I intended to start out this post by disparaging series, as I generally don’t enjoy them. Often it seems like authors continue them long past their intended expiration date for monetary gain. This irks me. I included often in the previous sentence so as not to offend anybody. Some readers really do get attached to characters and feel like they’re visiting a beloved family member when a new entry arrives – I appreciate this. However, this is not the case with me. Except…there’s always an exception. My exception is John Sandford. I’ve been reading his novels for over half my life. And like most things I adore (Stephen King, The X-Files, Bob Dylan), I started enjoying his novels when I was very, very young. To be quite honest, the Prey series was highly influential in my development as a reader. Because not only did I stumble upon it at a very young age, I also fell in love with the series at a very young age. Sandford’s novels are what I compare all other serial crime fiction to – and few live up to his consistently excellent writing.
His latest release, ‘Storm Front’: a Virgil Flowers novel, is no exception. In the seventh entry in the series, Virgil is searching for a stele – one that could change the interpretation of the bible – that was stolen from Israel and smuggled into Minnesota. The man who stole it, a minister with terminal cancer, is being hunted by, well, seemingly everyone – Virgil, the Israelis, Hezbollah, a couple of Turkish people, the media, a local thief, and Texans…
While the Prey series is longer and better developed (currently at 23 books), the Virgil Flowers novels are entertaining. Because I am a bit under the weather*, I’m going to keep this simple. If you like crime fiction with dry humor, consider reading a John Sandford novel. If you prefer you’re lead character fairly rugged, a bit edgy, and well-dressed, read the Prey series. If you prefer your lead to be blond, handsome, and really into fishing (with widely varied music t-shirts and a penchant for writing), try a Virgil Flowers novel. You can’t lose with either choice, but if you’re not convinced, here are ten reasons why you should give John Sandford (and Storm Front) a try.
10. Although he’s always funny, Storm Front is a black comedy. Aside from the terminally ill thief, there are no deaths in the novel. This is refreshing, as the last Flowers novel I read could’ve been subtitled “Is there anyone still alive in Minnesota?”.
9. Throughout the series, Virgil has worn many music t-shirts. A few of my favorites: Pogues, Modest Mouse, Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Bif Naked, Sebadoh, Wolfmother, and Freelance Whales**.
8. The food cravings generated by these novels are intense. It’s not foodie fiction by any means, but the characters eat junk food that I haven’t touched in years – cheeseburgers, fries, coke, etc. I haven’t had any meat from a cow in close to a decade. I would probably feel like I was going to die if I ate a cheeseburger, but my god do they seem appealing when Virgil eats one.
7. The dialogue and characters are excellent, the plot is well-executed, and the novel ends rather cheerily.
6. Pinking shears. This one is specific to the Prey series.
5. I enjoy the crossover between all of Sandford’s novels. Davenport regularly appears in Flowers’ series (and vice versa) and occasionally Kidd pops up too.
4. The Prey series, like so many others, has been utterly destroyed in film. If you’re like me, occasionally you find it fun to watch a favorite novel turned into complete rubbish. All in good fun…
3. Because everyone needs a colorful nickname…That Fuckin’ Flowers. I don’t have one, but I want one now (although Virgil earned his from being a bit of a cad).
2. John Sandford comes highly recommend by Stephen King. A Prey novel makes an appearance in King’s latest, ‘Doctor Sleep’. There is something very satisfying when two of your favorite authors intertwine in an unexpected way.
1. Ultimately, the novels are well written and charming (if you’d use such a word in regards to crime fiction). I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Sandford novel. While Storm Front*** certainly isn’t my favorite, I truly enjoyed the time I spent reading. That’s all I ask for.
While none of Sandford’s series need to be read in order, I’d suggest doing so – just for fun. If you don’t want to read it because I say so, read it because Stephen King says so. Author recommendations have worked very well for me as of late. On John Irving’s recommendation, I read ‘& Sons’ – truly excellent. On Richard Russo’s recommendation, I picked up Maggie Shipstead’s wonderful debut novel ‘Seating Arrangements’. On Joe Hill’s recommendation, I discovered Joe R. Lansdale’s books. I guess blurbs can be persuasive if the right name is attached to it. If you see your favorite author recommending a novel, do you pick it up? And are there any really fantastic series that I should take a chance on?
This novel is best served with a burger. I won’t join in on this one, but I’ll probably fantasize a little. Maybe try a turkey burger instead.
*I suppose one good thing about this being a personal blog is that if I write a sub-par post I can just say “hey, I’m sick, please forgive me”. So…please forgive me?
**Included not because I particularly like them, I don’t (far too…hipster?), but because one of the band members legitimately plays the glockenspiel.
***As per usual, but not always, I was given a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.