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Dark of the Moon    by John Sandford order for
Dark of the Moon
by John Sandford
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Virgil Flowers is on his way to the small town of Bluestem to help local law enforcement solve the murders of an elderly couple. As he closes in on his destination, he sees emergency vehicles and throngs of spectators around a burning house high atop a hill overlooking Bluestem. Flower's inquiries reveal that an elderly wheelchair bound widower named Bill Judd likely perished in the blaze. He finds it odd that the only person showing any sort of emotion is the man's son, but soon learns why. Judd had been the mastermind behind a pyramid scam involving a number of local farmers. Many were forced into bankruptcy and one was eventually driven to suicide.

As Flowers begins poking around, he uncovers plenty more unsavoury secrets surrounding not only Judd, but various of his contemporaries. However, before Virgil can question them, the killer strikes again. Fear and mistrust escalates as the once trusting populace begin locking their doors and wondering who among them has murderous intentions. Virgil too becomes a target of the killer he recognizes as a psychopath. But the identity of the methodical murderer is harder to pin down as Virgil follows a lurid trail that involves old secrets, angry girlfriends, illegitimate children and a local evangelist who's got more than saving souls on his mind.

John Sandford has crafted a masterful spin-off in Dark of the Moon. Virgil Flowers graduates from his status as occasional secondary in Sandford's popular Prey series to an impressive new hero with potential for his own series. Flowers is as low key and easy-going as Davenport is flashy and intense, but underneath that country boy charm, he's just as tenacious as his BCA boss. All are traits that serve Virgil well as he ingratiates himself with the locals and then proceeds to inexorably sift through a growing abundance of small town secrets and lies. Sandford's gift for lean exposition, sharp dialogue, unique characterizations, dark humour, and plenty of red herrings, make Dark of the Moon another crackerjack thriller - here's hoping the likeable Virgil Flowers returns for another encore or two.

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