THE BOOK NOOK: John Sandford proves once again that he is Mr. Mystery

“Deep Freeze” by John Sandford (Putnam, 391 pages, $29). CONTRIBUTED
“Deep Freeze” by John Sandford (Putnam, 391 pages, $29). CONTRIBUTED

“Deep Freeze” by John Sandford (Putnam, 391 pages, $29).

When I interview authors, I sometimes ask them to name books that they have liked. I’m looking for reading suggestions. Crime fiction writers frequently cite John Sandford as one of their favorites.

Sandford has earned the admiration of his peers by consistently producing novels that are tightly plotted and highly compelling. The author’s “Prey” series has dominated the best-seller lists for decades. Ten years ago the author took a character from that series, a cop named Virgil Flowers, and spun him into his own stand-alone series.

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The 10th book featuring Virgil Flowers is “Deep Freeze.” In this one Virgil is doing what he often does — investigating a homicide in Minnesota. As this book opens a man is about to become a murderer.

He didn’t mean to do it. This was a crime of passion. He had the passion. She didn’t. She resisted. He struck back a bit too hard.

Oops. Does he admit what he did? Nope. He flees.

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Virgil is called in to investigate the murder of a woman found floating in the river. It is winter in Minnesota, and there’s a spot by a water-treatment facility where the river is ice-free. The body surfaced there. It is the same woman.

We observed the perpetrator in action. The guy who did it is a successful local businessman. This man has a thriving pest-control business and owns the local doughnut emporium. He fled leaving his victim lying on the floor. We have our first mystery. How did she end up in the river? The killer didn’t do that? Virgil is perplexed. So are we.

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This series is entertaining mostly because Virgil is so darned laid back. The protagonist of Sandford’s “Prey” series, a humorless cop named Lucas Davenport, is a fellow with expensive tastes in clothes, cars, houses and the like. Virgil is his opposite. He dresses like a cowboy hippy and has a fabulous wit.

Virgil knows the town of Trippton. He’s had a case there before. As he arrives, he finds another investigation under way. A private eye is trying to identify and prosecute some people who have been tampering with Barbie dolls. The owners of the Barbie trademark are spending a lot to curtail the activities of whoever it is that is re-installing devices that make the dolls utter salacious statements. The altered dolls have become a hot commodity on the black market and the Barbie people are not amused.

This story is not really a whodunnit. The murderer is out there in the open, acting all innocent. We know he did it but Virgil doesn’t. So who moved the body and why? Who is bootlegging those erotic Barbies?

Virgil is there to solve the murder. The doll investigation becomes a painful distraction for him. Sandford has penned another pulsating page-turner.