Virgil Flowers is hunting two very rare Amur tigers who have disappeared from the Minnesota Zoo. Apparently in some cultures, particularly the Chinese one, these rare animals are prized for their ability to heal many illness. Unfortunately, the tigers have to be killed, their organs and bones ground up to produce the medicinal healing powders. Solving the crime plunges Flowers into the underground world inhabited by predators who will steal and butcher any number of beasts for profit. On the other side are animal rights activist who resort to violence to stop these thieves.
Sandford (the pen name for John Roswell Camp), is known for his 26 “Prey” mysteries featuring Lucas Davenport. Escape Clause is his ninth with Flowers. While Flowers often works for Davenport, the two are polar opposites. Davenport, a career cop, doesn’t have to live on a cop salary after making a fortunate selling a Dungeons & Dragons-style video game. He’s known for driving fancy cars, wearing expensive suits, and having Minnesota’s governor on his speed dial. His wife, Weather, is a surgeon and they have four children. Flowers has an extensive collection of T-shirts celebrating various rock bands and musicians. He’s frequently found chasing criminals in cowboy boots (something that will create problems in this outing.) He loves to hunt and fish and often lives out of his car, on a boat, or with his latest girlfriend.
In Escape Clause that girlfriend is Frankie, whose sister, Sparkle, will add another complication to Flowers’ life. Sparkle is completing a PhD focusing on migrant workers in a caning factory. Management, however, doesn’t approve of her efforts and Frankie ends up taking the brunt of their displeasure when she’s attacked and beaten in a store parking lot. Flowers finds himself stretched thin – hunting for the tigers before they can be killed, and protecting Frankie and her sister.
Sandford’s books are always an enjoyable read and this one is no exception. He manages to select topics that are not only entertaining but manage to educate the reader. This time around, we learn about the dangers to exotic animals from those who cling to ancient beliefs that these creatures somehow are worth killing to cure a hangnail. No such evidence exists, but that doesn’t prevent some factions from offering to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for these powders and potions.
While plot is important, Sandford also creates flesh and blood characters that grow on us with each outing. The contrast between Davenport and Flowers also keeps us engaged. Opposites do attract, but Davenport and Flowers also share a disdain for those who break the law and will do whatever they can to stop them.
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