Book Review: The Empress File by John Sandford

Posted November 29, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Empress File by John Sandford

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Empress File by John Sandford
Genres: Psychological Suspense
Published by Berkley on November 1, 1992
Pages: 356
Format: Paperback
Source: the library

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Also by this author: Rules of Prey, Shadow Prey, Eyes of Prey, Easy Prey, Chosen Prey, Invisible Prey, Phantom Prey, Wicked Prey, Gathering Prey, Dark of the Moon, Heat Lightning, Rough Country, Bad Blood, Shock Wave, Storm Front, Deadline, Extreme Prey, Escape Clause, The Fool's Run, Deep Freeze, Twisted Prey, Holy Ghost, Neon Prey, Bloody Genius, Masked Prey

Second in The Kidd psychological suspense series and revolving around a brilliant man whose computer hacking supports his art career. Based in Minneapolis, Kidd will sail down to Mississippi to right the wrongs of corruption.

My Take

Most of what I’ve been reading the last few years has been about detectives, private investigators, and that type of thriller-mystery-suspense, and it’s a bit of a twist to read of someone out for himself — Kidd has an interesting moral code. He mainly works to make money so he can continue to paint. He prefers to work on the side of good, and sometimes he’s the good. That attitude really comes out in The Empress File. A bit coldhearted, but also very realistic.

Of course, he can be as stupid as the rest of us too. His accountant sure is shaking her head. And the IRS would like a word.

It all starts in a small Southern town with trigger-happy cops who can’t be bothered when it’s a black person. A murder that riles up the disaffected. One of whom is a friend of Bobby Duchamps.

”’Goddamn it, Billy Lee,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘You went and shot yourself the wrong nigger.’”

It’s backroom deals, breaking-and-entering, and using a tarot deck to instill the “proper” motivation with a first person protagonist point-of-view from Kidd’s perspective. And it doesn’t take Kidd’s POV to ensure I understood that Hill and St. Thomas are jerks when they’re shooting kittens in a cage for fun.

That scheme to shake up the city council was a good ‘un and definitely causes greed to rear up. Sorry, I should have said “schemes”, ‘cause Kidd and LuEllen are mighty busy ticking people off.

There is a heavy price to pay for this clean-up, and it’s a case of eventually crime doesn’t pay with karma catching up to the bad guys.

The Story

One stifling summer night in Longstreet, Mississippi, fourteen-year-old Darrell Clark ran home thinking about two things: the ice cream he couldn’t wait to eat and an algorithm he was working on, a way to generate real time fractal terrain on his Macintosh computer. The cops who shot him in the back, mistaking him for a purse snatcher, found the ice cream in the paper bag on the ground next to Darrell. They’d never know about the events they had just set in motion.

When the predictable cover-up occurs, a group of blacks, led by Marvel Atkins, decide the time for action has come. The city government must go. Through John’s friendship with Bobby, Marvel, with the incredible liquid eyes, links up with Kidd, who takes on jobs that may be a little beyond the law.

She lays out the objective, but he makes the plan. The mayor, city council, and city attorney are all corrupt. The firehouse is the center for drug dealing, and the recreation director skims money like algae from the municipal swimming pool. And then there’s Duane Hill, the dogcatcher/enforcer who uses Dobermans to get his way.

Kidd will simply find the crack in the machine and work it until the city comes down like a house of tarot cards.

The Characters

Kidd has an impressive past and currently lives in a paid-off condo (a warehouse conversion) with a similar place, paid-off, in New Orleans. His legit computer work is working an economic and psychological profile program he developed that politicians are really into. The illegit is usually stealing ideas. He likes the Waite-Rider tarot deck; he believes it forces him to a different perspective. Chaminade Loan doesn’t like coming second in anyone’s life.

LuEllen “Case” is a burglar who restricts her thefts to money from people who can afford to lose it. The Wee Blue Inn is a very bad place run by Weenie; he’s LuEllen’s phone drop.

Bobby Duchamps is an online friend whom Kidd has never met. He’s a wizard on the Internet and an even better hacker.

Longstreet, Mississippi, is…
…run by a corrupt city council: the suspicious Chenille Dessusdelit is mayor and the city’s chief administrative officer with a powerful greed for money (Ralph is her deceased husband); the Reverend Luther Dodge runs a Baptist church and a city recreation center where he clips the tickets and enjoys a nasty perversion; Carl Rebek is an insurance agent who does what he’s told and collects a piece of the pie; Arnie St. Thomas is a loan shark who uses the city money for his piggy bank; and, Lucius Bell, the only straight shooter, is a farmer with a need for a bridge.

Duane Hill is animal control…and the machine’s muscle. He does love him some shootin’ out at the shelter. Archie Ballem is the city attorney and their fixer. Mary Wells is the city clerk; her brother has the Chevy dealership in town.

Officers Roy R. “Tud” Dick and Billy Lee Teeter are way too gung-ho with the weapons. Lucy is a police dispatcher. The fire department handles the dope trafficking.

Marvel Atkins is a Marxist with plans. Harold has been friends with Marvel since childhood. John Smith works for a legal services company that does investigations…and he’s an artist. Becka Clay is a cleaning woman at City Hall.

Brooking Davis is a lawyer who does appraisal work for the county assessor. Matron Carter coaches basketball at Longstreet High School. Marvin Lesse and Bill Armistead are being set up for a temporary seat.

Darrell Clark is 14 years old, is brilliant on a computer, and has a hunger for ice cream. Clarisse Barnwright, a.k.a., “Old Lady Barnwright”, is a retired Latin and English teacher and thrilled her husband has died. Clayton Rand saw the mugging. Elvis Coultier is the night manager for E-Z Way, a convenience store. Annie Carlson is a bit of an exhibitionist. Danny Oakes was running his mouth. Humdinger’s is a ferns-and-antique-bricks restaurant where the movers and shakers lunch. Gloriana Trent has a house with a view; her family owns the department and sporting goods stores in town. Brown owns some land along the river bank.

Fred is a river rat who tutored Kidd and LuEllen in piloting a houseboat, the Fanny. Maggie Kahn had been the disaster in The Fool’s Run, 1. Lund is Kidd’s art dealer in Chicago. The Cale Gallery represents Kidd in New Orleans.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a deep royal blue, the deep blue of a snow-filled landscape at night, stretching out into the distance. A wave of a film strip with a bright red background silhouettes five different figures in action. The author’s name and title are both in an embossed dull gold, one at the top and the other at the bottom with info blurbs in white.

The title refers to a card in the tarot, one that could apply to any one of three people. It’s The Empress File, for sure.

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