There's a quote on the front cover of Deadline from Stephen King which says: "If you haven't read Sandford yet, you have been missing one of the great summer-read novelists of all time." This didn't have quite the impact on me that was probably intended, firstly because it made me squirm slightly in teacher mode (surely that should be "the greatEST novelists of all time") and secondly, because for me, summer reading depicts light, easy but probably quite bland literature that is churned out to cater for holidaymakers who don't want to overtax their brains while lazing by the pool. I like my crime fiction to be gritty, fast-paced and spectacular with a complex plot that will keep me guessing right up to the last page. Would this deliver all that ?
Well, there's certainly a lot going on. Within a few chapters, we discover a dognapping ring with vigilante locals ready to tackle them all guns blazing, a journalist shot dead while out jogging and the immoral school board siphoning off millions of dollars at secret meetings. But depite all that, it actually seemed quite slow to start.
I felt that the main character - detective Virgil Flowers - had a huge amount of potential but seemed underdeveloped, probably because this is the eighth book featuring him but the first one that I've read. He's a likeable character and I love his wry sense of humour but I wanted to delve more into his psyche and his personal life.
As the plot developed, the pace picked up. Forget honour amongst thieves, the school board fraudsters are all quick to stab each other in the back, figuratively and almost literally, as the trap starts to spring closed on them, and I enjoyed watching Virgil manipulate them, stirring up a hornets' nest behind the scenes to help keep them on their toes and bring them out of the woodwork. The trouble with having three crimes to investigate, albeit related, is that they all seemed a bit too superficially dealt with. There were no great surprises and it all fizzled out with a whimper rather than a spectacular bang that had me gasping "wow, I didn't see that coming" !
It's still an entertaining read though - maybe Stephen King was spot on with his description after all. Or maybe I need to read the other books in the series and come back to give it a fair trial. I'll definitely be looking out for the next one, now that I've got to know the character, to see what happens to him next.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £20
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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