JOHN SANDFORD – Storm Front. G. P. Putnam’s, hardcover, October 2013. Berkley, premium paperback, October 2014.

   Some of the reviews of this book on Amazon give it only one star, claiming that Sandford has sold them out, that he had someone else write it for him. This is based on the dedication, which is to Michelle Cook (now his wife) for her help in writing it and that she is now a novelist.

   Well, I can understand how other readers might feel about this. Many of them claimed to have noticed the difference in writing style within the first couple of chapters. I’m not at all surprised about this. I looked at the dedications that Sandford included in other books in his Virgil Flowers series — this is the seventh — and in them he thanks any number of other individuals for their help in writing them. What input that Sandford had in any of them remains unknown, but on the basis of the evidence, I’d say perhaps some sort of supervisory capacity, but little more than that.

   Virgil Flowers is the only agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in the southern part of the state, his immediate superior being Lucas Davenport, the leading protagonist of Sandford’s primary series of “Prey” books, each with a two-word titles ending in that word. My sense is that Flowers was a recurring character in those books before he headed off for his own adventures.

   What the Object of Interest is in Storm Front is an ancient sacred stele, an artifact stolen from an archaeological dig in Israel and brought to the US by a local (Minnesotan) college professor who is dying of cancer. What makes it so valuable is that the inscriptions on it suggest Solomon, the greatest king of the Jews, may actually have been Egyptian, turning the Middle East into even more of an uproar of religious hatreds.

   So all kinds of people are on Professor Jones’s trail as well. Israelis, some of whom may be Mossad agents, Hezbollah agents, Turks, Syrian, all kinds of collectors of curios and other arcane objects, TV personalities, plus a good (and good-looking) friend of Virgil’s named Ma Nobles, who has five or kids with maybe as many fathers, a bountiful bustline, and — even though Virgil is investigating her in regard to some fake antique lumber scheme she is cooking up — an IQ of some 150 or more.

   In spite of the controversy mentioned in the first paragraph above, I read the book on its own merits, as I always do. The first 200 pages were fine. Very enjoyable, I thought. Lots of action, lots of sly humor, interesting characters. What are they complaining about?

   Unfortunately at 200 pages in, this was only the halfway point. There were still 200 pages left to go. This is the point at which I think the author lost control of the book. The humorous byplay along the way seemed shoved aside to concentrate on the story, which was spinning its wheels, going nowhere fast. The characters, which were so fresh and new in the first half, suddenly began to fade and lose their personality, and they became far less interesting.

   What really goes wrong is that there are simply too many characters, and as a reader, I began to feel manipulated when they began to pop up only when they were needed before popping back out again. To tell you the truth, I’m not exactly sure how the story ended, but without a scorecard, I’d long stopped caring about who the characters were, and what they ended up with.

   And at length the story did end, but in a strange anti-climactic finale that I found myself totally indifferent to. This is difficult to say, as it was obviously one the author had in mind all along, but frankly, it just didn’t work for me.