Virgil Flowers series, I highly recommend them. Start with the first although they stand alone quite well. Much better than the Davenport series, which are also enjoyable.