Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain have created their own standout series in the mystery genre, following FBI profiler Violet Darger on one deadly manhunt after the next. In the third book of the series, titled The Girl in the Sand, she sees herself summoned to Las Vegas following a grizzly discovery, one which puts her in the crosshairs of a legendary serial killer bearing a personal grudge against her.
Table of contents
L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain Take us to Sin City
People go missing by the thousands all over the world year after year, and as horrifying of a phenomenon it might be, its omnipresence and our detachment from it have allowed most of us to sweep it under the rug. Nevertheless, the truth is that while most missing people turn up soon after disappearing, there are many who don’t, and in those cases, it’s not often people get to do something about it, as they can in The Girl in the Sand by L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain.
With this being the third book in the Violet Darger FBI Mystery Thriller series, I do recommend you take a look at the first and second books if you’d call yourself a fan of the genre as a whole. However, if you’re dead-set on using this novel as your diving board to plunge into the series, don’t let anything stop you: each book works perfectly as a standalone experience.
In any case, this novel begins as a grizzly discovery is made in Las Vegas: two badly-burnt bodies are found in the trunk of a sedan. What’s more, the clues at the crime scene indicate that there are some missing girls, presumably kidnapped and awaiting rescue, if it isn’t too late. It doesn’t take too long for Violet Darger to get pulled into this mess, putting her FBI profiler abilities to good use.
Quite soon, rumours begin spreading around about the culprit of the crimes being some sort of legendary serial killer, one who has been operational for over twenty years since escaping prisoner. What’s perhaps even worse, is they’re right, and this killer will stop at nothing to settle his very personal score with Violet.
Thus begins a race against the clock, as Violet does her best to follow the meagre trail of clues which might lead her to the girls, but she’s far from being at her best, and having a target painted on her back isn’t making her job any easier. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for certain: she won’t come out of this unscathed, and that’s precisely what her nemesis is counting on.
A Cinematic Experience with The Girl in the Sand
There are some novels which, when I’m reading them, I can quite easily imagine being adapted into movies or television shows. The Violet Darger series, so far at least, has been offering just this type of literature in my opinion, and the streak very much continues with The Girl in the Sand, in some ways even ramping things up from the previous entries.
While there is some character development to speak of (we’ll do this a little later), the brunt of the text is focused on moving the action forward, even if there are a few descriptions which overstay their welcome here and there. For the most part, we’re moving at an agreeable “thriller” type of pace, the chapters being short, sweet, and generally filled with exciting developments.
Now, I definitely didn’t see any groundbreaking or genre-defining elements, but it by no means makes this a bad or unworthy novel. By such standards, most novels wouldn’t even be worth looking at. What L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain do, instead, is take a rather simple concept and develop it with as much passion and aplomb as they can possibly muster.
There are few things more exciting in this world than watching a manhunt, perhaps owing to the primal instincts stamped deep within us, never to be exorcised. This is what makes up the meat of this course, watching Violet Darger frantically racing against time, always one step ahead of the reader, but seemingly one step behind the villain.
Considering how much movement and excitement there is in this book, I feel quite confident in qualifying it as a cinematic experience, one I could easily see adapted to the silver screen. It wasn’t just easy to imagine the action as a movie in my head, it felt like I had absolutely no other choice, and ultimately, it dragged me in so deep that the small flaws here and there, ultimately, didn’t matter one little bit.
The Sins of the City
I think there’s a very good reason why Las Vegas has earned an international reputation as “Sin City”, so I’ll just assume an explanation here would be superfluous. While most of us wouldn’t enjoy living in depravity, decadence and debauchery, we do enjoy observing the darker side of the life from a safe distance, and that’s precisely a chance which The Girl in the Sand affords us.
While L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain don’t exactly take us on a guided tour of all the city has to offer, we do take plenty of small detours here and there through the lives of people who are less consequential to the story at hand. We get to taste a few slices of their lives, most of them feeling like an exhibit into common stories told by the city’s inhabitants.
I will say that I wasn’t all too pleased at first to see that a fair few of the sub-plots revolving around the lives of these side characters were left unresolved, but after thinking about it for a little bit, I came to change my mind. This book, after all, isn’t about them, and they do serve their purpose, which is to breathe life into the setting, to add authenticity to it, making the rest of the action feel more down-to-earth and easier to imagine.
Now, I do think the authors might have gone a little too hard when it came to putting the “Sin” in Sin City, pulling a little too much towards the dark side, almost making me think it’s about as dangerous as the fabled British countryside (where 95% of murders in Europe seem to take place, according to murder mysteries), with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In other words, there is ultimately a grimy and depressing feeling to the novel, but then again, it matches up with the subject matter.
We also get to take quite a few glimpses into the minds of our more important characters, and while I found Violet a little too capable and flawless for her own good, she nevertheless remained an interesting lead to follow and re-acquaint myself with. I hope she’s just a little less competent next time around to make things interesting, especially if she’ll be going up against a villain as impressive and memorable as the one we were given here.
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The Final Verdict
The Girl in the Sand by L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain is an excellent third entry in the Violet Darger FBI Mystery Thriller series, giving us a simple, yet heart-pounding and intelligent serial killer novel which rarely takes its foot off the gas and uses its setting quite brilliantly to enhance the plot.
If you’ve enjoyed the authors’ previous books in the series, or are keen on the idea of a serial killer mystery set in Las Vegas, then I think this would be an excellent book for you to check out.
L.T. Vargus is an American author whose career has been spent, so far at least, co-writing various mysteries and thrillers with Tim McBain. Among the many works they’ve done together are the Detective Charlotte Winters as well as the The Victor Loshak Series, with lauded entries such as First Gone Girl, What Lies Beneath and Girl Under Water.
Tim McBain is an American author who has written numerous series alongside L.T. Vargus, namely Awake in the Dark, Violet Darger, and The Scattered and the Dead. Some of his more highly-appraised works include Dead End Girl, Killing Season, Five Days Past Mortem and Beyond Good & Evil.