Bloody Genius

By John Sandford. (G.P. Putnam's & Sons, 384 pages, $29.)

John Sandford continues to put some literary distance between his two Minnesota-based detectives. Although Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers still cross paths — they chat by phone in this book — Davenport's stories remain more adventure-oriented, while Flowers' books are leaning toward whodunits.

This story lands Flowers in a classic police procedural. A University of Minnesota professor is found dead from a blow to the head. Depending on your perspective, there are either no suspects — there's no useful evidence at the scene — or lots of suspects: The professor was brilliant but insufferably arrogant to the point that no one (including his estranged daughter) seems surprised that someone finally hauled off and bashed him over the head.

The plot ultimately boils down to a series of interrogations, but don't mistake that for a lack of narrative tension. Sandford is a terrific storyteller who can spin an intriguing tale without having to fill it with death-defying mayhem. Flowers' investigation leads to several dead ends, trips over a couple of red herrings and is detoured by developments that initially look like distractions but later turn out to be crucial. Armchair sleuths who are intent on solving the crime for themselves will need to be on their toes.

Events: 7 p.m. Thu., Barnes & Noble, Roseville; 7 p.m. Fri., Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls.


Toil & Trouble By Augusten Burroughs. (St. Martin's Press, 320 pages, $27.99.)

It's called "Toil & Trouble" but "Bait & Switch" is more like it. Despite a title that references the cauldron speech in "Macbeth," a pre-Halloween release date and marketing that positions it as the book in which Augusten Burroughs comes out as a witch, "Toil & Trouble" is just barely about witching.

Mostly, the memoirist writes about moving, with husband Christopher Schelling, from their Manhattan apartments into a Connecticut mansion that needs a lot of work. There are occasional flashbacks to Burroughs' moneymaker, the estranged, mentally ill mother who was the star of his blockbuster, "Running With Scissors." And there are quite a few events this skeptic would call "premonitions" but that Burroughs writes are actually the result of a gift he has known he had since childhood (his mother had it, too).

Whatever you want to call the small revenges against enemies and covert attempts to convince his husband to move, they make for an uneventful but amusing book that carves out territory somewhere in between Burroughs' painful early memoirs and the humorous, domestic essays of David Sedaris.