Holy Ghost by John Sandford
Virgil Flowers is at it again. Everywhere the hippyesque Minnesota BCA detective goes, he finds major trouble. It’s never simple with Virgil. On this occasion he is sent to investigate two shootings in the one-horse town of Wheatfield. No one has died, yet, but the authorities are worried that that might change.
Wheatfield was typical of many mid-western towns in that it was dying. Businesses fled the economic downturn and no new ones were interested in relocating. The residents had resigned themselves to the eventual death of their place. But then came the Virgin Mary.
Mary, the mother of God, decided to appear in a neglected Catholic Church in Wheatfield (she never appears in any other sort; wouldn’t it be a laugh if she appeared in a mosque or synagogue, that would confuse everyone) and the apparitions have generated a massive surge of interest in both church and town. It has given new life and sense of hope to the locals, some of whom are making quite a lot of money from the miracles. Hmm… Virgil is suspicious, but not there to find out why Mary came to Minnesota.
Wardell Holland is the Mayor of Wheatfield. He’s a military vet with a laidback approach to life. Elected as a joke by the citizenry, Wardell has stayed on ever since. His young friend, the 17-year-old John Jacob Skinner, has brains and creativity. He’s also a very big hit with the local ladies, even those with husbands. Skinner and Holland are the two who seem to benefit most from the Marian apparitions. But as dodgy as both appear to Virgil, he likes them. Neither knows anything about the shootings and are genuinely concerned that if the danger continues then visitors to the church will dwindle and disappear. Bad for the town and bad for them.
During his inquiries, Virgil gets to meet a host of quirky characters who all have their opinions as to why someone is targeting apparently innocent people. There seem to be more opinions than people. Is it because of religious jealousy or fanaticism? Is it sex? Is it a lunatic? Or is it the biggest one of all, money? Virgil listens to them in his usual casual manner, taking on board the information they innocently provide him with. Then matters take an even darker turn.
Virgil is calling on Glen Andorra, who runs the local rifle-range, when he makes a gruesome discovery. Andorra has been murdered in his home. It appears as if he knew his killer. It also seems as if he was having an affair with a local woman that no one knew anything about. The BCA officer is at a loss to understand what’s happening. But Virgil has his own ways of eliciting information from locals. Danielle Visser, the local hairdresser, is one such source. Of course it doesn’t hurt that she likes to stick her breast in Virgil’s ear when cutting his hair, even if her husband happens to be present. ‘Jeez, Danny, get your tit out of his ear’, her husband frequently tells her. This type of comment is typical of Virgil Flowers stories in that there is always an underlying sense of humour throughout that doesn’t detract from the narrative but adds considerably to it. It’s a reasonably light-hearted read.
When Margery Osborne, a local Catholic and pillar of society, is shot dead outside the church, a greater sense of urgency grips Virgil. It looks as if the killer, if indeed the same person is responsible for all the shootings, has stepped up a gear. To make matters worse, there are the neo-Nazis outside of town who want to be badder than they really are. They might be the most incompetent fascists ever and prove to be a sorry distraction for Virgil. Throw in a stolen truck-load of Lego and the blackmail attempts of Larry Van Den Berg whose fiancé, Janet, is shagging the much-sought-after Skinner, and you can see how there is a recipe for a decent story. But Virgil Flowers novels are more than just decent, they are Grade A entertainment.
When Virgil eventually discovers the shooting point of the sniper, he begins to formulate a theory about how it all took place and who did it. Unfortunately, proving it is difficult and requires some out-of-the-box thinking. But there’s no better man than that ‘fucking Flowers’ to do it, even if he sometimes takes his time getting there.
The Virgil Flowers books are a delight. Flowers is a likeable character with a style all his own. He’s not one of those unrealistic Jack Reacher types with preternatural abilities. Instead, Flowers is a fairly normal fella, an everyman who screws up now and then but makes it right in the end. His colleagues are the same. They tease and verbally abuse one another as colleagues often do. It’s refreshing to meet people, even if fictional, who more properly represent the citizens of the US, as opposed to the mythical supermen and women of other books. If the US was being run by someone like Virgil Flowers then it would be in better shape than it is today. Virgil would likely arrest Trump and Clinton (husband and wife) given half a chance.
Holy Ghost has a number of plot-lines that complement one another perfectly. Virgil manages to provide romantic guidance and some match-making for one local man and a non-committed female neo-Nazi. He retrieves the Lego and apprehends the culprits. He deals with an abuser of women. He manages to stop the shootings and see justice done and he discovers the truth behind the apparitions. He also finds time to provide sexual satisfaction to his pregnant girlfriend, Frankie. What a guy!
John Sandford rarely disappoints with his stories. His fictional personalities are thoroughly engaging, the settings vivid and attractive and the plots intelligent. His writing is top-notch. He has managed to depict Middle America in a more realistic way without getting too dark or dystopian. Minnesota is the kinda place a person could live well, if they had a decent job. And Virgil Flowers is a cop with a good attitude, as opposed to those who shoot black people for being black. Rebel Voice imagines that there are few black people in Minnesota, but if there were, Virgil Flowers still wouldn’t be the type to shoot them and would arrest those who did. Nice man.
Rebel Voice recommends Holy Ghost. It’s a gripping reads that you won’t want to put down. Stephen King has described John Sandford as ‘One of the great novelists of all time’. Rebel Voice would concur with that statement. Holy Ghost will demonstrate why.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. This is yet another solid yarn from a master storyteller. Strong cast, locations and plot, it also has a smart sense of humour that will bring a smile to your face. Holy Ghost is a relevant but light read.