Review: Escape Clause by John Sandford

Escape Clause by John Sandford is the 9th installment of the Virgil Flowers series. 

Virgil Flowers, once a bit player in John Sandford’s Prey series, has become the starring character in his own series, which is in its 9th installment with Escape Clause. Flowers is an unconventional investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension who, in previous entries, has been involved in some fast-paced thrillers.

This time around, an endangered species is at risk. Two tigers have been stolen from the Minnesota Zoo. Flowers learns that “the tiger’s real value—they’re Amur tigers, and they’re rare in the wild—would be as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.” Readers know whodunit from page one, but that doesn’t destroy the suspense, which comes down to the ticking clock pressuring Flowers ever forward in hopes of finding the tigers before they become so much grist for the Chinese medicinal mill. 

The theft of the tigers forces Flowers into dealing with a truly demented killer. Sordid encounters between the bad guys abound, and there are some really nasty murders committed by the lead sociopath, Readers get a peek into his twisted internal dialogues:

Killing people was actually a pain in the ass. Kill somebody, and there were all kinds of logistics to work out; how to keep your DNA off the victim, how to get rid of the body, what to do with the dead man’s car. The last matter was particularly perplexing. You could drive the car someplace and drop it off, though you’d have to be careful about DNA and fingerprints. But you wouldn’t want to drop it off near the murder scene, and if you didn’t, how did you get back to your own car? Walk? That seemed inefficient. Take a taxi? Then you had a witness. He was sure there were ways to do it, but he’d have to research it on the Internet.

If it’s not the car, it’s the victim. What to do with a dead body. A sociopath is never far from a reprehensible solution.

Wait, a hungry tiger? He had 240 pounds of fresh meat. [The victim] was heavily built, especially from the waist down and one of his legs probably weighed between forty-five and fifty pounds. . . . Removing the legs would seriously reduce the load, he thought, and all the tools for doing that were right here in the barn. . . . He looked at the cat. “Got the munchies?”  

There’s a sub plot involving Virgil’s now longtime girlfriend Frankie and her dimwitted sister, Sparkle (yes, that’s really her name), who is doing research for her PhD dissertation about seasonal migrant labor. Sparkle seems to think it’s okay to blunder into a pickle factory, endangering the workers there, as long as she can write about the adventures in her dissertation. Seems to me the Institutional Review Board at the University of Minnesota might look askance at this “research.”

Sparkle’s misadventures lead to disaster for Frankie, who is beaten and has her house nearly burned down. Flowers sets out to hunt down the culprits. He is known for disliking firearms, but the cop taking lead on Frankie’s case, Catrin Mattson, says to Virgil, “Get your gun on.” Virgil replies by saying, “Such a fascist impulse…But okay.” 

He’ll follow Mattson’s lead, but he has other ways of exacting revenge on those who have hurt Frankie. In pursuit of the bad guys, Virgil ends up with two badly sprained ankles, but I expect Frankie’s ministrations will have him fit as a fiddle for the 10th installment of the series.


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Susan Amper, author of How to Write About Edgar Allan Poe, still mourns the loss of her Nancy Drew collection.

Read all posts by Susan Amper on Criminal Element.


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