I was thinking back over the years to the beginning of Sandford’s “Prey” series, the engrossing and tightly-constructed thrillers that have earned the author a legion of fans, the beginning of Lucas Davenport’s popularity as a major protagonist, an investigator for Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Although Sandford has created other characters and series, none seems
to have been as similar to the Davenport persona as Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Virgil Flowers, an independent albeit colorful lawman respected by those around him and fearless in the face of danger, the next generation as Davenport matures and is much more involved with the politics of his job.
Both men are impressive, with unique personalities and the special skill set required by their jobs. Flowers, unmarried and fond of his off-duty hobbies, most recently keeps company with Frankie Noble and her brood of children, a spirited woman who gives Virgil a run for his money.
While Frankie becomes peripherally involved with some trouble her visiting sister stirs up at a local
canning factory perhaps exploiting immigrant labor, the real focus in Escape Clause involves the kidnapping of two protected Amur tigers from the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley. The theft and elaborate escape plan involve a complicated plot to carry out a heinous scheme by local thieves, funding by a Chinese millionaire from California and his son and enforcement by a large family of Armenian brothers who arrive unexpectedly, threatening vengeance for perceived grievances against family members.
The thriller opens on the night of the tiger heist, when the meticulously synchronized plan is executed by three men in dark clothing, each step achieved without incident. News of the disappearance of these endangered Amur tigers provokes outrage from the public.
Authorities fear the prized animals have either been spirited out of the country or, worse, may be butchered, their organs sold on the illegal market of specialized Chinese medicine. Such rare and near-extinct animals are particularly valued for the potency of their organs
as a cure for impotence and various other ailments. Beginning an investigation with virtually no leads, it is Virgil’s task to find the animals before they leave the country or are destroyed for their value on the illegal drug market.
Familiar characters return in Escape Clause: detectives Jenkins and Shrake; the memorable Catrin Mattsson, who survived capture and near-death in a former case; advice from Lucas Davenport and the various law enforcement officials brought into the search by Flowers as he coordinates a massive effort to rescue the tigers. The network of criminals behind the elaborate scheme are a wild assortment of personalities, from the purveyors of exotic Chinese medicine to the greedy three who engineer the kidnapping, expecting to garner an obscene profit from the organs of the protected animals. Bouncing between his assigned case and the violence that predictably erupts at the canning factory Frankie’s sister plans to expose, Flowers is spread thin but determined to track down the tigers and save them from a terrible fate. Generally more country than city folk, Virgil’s territory is particular to rural situations and characters, a place where loyalty is important and passions run deep, the very heart of Virgil’s lifestyle and law enforcement career.