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Mad River

by John Sandford

Hardcover, 387 pages, Penguin Group USA, List Price: $27.95 |


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Mad River
John Sandford

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Book Summary

Investigator Virgil Flowers sets out after three teenagers on a killing and robbery spree through rural Minnesota.

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Awards and Recognition

1 week on NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Mad River

Jimmy Sharp stepped back from the curb and impatiently waved the car by, waved it by like a big shot, like he couldn't be bothered to assert his rights to the pedestrian crosswalk.

"We shoulda parked closer," Tom McCall said. "I'm freezing my ass off."

As the car went by, a woman driver peered out at the three of them. The overhead reading light was on, and she was wearing an overcoat, wool hat, and one black glove. Her bare hand was hold­ing a cell phone to her ear, and she was talking as she looked at them. A multitasker, headed for a three-car smashup somewhere down the line.

"One big problem there — somebody would have seen it, and put two and two together, and then we got a witness," Jimmy said. "Besides, the walk will warm you up."

"Glad I got the gloves," McCall said.

Becky Welsh said, "It's April, you fool. You don't need gloves for the cold. Just walk."

Jimmy had smoked a Marlboro down to the filter, and he snapped it into the street and bent into the task of climbing the hill, Tom and Becky on his heels, the three of them throwing splashy shadows in the pale April moonlight. Halfway up, Jimmy stopped to catch his breath, turned, and said, "That's a pretty sight of the town."

They all turned to look, the Bigham business district spread out below them, the county courthouse with its eternal flame, a few cars turning corners, flashing red lights on an ambulance heading into the hospital. The Minnesota River was down there, a black ribbon at the foot of downtown, not much more than a creek, really. They'd left Jimmy's Firebird in an apartment parking lot at the base of the hill, where they could get to it in a hurry.

"It is pretty," Tom agreed. Puffs of steam came out of their mouths, dissipating in the night air.

Jimmy took another cigarette out of the pack and tapped the tobacco end on a thumbnail, then cupped his hands to his mouth and lit it with an old Zippo lighter that left behind the stink of lighter fluid when he sparked it off. His square jaw looked yellow in the light of the flame; the trace of a ladder-stitched scar showed up on his chin, from the bad old hay-humping days down in Shin-der, when a piece of wire from an ancient baling machine lashed him like a whip.

He was wearing a green army field jacket that he'd bought at a flea market, with the collar up under his ears, and a blue Dodgers baseball cap with a big white LA on the front. He'd never been to LA, but he planned to go, someday soon. He'd manage Becky's career, and they'd both get rich and buy a Winnebago and tour around the country.

"Diamonds tonight," Becky said.

Tom said, "I don't know about this. It don't feel entirely right to me."

Tom was tall and wiry, and wore silver-rimmed glasses that he got from the three weeks he was in the navy. At the end of three weeks, one of the RDCs noticed the scale on his arms and asked, "Is that the heartbreak of psoriasis I see there?" It was, and Tom was out.

On this cold night, the psoriasis was concealed by a thin blue work shirt and an uninsulated leather jacket, the sleeves too short to cover Tom's bony wrists. With his black jacket and black jeans and black hair and glasses and big nose, he hovered around Jimmy and Becky like a cartoon crow.

"Don't be a pussy," Becky said.

"It's diamonds," Jimmy said. He rolled the words around the cigarette as he studied Tom's pinched face. "What's the matter with you? You look nervous. You nervous?"

"Naw, I'm not nervous, I just want things to go right," Tom said.

They crossed the top of the hill, heads down, hands in their pockets, around the curve and past George, past Arroyo. They were in the dark, with nobody around, a quarter to two o'clock in the morning, a sharp eye out for prowling cops. Jimmy had a pis­tol stuck in his waistband at the small of his back, and he reached back under his coat and touched it from time to time, a talisman of power. He'd never had one of those.

From Mad River by John Sandford. Copyright 2012 by John Sandford. Excerpted by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.