Mad River [Book Review]

Content warning: Rape, implied sexual content, death, violence and graphic content

Book Name: Mad River
Series: Virgil Flowers Book # 6
Author: John Sandford
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle
Obtained: Amazon
Pages: 418
Genre: Fiction > Mystery > Crime, Thriller
Start Date: 06.03.2020, Restarted reading on 06.26.2020
End Date: 06.28.2020

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Goodreads Summary:

Link to Book’s Goodreads Page: >HERE<

Bonnie and Clyde, they thought. And what’s-his-name, the sidekick. Three teenagers with dead-end lives, chips on their shoulders, and guns. The first person they killed was a woman during a robbery. The second was incidental. Simply in the way. Then, hell, why not keep on going?

It’s not until Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Virgil Flowers steps onto the Shinder murder scene that the clues begin to come together. As their crime spree cuts a swath through rural Minnesota, it’s a growing army of cops who join Virgil in trying to run them down. But even Virgil doesn’t realize what’s about to happen next.

Thoughts and Review:

Virgil isn’t even a few hours out of vacation and Davenport is already calling in about a bad one; two deaths, a man and his wife, along with two more on Friday night over in Bigham for a total of 4 deaths and he needs to get over there and investigate them immediately. A few hours later, mostly sober from his night out at the bar, discussing musicians, he finally heads out.

Another thrilling book, though not much of a mystery this time around. Sandford has a signature of sorts to reveal the bad guys to us readers early on via their own POV chapters. Sometimes we, the readers, already know who the criminal is (though the cops do not) but this time, Virgil is able to quickly confirm the murderer’s identities and instead of a “who’s the bad guy” it’s a mad chase. In this book, Virgil and the local sheriff spend their time trying to track down the trio rather than spend a good chunk guessing who might be behind all of this.

In Mad River, we have ourselves a fictional Bonnie and Clyde (and another character) going on a killing spree through the Minnesota countryside. It starts off with a single murder, a bank robbery gone wrong. The killing of Agatha was a little strange as Agatha had been hit and was already down on the ground and the trio couldn’t be identified as they had their flashlights pointed at the two women’s faces. Thus, Agatha’s death seemed pretty unnecessary, but as the story expands, we get to see a larger role involved in her murder. On their way to their getaway car, they gun down another victim, Emmett Williams and steals his car (seeing as their own junk car didn’t ignite). It had started off as a burglary but ended up in two deaths resulting in the trio going on the run.

Virgil arrives to investigate the 4 deaths, starting with the husband and wife, Mr. Welsh and Mrs. Welsh, and eventually moving to Agatha and Emmett. In a small town where everyone knows everyone the fingers quickly point to the Jimmy and Becky; infamous troublemakers back in high school. Everybody in town knew Becky for her good looks, Jimmy for being the biggest bully in school, and both for not being the brightest kids around, while who Tom was was a mystery to most folks.

With no solid reason or evidence to convict the three, Virgil turns to try and find them as leads…but nobody can find them. Not much blind guessing is needed, however as everywhere they stop to steal money or supplies leaves behind a new body. With every body comes one or two missing vehicles, each of which is broadcasted to the world, hoping someone would spot them and report them in. When one of the trio calls Virgil and confessing themselves to be the one of the three responsible for all the shootings, they finally have solid confirmation that the three kids are behind the killings and it turns into a chase and duck hunt to get to the Jimmy Sharp, Becky Welsh, and Tom McCall before they get to someone else. As the search drags on, more and more people are killed as the three search for food, money, weapons, and whatever tools they can get on hand to aid their escape. It’s after a bank robbery gone wrong, where an officer is shot and killed, that the three realize how deeply in trouble they are and how bleak their future now looks. Now wanted fugitives, their chances at escaping alive becomes slimmer and slimmer.

All the while, Virgil digs deeper into Agatha’s death and starts to suspect more to behind her death than just a robbery gone wrong. Towards the middle, the book splits off between chasing Beck and Jimmy and Virgil investigating the circumstances behind Agatha’s murder with both cases being a thrill to follow.

