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Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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03/15/2014

Book Review - Storm Front by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Storm Front
Storm Front (A Virgil Flowers Novel)

Usually I'm happy after reading one of the Virgil Flowers novels from John Sandford. His latest, Storm Front, was the first where I came away with a "meh" feeling. It was hard to get vested in any of the characters or the plot, and the comedic angle seemed to be overplayed. I know that the Flowers character is much more irreverent and carefree than his Davenport partner, but this was just... off.

After reading Storm Front, I learned that Sandford is going the route of having some of his books ghosted by other writers so he can crank out more titles per year. While I don't see any specific statement that Storm Front fell into this category, it would explain the "off-ness" of this particular installment. I hope that's not the case, as the Flowers series was a lot of fun to read. I had already burned out on the Davenport series, as they were becoming more uninteresting and convoluted with each new installment. If Flowers starts to go down the same direction, I will probably spend my time reading other stuff (because I'm SO behind on my reading piles). I'll try the next novel when it comes out, and that will likely make my mind up.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

08/24/2013

Book Review - Silken Prey by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Silken Prey
Silken Prey

In my current "revisit authors I've burned out on" phase, I picked up the latest Prey novel by John Sandford... Silken Prey. I used to love the Lucas Davenport series in the earlier installments, but the last few stories had left me with a "meh" feeling.  I'm not sure if it's my time away or what, but Silken Prey worked well this time around. The plot had a "that could probably happen" aspect to it, and I burned through the pages quickly to see how it all played out.

Trying to analyze the "why" behind my enjoyment, I think it was the realization of how it's extremely easy to "convict" someone of a crime in the court of public opinion regardless of whether they did the crime or not. The story here revolves around a hotly contested political race between the incumbent and a challenger with nearly unlimited financial resources. With only a few days left before the voting, images involving children are "found" on the incumbent's computer. Regardless of whether they were his or planted, his small lead in the polls plummets, and he can do nothing to clear his name. Davenport is called on to find some answers *now*, but trying to find proof of who might have been responsible for a smear job isn't easy. It's even harder when the trail starts to lead back to the challenger, but her psychotic personality sees the investigation as an attempt to discredit her. Davenport has to balance a lot of high-powered personalities and pressures to not only find the truth, but prove it... all without having his team fall prey to what might be trained killers who would have no problem treating them all as "loose ends".

There are a couple of side threads in the story that don't seem to go anywhere, but they provide some minor tie-in towards the end. They involve minor characters from previous novels, so perhaps it pushes their individual stories a bit for some future story line. The end didn't finish up quite as cleanly as I would have expected, but then again, few things in life do.

Silken Prey is one of Sandford's better Davenport novels, and it's worth reading. I think I still like his series with Virgil Flowers more, but Silken Prey has me more interested in future installments with Davenport.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

12/08/2012

Book Review - Mad River by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Mad River
Mad River (A Virgil Flowers Novel)

While I've gotten burned out on the Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford, I like what he's doing with the Virgil Flowers character as a separate series of novels.  Mad River is the latest installment, and I looked forward to getting it from the library when my name made it to the top of the hold lists.  I wanted to like it... I really did.  But it seems like the book was about a third too long with an ending that fell flat (in my opinion).  I never got lost in the action, as much as I wanted to...

The plot revolves around Flowers getting called in on what turns into a serial killing spree.  Three people from a small town in Minnesota are looking to pull off a few burglaries to get some money and head west.  But the first home invasion goes bad, and one of the occupants ends up getting shot and killed.  Unfortunately, that just makes it easier to kill the next person, and the next person, and so on.  Flowers gets a lead on who is responsible for the trail of dead bodies, but finding the three killers isn't as easy as it sounds when you're in the middle of nowhere and there are few eye witnesses left to point the way.

In terms of plot, the book wasn't bad.  You know who the killers are, and the story shifts from Flowers to the killers and back again to advance the action.  He suspects there's a different motivation other than money, but he can't get the proof he needs to take appropriate action.  And that's where I had problems.  Once that angle was introduced, it felt like the story just went in circles in order to kill time before the end.  Even when "the end" happened, the larger resolution seemed like a tacked-on finish to take up another 50 to 100 pages.  I hit the last page and actually said "that was it?"  I was disappointed...

