Minnesota author John Sandford (real name John Camp) has established a nice little franchise with his Lucas Davenport Prey novels. Davenport is a Minnesota state cop who also happens to be a millionaire. He enjoys driving his Porsche fast with the siren on. As skillful as the character’s handling of his car has been the author’s own steering of the series, keeping out of both the left and the right ditches on a pretty winding road.
The early Davenport books portrayed a cop who was also a designer of computer games. He used the same skills he employed in game design to out-think the most devious and insane of criminals, and more than once he applied a little private justice in cases where he was confident the courts would let a dangerous killer back on the streets. In that period, Davenport seemed to be gradually losing his own grip on sanity, torn between duty to the job and his personal commitment to protecting the public.
Sandford deftly saved Davenport’s sanity by having him meet and marry a female surgeon. As Davenport acquired not only a wife, but a foster daughter and a baby son, he grew happier and more stable. Unfortunately, he ran the risk of getting a little dull. The old edge seemed to be going.
With Wicked Prey, Sandford has found a solution to that problem too, bringing in another legal corner-cutter, close enough to Davenport to make his world perhaps even more dangerous and morally ambiguous than before.
The setting, as in the previous novel, is provided by the target-rich environment of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. An accomplished and professional gang of armed robbers has a plan to rob the people who carry “street money,” off-the-books cash routinely paid out by lobbyists to delegates for “expenses.” They’re perfect targets, because even if they’ll report being attacked, they’ll never tell the police how much money was taken, since the money doesn’t officially exist. At first the robbers seem colorful and even a little charming, but it soon becomes plain that they are utterly ruthless killers, particularly their leader.
At the same time, an old enemy of Davenport’s, Randy Whitcomb, a small-time pimp whom he once beat up, now in a wheelchair (though not from the beating), who blames Davenport for all his troubles, has hatched a plan to take revenge by kidnapping, raping, and killing his foster daughter, Letty West.
Letty is now sixteen, and working an internship with a local television news department. The product of an abusive home, she’s no babe in the woods. She soon grows suspicious of the guy in the wheelchair who’s following her around. When she finds out who he is, and his relationship with Davenport, she chooses not to inform her foster father, because she knows him well, and understands he’ll find a way to kill Whitcomb if he’s aware of the threat. So she sets her own plan in motion, and proves herself as dangerous (and, in her way, ruthless) an adversary as Davenport.
I was troubled about the author’s choice to make a girl as young as Letty an agent of vengeance, but Sandford does a good job of keeping her actions believable, and her fear of being an occasion of murder for Davenport is credible. Making her at once a vigilante and a minor at risk is a creative way to ratchet up the tension. The intertwined narrative about the robbery gang provides a compelling change, without a rest in dramatic momentum.
Since Sandford is a former journalist, one assumes he’s a Democrat, but I thought he did a pretty good job of avoiding partisanship. He makes it clear that the kind of corruption that provides the robbery gang its targets is just as prevalent at Democratic events. Davenport’s (and Letty’s) conviction that there is a right and wrong that transcends the laws of man seems to be a (problematic) sort of moral absolutism.
John Sandford’s Prey books are great fun, if you like this sort of thing. I do.
Cautions for language and adult situations.
Lars Walker is a Minnesota fantasy author. His latest novel is West Oversea, published by Nordskog Publishing.
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I believe there are now 19 Prey novels. Thank goodness we don’t have that many serial killers around here in the universe we’re living in. No, I haven’t read any Lee Child.
Excellent review, Lars. I remember reading the first four “Prey” books around the time they came out. My family was living in Minneapolis then and it was intriguing to read crime novels set in that locale.
I enjoyed the first one quite a bit. The second was so-so. The third was brutal but satisfying. But by the fourth I became fatigued, thinking, how many serial killers is a Minnesota cop going to run into??
It’s good to hear that Sandford has shaken things up a bit. The plot of this new installment sounds very intriguing, to say the least.
How many Davenport novels are we up to now?
Also, slightly related question: Have you read any of Lee Child’s “Reacher” novels? I’ve been very curious about those.
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