Religious scammers take center stage in the new Virgil Flowers novel

Holy Ghost is the latest Virgil Flowers novel.

So, here’s Virgil Flowers again, called to another small Minnesota town to solve a mystery that has befuddled the local cops. This time it’s Wheatfield, home of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church where the Virgin Mary has miraculously appeared on several occasions. And that must be true, because many of the worshippers have captured her visitations with their cellphone cameras. But somebody has it in for those worshippers, because one of them has been shot in the leg with a rifle. This makes the town fathers exceedingly nervous, because if the perpetrator isn’t caught the pilgrims may stop coming to town and spending lots of money in the local store and Mom’s Cafe. Hence, the invitation to Virgil Flowers.

Religious scammers take center stage

Naturally, we’re well aware that the Virgin Mary’s visits are a fraud. We even know who’s behind the scheme. That would be Wardell Holland, Wheatfield’s mayor, and 17-year-old John Jacob Skinner. Skinner, who’s a part-time senior at the local high school, is something of a genius. The whole thing was his idea. And it was working really well until that lady got shot. Holland and Skinner have opened a store together, and business is booming.


Holy Ghost (Virgil Flowers #11) by John Sandford (2018) 383 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)


Virgil gets a lot of help

Now, since this is a Virgil Flowers novel, we can be sure that a lot more is going to happen than a single gunshot, and pretty fast. He’s not going to stick around Wheatfield for long because some religious pilgrim got shot in the leg. But, unsurprisingly, somebody else gets wounded outside the church. And then everything starts to unravel in Wheatfield. People start getting killed. Virgil’s now got a real puzzler on his hands, and he’ll solve the case only with the assistance of two of his colleagues in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as well as the local sheriff and his deputies. Oh, and both Holland and Skinner will lend a hand as well. After all, nobody has more at stake.

A jaundiced view of police

Virgil is, of course, a dedicated police officer. “‘Now, let me tell you about cops,” Virgil tells young Skinner. “‘There are a lot of good ones, but I couldn’t claim that they’re in the majority. Maybe a third of them are pretty good, another third are just getting through life, and the last third are bad. They’re poorly trained or burned-out, not too bright, have problems handling authority. You got cops who’ll hassle women for sex, use drugs, steal stuff . . . basically, criminals. But you get a job like mine, it’s interesting. And you’re doing some good.'”

Snappy and often funny dialogue

Holy Ghost, the 11th and most recent of the Virgil Flowers novels, is about as lighthearted a tale as you might imagine when the bodies start piling up. Virgil’s banter with his live-in girlfriend and his buddies in the BCA is often hilarious. The dialogue among other characters sounds entirely natural and is sometimes funny as well. John Sandford must have a lot of fun with this series.

About the author

John Sandford is the pen name of former journalist John Roswell Camp. He has authored four series of mystery novels, including the 11 Virgil Flowers books as well as the much more numerous Prey series (29 novels strong as of this date). He has lived in Minneapolis since 1978.

For additional reading

I’ve reviewed all the Virgil Flowers novels to date. You’ll find capsule reviews plus links to my full reviews at John Sandford’s excellent Virgil Flowers novels.

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