I'm hoping Mad River is just an "off" installment in the Virgil Flowers series.  I don't want to put it in the same "in no big rush to read new ones" category as the Lucas Davenport novels have become for me.  But I'm definitely holding my expectations in check to see what direction things go.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/20/2012

Book Review - Stolen Prey by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Stolen Prey
Stolen Prey

It's been a while since I've opened up a Lucas Davenport novel by John Sandford. The last few weren't up to the enjoyment level I had with the earlier installments.  I picked up Stolen Prey from the library hoping that Sandford and Davenport were back on track.  It might be due to the break I took on the series, but this one was better than I expected.  It's not vintage Davenport, but it may be that the character has evolved to a point where that's no longer possible...

This installment starts out with the gruesome murder of a family in Wayzata, Minnesota.  The brutality and signature of the crime points Davenport and his team towards Mexican drug lords, even though there's no obvious reason as to why the family would have been a target.  The Federales ask to be part of the investigation, and two agents join the team.  But can Davenport and his men trust them?  Are the agents leaking information back to the drug lords?  Most importantly, is the death squad still looking for answers to questions Davenport hasn't figured out yet?  The pressure continues to mount, both politically and professionally, to end the killing spree...

I miss the earlier Davenport, when he was the hands-on detective trying to solve the mental challenges of the crimes that landed in his lap.  Now that he's the head of a small crime team that is more political in nature, there's not the same immediacy to his character.  Stolen Prey had more of that "hands-on" feel to it, but not anywhere like it used to be.  Another frustration with the story is the way it jumped around.  I'm used to having a point-of-view change signaled by a chapter break or a significant paragraph break.  Stolen Prey often goes from Davenport to killer mid-page with a regular paragraph break, and there's no indication that the viewpoint of the story shifted.  It's a little jarring and disruptive to the flow.

Having said all that, Stolen Prey was a decent read (especially measured against my past souring on the series).  The story line was interesting with good pacing.  I still have questions on a few plot points, but that could just be me having missed something along the way.  I won't be chomping at the bit for the next Prey novel, but I won't ignore it either.  On the other hand, I can't wait for Sandford's next installment in the Virgil Flowers series... :)

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Free

04/14/2012

Book Review - Shock Wave by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Shock Wave
A picture named M2

While I've grown a little cold on the John Sandford novels that feature Lucas Davenport, I'm finding I like the Virgil Flowers novels a lot.  Shock Wave has Flowers tracking down a serial bomber intent on stopping a large Walmart-like store from setting up shop in a small town.  Flowers is a nice mix of irreverence, vulnerability, and persistence, all wrapped together in a mind that never stops running.  

Sandford does a good job in capturing the small town atmosphere where the action takes place.  It's reasonably clear that someone in the town is doing the bombing, but there's a number of people who would make good suspects.  Many people in town will be negatively impacted by the new store, and most would be happy to see the construction stopped.  But which person would be motivated enough to kill?  On top of the bombing, there's also a question surrounding why the city council approved a zoning change after initially opposing the site.  Is the bombing also tied to the possible corruption?  These are all questions Flowers has to figure out, and it doesn't help that the bombings are accelerating at a frightening pace.

On top of the characters, Sandford does a perfect job in making sure the killer isn't known until the very end.  I was guessing the entire time, and found out it wasn't the person who I thought it was going to be.  I was also impressed with the use of "crowd-sourcing" to dig up a list of likely suspects. While I don't think it's something that would be accepted very well in reality, it did present some interesting possibilities of involving others in solving a crime.

I hope Sandford continues with the Flowers character in future books.  It would definitely put him back on my "read right away" list.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/03/2009

Book Review - Wicked Prey by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Wicked Prey
A picture named M2

OK... I think it's about time for me to set John Sandford and the Prey series aside for awhile... as in I'll catch up one day on new installments, but I won't be tying up allotments on my library hold list to get them as soon as possible.  I just finished Sandford's latest, Wicked Prey, and I honestly just didn't care about the story or the characters.  There were a number of plots going on that seemed to be murky or plodding, I was having problems keeping the players straight and how they related to each other, and I was drifting into full-fledged skim mode by the end.  I just wanted it to be done so I could move on to something else.

The Republican Party convention is being held in Minneapolis, so of course there are tons of cops roaming the city for protection.  But the lure of money is too much for one criminal group, and they decide to start some hotel room robberies to abscond with large amounts of money being spread around by the different party players.  A couple of the criminals are hoping to make this their final job so they can "retire", and one of them keeps wanting to pull "one more job" so that he can retire in luxury.  Lucas Davenport is, as one of the top cops, responsible for trying to break the case and stop the crime spree before it goes much further.  In the mean time, Davenport's adopted daughter is working for a TV station doing kid-related stories, and she becomes involved in trying to get a young prostitute to leave her john that beats her.  This will also protect Davenport's career, as her john is a paraplegic that Davenport nearly killed a few years earlier in a fit of rage.  The john wants to hit back and Davenport, and may try to use Davenport's daughter to do so.  There's also a sniper plot going on that lost me somewhere...

