Deep Freeze by John Sandford is the 10th book in the Virgil Flowers series, where Virgil finds out that class reunions are a time for memories—good, bad, and deadly (available October 17, 2017).
The 10th Virgil Flowers mystery opens with our grief-stricken killer going over the death of banker Gina Hemming in his mind. It had been an accident, but he’d been too overcome with shame to do the right thing and call it in. Instead, he staged her death as a fall down her stairs. So when her body is ice-fished out of the local river a few days later, even he is flummoxed by the news.
Enter the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Virgil Flowers. He’s on vacation, but his boss, Jon Duncan, knows of Virgil’s history with the town of Trippton where Gina Hemming lived. He successfully bribes Virgil into investigating the death, which looks to be connected to Hemming’s upcoming 25th high school reunion. As Virgil starts asking around, he soon discovers that there are about 25 years of drama and bad blood that might very well have culminated in Gina’s death.
Add to this another case the governor himself wants Virgil to assist with: The Mattel Toy Company has discovered that someone based in Trippton is manufacturing sex toys based on their Barbie and Ken dolls. They've sent the Los Angeles-based private investigator Margaret Griffin to serve a cease-and-desist order to an elusive Jesse McGovern, the only name they can connect to the knock-offs. Trouble is, Margaret can’t find Jesse, and none of the locals are interested in helping—not even the local Sheriff Purdy. Purdy explains why to Virgil:
“If you ever [run for office], this is what you’ll find out,” Purdy said. “Every year, you piss off one percent of your constituents. No way around it. They’ll vote against you every chance they get. I’ve been sheriff for twenty years, so there’s twenty percent of the electorate who’ll vote against me every chance they get.”
“I don’t think the math would work exactly like that,” Virgil pointed out. “Some of them you’d piss off twice.”
“Okay, okay, not exactly, but I try not to piss off influential people any more than I have to, and pointing you at Jesse would probably cost me five hundred votes,” Purdy said. “So I ain’t gonna do it. You want her, catch her on your own. To tell you the truth, if I were you, I’d catch whoever killed Gina Hemming and let Jesse McGovern slide. Catching her wouldn’t do nobody any good except some big corporation out in California. Which doesn’t have any votes in Buchanan County.”
He had a point, but somehow it didn’t seem entirely congruent with the American Way, the Rule of Law, and all that. But a job was a job, and times were bad in small out-of-state towns.
Jesse’s operation hires quite a few locals with no means of supporting their families otherwise, so Virgil, too, is inclined to let the case slide—until he himself is jumped by a gang of her female employees. It’s a terrific ethical conundrum handled well by John Sandford, who also details the investigation into the circumstances of Gina’s death with both empathy and intelligence. And above all, he infuses the proceedings with the sense of humor that has become a hallmark of the Virgil Flowers series.
The humor that permeates Deep Freeze is impressive in its range, from innocent dad jokes to the blackest humor, from the lowest form of scatological references to Elizabethan literature callbacks, as here, when Duncan has finally persuaded Virgil to take the case despite Virgil's upcoming plans with his girlfriend, Frankie:
“All right,” Virgil said. “If Frankie gets pissed, I’m gonna blame it on you.”
“That’s one of the fardels I must bear,” Duncan said.
“You must not be familiar with Hamlet,” Duncan said. “You know, by Shakespeare.”
“Oh, that one,” Virgil said.
“Yeah. One of my ancestors is in Macbeth.”
“I’ll buy a copy, maybe you can autograph it for me,” Virgil said. “I’ll call you back tomorrow night about the banker lady.”
“Virgil, I owe you.”
“You keep saying that, but you never pay off.”
“That’s one of your fardels,” Duncan said.
Deep Freeze is a wacky but heartfelt look at murder and mayhem in the Minnesota cold. For all its wry bluntness, it’s a gracious novel that doesn’t condescend to any of the characters it depicts, no matter how hard-up, self-sabotaging, or unlucky. Fans will also be pleased by the continuing developments in Virgil and Frankie's relationship; I certainly ended the book by saying “Aw!” out loud, and I’m very much looking forward to the next installment of this deservedly popular series.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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