“That f—ing Virgil Flowers,” Vietnam vets, the CIA, and a serial killer

That f---ing Virgil Flowers: Heat Lightning by John Sandford

Virgil Flowers has the highest rate of closed cases of all the agents in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). But he’s no superhero. Virgil makes mistakes. He sometimes misreads suspects and jumps to conclusions. He misses clues. And it’s those mistakes that help propel the action forward at a fast clip in Heat Lightning. The novel is the second in what so far have been ten books in John Sandford’s outstanding Virgil Flowers series.

Sandford’s writing is addictive

Sandford’s writing is addictive. His characters are unfailingly interesting. The plots in his novels are always complex, and sometimes devilishly so. The dialogue is crisp and sounds natural. And, at least in the Virgil Flowers series, it’s sometimes funny.

Here, for example, is Virgil speaking with a bored young Vietnamese woman he has just met in the course of his investigation into a series of murders.


Heat Lightning (Virgil Flowers #2) by John Sandford (2008) 388 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)


“‘St. Paul would be a nice place to live if you had something to do. I don’t have anything to do,'” the young woman remarks.

“‘There’s always sex,’ Virgil said. ‘You’re away from home, where nobody knows you. You could indulge all your sexual fantasies and nobody would ever find out.’

“‘But who would I sleep with?’

“‘We could put a notice in the paper, ask for volunteers.'”

Virgil being Virgil, we can be confident that he will end up in bed with this young woman, who is, of course, extremely attractive. In fact, Virgil is likely to fall in love with her. He has a habit of doing that.

“That f—ing Virgil Flowers”

When others refer to Virgil, he is frequently called “that f—ing Virgil Flowers.” The man does stand out!

The case that has brought Virgil together with this young woman involves a series of murders connected in some way with an event in Vietnam in 1975, immediately following the departure of the last US troops. Two veterans of the war have been found dead of gunshots, propped up against Vietnam War monuments in small Minnesota towns. They both have lemons stuffed in their mouths. Virgil’s assignment is to track down the killers quickly enough to prevent any further killings.

As the action unfolds, a constellation of powerful forces and other seemingly unrelated players enter the stage. The CIA. The Vietnamese government. The Department of Homeland Security. The Red Lake Ojibwe. And the governor of Minnesota. Even a careful reader is likely to have difficulty predicting the course of events. As I said, John Sandford’s plots are sometimes devilishly clever.

For additional reading

I’ve also reviewed six other Virgil Flowers novels:

You’ll find reviews of all of John Sandford’s excellent Virgil Flowers novels by clicking here.

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John Sandford's best Virgil Flowers novel? | Mal Warwick Blog on Books - 3 years ago

[…] debut, arson, multiple murder, and a right-wing preacher. The second, Heat Lightning, is at “That f—ing Virgil Flowers,” Vietnam vets, the CIA, and a serial killer. You might also enjoy my post 48 excellent mystery and thriller series. This series is […]

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