Sanfordís novel begins with violence: the deliberate murder of Jacob Flood in a grain elevator by a young man with a brilliant athletic career ahead of him. So why would Bob Tripp throw it all away in a moment of revenge? When Sheriff Lee Coakley of Warren County drives to the residence of Virgil Flowers of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to personally request his assistance, she has no ready answers. Nor does she know why Tripp died from an apparent suicide in his cell overnight. Neither sheriff nor agent can riddle the next death: another apparent suicide - the deputy in charge when Tripp died. Now there are a trio of deaths, all probably murder, all tied to a dark secret that is worth killing - and dying - to keep quiet.
Virgil Flowers is the literary stepchild of Sandfordís popular Lucas Davenport (of Prey series fame) and the next incarnation of his engaging protagonists who excel in detection but have sufficient human flaws to render them consistently interesting. Sporting an unlikely name, Flowers nonetheless is just as tough, just as clever and just as irresistible to the women he encounters - in this case the newly-divorced Sheriff Coakley. Between them, they marshal the resources and imagination to confront a truly ugly scenario carefully obscured behind a religion brought to America from Germany generations ago. A fourth death, that of a young farm girl, provides the critical link, but the evidence to break through a wall of silence remains impenetrable.
The folks in Warren County are hardworking, good people, starkly realistic and devout in their beliefs, slow to judge their neighbors and given to keeping their own counsel. But if Coakley and Flowers are correct in their suspicions and an insular group of families under the banner of the World of Spirit have crossed the line, they will find no shelter from the wrath of outraged neighbors, the World of Law smashing any pretense of spiritual practices. All of this is moot without a single witness or evidence to shine the light on the activities of certain powerful men. Even as Flowers chats up the locals at the Yellow Dog coffee shop, itís nothing more than speculation without a break, gossip not admissible in court.
Sandfordís particular skill is in taking the crime and linking it to irrefutable proof, with all the interesting detours along the way. What remains hidden in the snow-covered farm country is as heinous as any of manís outrages against his own society, evil hidden behind an American Gothic faÁade, but evil nonetheless.