In just days Erica McDill was supposed to finally takeover the advertising agency Ruff-Harcourt-McDill in Minneapolis. With Ruff having died sometime back and Harcourt retired and finally willing to sell his stock to McDill the agency was almost in her grasp. Once he sold his shares, she would have seventy-five percent of the outstanding shares under her control and she would finally be able to get rid of the dead weight and move the agency forward. She was going to terminate employees at work and was thinking about terminating her relationship with her longtime lover, Ruth. The takeover of the agency would change everything and McDill had big plans. That was until a bullet tore through her head, ending her life, while she sat in a canoe-kayak hybrid on Stone Lake.

The bullet that ended McDill’s life ended Virgil Flowers’ vacation as well. Both Virgil and Johnson, his fishing buddy, were fishing in a tournament on Vermillion Lake in far northern Minnesota. With a fifteen year old girl, Little Linda Pelli, missing and resources tied up with that thanks to heavy media coverage, Lucas Davenport has no choice but to send Virgil to take a look. Not only is the local Sheriff, Bob Sanders, asking for help, McDill was a big Democrat and the Governor wants answers.  Virgil has no choice and leaves the tournament to conduct the investigation.

Beyond the fact that the killer made a very good shot to kill McDill, actual clues at the scene are few. The investigation isn’t completely dead as there are links to a local band and its lead singer, a local lodge known to be frequented by lesbians, and various residents of the area. Because of the lesbian lifestyle practiced by many of the characters and other factors, Virgil is constantly blatantly lied to and misdirected as he conducts an investigation that for most of the book goes nowhere fast.

In between taking shots at Fox News and Liberals (an interesting combination, obviously created to hide author’s feelings), Virgil spends much of the novel in pursuit of not only the case, but a certain married woman whose husband has temporarily left her. While the language isn’t as crude as it has been in several of the most recent Lucas Davenport novels, there are nearly constant references to lesbianism in this book which is certain to offend some readers. All the references to the lesbianism of many of the characters as well as his pursuit of the married woman slows down the small amount of action in the novel considerably while at the same time padding word counts and page lengths.

Clearly it is an effort to put Virgil in a bit of a bind. A notorious womanizer, Virgil has no chance of conquest with many of the female characters due to their lesbianism. In case the reader isn’t able to figure that fact out on his or her own, there are constant references to the situation and how difficult it must be for Virgil not to have a chance. Heterosexuality stands out in this novel and, of course, Virgil finds himself heavily attracted to the one character with an absent husband. The feeling is mutual because Virgil Flowers has that effect on all women—regardless of their sexual preference.

The Flowers series has never had the intensity of the “Prey” series books and that isn’t changed here. Virgil Flowers spends much of his time insulting various folks while conducting his investigation and chasing after the married woman when he isn’t investigating the crime.  “Rough Country” is weaker than the previous Flowers series novels (Dark of the Moon” and “Heat Lightening”), and one wishes that John Sandford would get back to the hard hitting suspense of the early “Prey” novels. This one not only doesn’t do that trick, it doesn’t rise to the level of a mediocre Lucas Davenport novel. If, as some have said, the various series are now being written by his son, it is unfortunate for the authors as well as readers.


Rough Country

John Sandford

Center Point Publishing



Large Print Hardback

447 Pages



Large print version provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System. Reviewed copy is set in 16-point Times New Roman type.


Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2009

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