Book Review: Escape Clause

The many fans of Virgil Flowers should rejoice at his ninth appearance.

A detective whose beat can be anywhere across Minnesota, Virgil is a member of the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension (a sort of state equivalent of the FBI, operating across local jurisdictions).

Virgil is never left to enjoy his rural torpor for long. Although he often travels towing a boat, he regularly finds his beloved fishing interrupted by his boss Lucas Davenport landing him with a case. What cases they are!

This is no exception. Thieves have stolen two very rare (and dangerous) Amur tigers from the Minneapolis Zoo and they executed the heist with mathematical precision. There are signs of collaboration from inside the zoo (the tiger thieves possessed a copy of a vital key) but in general Virgil soon deduces that the thieves are from out of town.

While there is early talk of ‘animal activists’, the kidnappers remain silent; no demands are made. Virgil is soon confirming the worst fears of the zoo’s staff: the tigers have been stolen for their body parts.

John Sandford has often introduced his readers to social evils of one kind or another although the lesson is always concealed within the beguiling trappings of a thrilling police procedural. Here the evil exposed is the trade in rare species body parts on the Asiatic market which is not confined of elephants’ tusks or rhino horns: when rare tigers are harvested everything has a cash value and nothing is left.

The male and female tiger are together worth to their captors at least $250,000 on an insatiable but clandestine trade in ‘medical supplies’.

The pressure on Virgil and his team, which includes those two affable heavyweights Jenkins and Shrake, is intense from the start because all Minnesota’s animal lovers are desperately hoping the tigers will be saved alive. As usual in a Sandford novel we are in the position not only of seeing the investigation from Virgil’s perspective but also from time to time from the perspective of the thugs, and especially of the mild-mannered but spaced-out master-mind of the crime.

A struck-off doctor, now a ‘specialist’ in traditional medicine, he first appears as a person worth consulting but Virgil’s bloodhound nose picks up a faint but interesting scent. Of course, as usual suspicions are one thing but evidence is a very different matter. The 600 pounds male tiger is killed very early but the female – just as deadly as the male – cannot be killed until the first is meticulously harvested.

Meanwhile she watches – and waits. Read on!

Author: John Sandford
Publisher: Putnam

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