Part of my character confusion with Davenport's fellow cops might well have been due to the length of time between episodes.  I had no continuity there, nor did I care about them.  The linkage that I think was supposed to be there between the criminal gang and the sniper didn't materialize too well, and I really didn't get how his role played out in the end.  And while Davenport's daughter (Letty) seems like she could be a great character in her own right, she's VERY grown up for only being 14.  Planning the demise of johns and predators with the level of planning that she does seems to be a bit much for her age.  A little too over-the-top for me...

When I think back to what the Davenport series used to be, I realize that the last few installments have been inconsistent at best.  I'm not at the point of ditching Sandford completely, but I'm not excited about new titles coming out any more.  I think the Prey series is going to end up as one of those that I catch up with every three to four years (if then) when I'm starting to get a bit desperate for recreational reading material...

01/10/2009

Book Review - Heat Lightning by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Heat Lightning
A picture named M2

I've mentioned on prior John Sandford novel reviews that I was getting somewhat burned out on the whole Davenport character.  It seemed like the character wasn't going anywhere, and the plots were somewhat slow.  When Heat Lightning showed up at the library, I picked it up more out of habit than anticipation.  I was moderately surprised to find that this novel featured Virgil Flowers instead of Davenport, while still having bits of Davenport show up in the story.  Surprised turned to happiness as I got immersed into the storyline.  This is the reason I keep Sandford on my "Authors to Read" list...

Flowers is tagged on a murder that has some rather bizarre features.  The body is left at a war memorial, and along with the trauma associated with murder, the victim has a wedge of lemon stuffed in his mouth.  Of course, that's a real problem when *other* bodies have turned up with the same MO.  All the victims appear to have known each other, possibly as part of the military, but Flowers doesn't immediately know what common thread ties them all together.  And until that thread is discovered, there's no telling whether the killings have stopped or will continue.  And with all high-profile and gruesome killings, the public is outraged, and politicians want answers yesterday.  Davenport is pinning his hopes on Flowers to solve the crime quickly before the feds take over, but sometimes the answers just aren't out there...

The Flowers character is what makes this story click.  Virgil lives for fishing and women, not necessarily in that order.  He's pretty unorthodox in his investigative methods, but he's not afraid to go head-to-head with authority to get things done.  The story starts by flipping back and forth between Flowers trying to solve the crime, and the killers going after their intended targets.  It's not until late in the read that you find out who the killers actually are, so you're kept guessing throughout the book as to who might be the killers.  Fortunately the thread between the killings appears relatively quickly, so you know the "why" behind the deaths.  The combination of characters, plot, and pacing made this a hard book to put down, and restored my faith that Sandford can still tell an entertaining story...

08/24/2008

Book Review - Phantom Prey by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Phantom Prey

A picture named M2

John Sandford's Prey series is one that I've followed over the years.  But the last few books seemed to be losing much of the spark that drew me to them in the first place.  The latest installment in the series is Phantom Prey, and it finally came in at the library.  Based on the way things had been going, I wondered if this would be the last one I'd read for a long time.  Fortunately, Phantom seems to get back to some of the more exciting style of writing that originally drew me in.  While not perfect, it's definitely a welcome change in direction.

Lucas Davenport is somewhat coerced into looking into the murder of a young gothic'ish woman, the mother of which is a friend of his wife, Weather.  He figures he can make a few calls, sound like he's interested, and then let the regular cops carry on with their investigation.  But before he can make much of an effort, another goth murder occurs, and there appear to be ties to the daughter.  After the third killing in just a few days, Davenport is completely committed to the case, not knowing if they are random incidents or all tied back to the daughter.  There's an incredible lack of evidence in the killings, and he's forced to look at things in ways he normally wouldn't consider.  And one of those ways seems to point back to a person who would seemingly be above reproach...

In the earlier Davenport novels, you saw a lot of mind games and interesting trails of though due to Lucas's background as a game designer.  But since he's been put into management, there seems to be less of that element, and I think it was the piece that made the novels special.  Phantom seems to drift back more to that core premise, and there are plenty of psychological twists and turns going on.  And once Sandford lets it be known who the killer is, the head games really begin.

I'm hoping that Phantom Prey marks a return to the Lucas Davenport style of the earlier books in the series.  If so, I'll definitely keep reading along.  Otherwise, I could easily start missing new episodes without too much regret.

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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