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Virgil Flowers is to Lucas Davenport as Joe Pike is to Elvis Cole, or as Clete Purcell is to Dave Robicheaux, or as Hawk is to Spenser. If that makes sense, you have likely read novels by Robert Crais (Pike/Cole) or James Lee Burke (Purcell/Robicheaux) as well as by John Sandford, for whom Lucas Davenport has been a solid character, as he works away in Minnesota, solving crimes in the “Prey” series – sometimes with the help of his buddy Virgil Flowers, and sometimes without. And then sometimes Virgil gets his own novel (just as Joe Pike has, in the Crais series).

Escape Clause is the latest from John Sandford, and is the ninth featuring Virgil Flowers (aka “that fuckin’ Flowers”) as the protagonist. In this one, the story opens with a story about two rare, beautiful and extremely valuable tigers who have gone missing from the zoo, and Virgil is called in on the case. As is usual in Sandford’s books, this isn’t really a whodunit, as the facts of the crime are laid out from the get-go. It is more about the chase, and this one is doubly interesting – in addition to the “chasing the bad guys” story, there is the tension of whether the tigers will still be alive when they are located.

Along with trying to find and save the tigers, this book includes detail about Virgil’s relationship with his girlfriend Frankie and her sister Sparkle, who have moved in for the summer as she does research into migrant workers, which doesn’t go over well with some locals. As if that weren’t complicating enough, she thinks Virgil is quite a guy:
“You mess around with Sparkle,” Frankie told Virgil, “you could get yourself stabbed.”
     “She carries a knife?”
     “No, but I do.”

There are some repeat characters in this story and some mention of other people and events that have happened in earliet Sandford books, but this one easily stands on its own, and people new to Sandford should feel comfortable jumping in!

The side story about the migrant workers doesn’t really add to the main story, but perhaps we will see more of Sparkle or this issue in future Sandford books. This is straightforward entertainment that doesn’t demand too much of the reader, but offers a lot in the way of entertainment. I give it five stars just because I enjoy Sandford’s books, and this one is a good example of bringing in new people without diminishing the role of favorites such as Virgil.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.