The deaths in this book are pretty gritty, especially the ending scene (what horrifying imagery). Shaking away their first murder, they start to get used to all the killing. Raising a gun at another person becomes almost easy. They were already wanted by everyone everywhere, what was one more body for a pack of pills right? They aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, as noted multiple times throughout the book. They make dumb decisions and leave trails of easy evidence behind them. These were aimless kids with unfortunate backgrounds growing up to be young adults who dreamed big but didn’t have the necessary tools to push them in the right direction. Instead, they make one bad decision after another only to fall deeper and deeper into the crime. Of course, it’s no excuse for what they did.

He remembered a bumper sticker he’d seen in St. Paul that said: “Remember: Half the People Are Below Average.” That, he thought, was probably the key to Jimmy Sharp and Becky Welsh. They were below average, and God had made them that way. There was no way that they were ever going to be anything but that; they could watch all the above-average people they wanted, on television, driving around in big cars and making enormous amounts of money out of nothing . . . or just working at the post office, or going to trade school to be plumbers or carpenters. They’d never be able to do that. They were condemned from birth to a life of hard times and trouble. If people were to tell the truth about Becky, her only route to a condition even resembling prosperity would be to sell herself for sex. That was all she had. The problem with that, morality aside, was that she probably wasn’t bright enough to make the most of selling herself. As for Jimmy—Jimmy had no chance at all. Abused as a child, neglected in school, he probably couldn’t drive a nail. Or generate the ambition to do it.


– Sandford, John. Mad River (A Virgil Flowers Novel, Book 6) (pp. 352-353). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[[On Virgil Flowers pondering about God, life, and unfair circumstances that might have been one of the causes on why Becky and Jimmy turned out to be the way they are.]]

Virgil, being the son of a Presbyterian minister, has a moral code far stronger than Sheriff Duke (who I started to hate more and more, and who I honestly loathed by the end) and, though he had a few other reasons for doing so, he did his very best to try and bring Becky, Jimmy, and Tom in alive. He’s constantly pondering about God, often thinking about him before he drifts off to sleep at night. Throughout this book, he thinks a lot about God and why people like Jimmy and Becky exist/turn out the way they are now, why they kill people at random, and why people are killed at random. He ponders about if God is a universal computer who is subject to bugs and glitches. He wonders about how, no matter how hard they try, Becky and Jimmy simply weren’t meant to be anything more than below average.

“What part could they have in God’s plan? Were they simply put here to kill people at random, because, for some people, people needed to be killed at random?”

– Sandford, John. Mad River (A Virgil Flowers Novel, Book 6) (p. 352). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It took me about 3 days to gobble up this book…like I do with all of John’s books. A fantastic thriller where you get to see Virgil chasing the slippery trio only to find their victims instead (as it turns out there are plenty of places to hide in the vast Minnesota countryside). The cops are getting frustrated, Virgil is getting frustrated and very desperate to reach them before the others, civilians are worried and locking up, guarding doors with their guns, the media is in a piranha frenzy (when are they not), and the Governor and BCA staff are getting frustrated and are starting to take heat for not putting an end to this in a timely matter.

It was a great read and I can’t wait to grab book 7. So far, Virgil and Sandford has yet to disappoint me. I loved reading this and easily finished the book. This time though, the ending left a bit of bitterness in my mouth that I can’t fully describe. I felt both unsatisfied and very satisfied at the same time. Happy but also very upset (for how both cases ended). ​It’s the wallowing sad and empty feeling that stems from knowing that, because of the circumstances (and a certain a**hat) this was the best ending you could have possibly gotten.

6 thoughts on “Mad River [Book Review]

Add yours

  1. Ooh what a fantastic review! This book sounds so intriguing. Sometimes the chases are more exciting than figuring out the mystery, especially when us as the readers know who is behind it. I haven’t come across this series before but definitely sounds like one to be adding to the list. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🥰 This series is a spin off to Sandford’s main series Prey series. Definitely check them out! I’m biased to like this series more (most seem to like the main series more) but only because I happened upon Virgil first.

      Liked by 1 person

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