by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+
a consequence of starting near the end of the series, then skipping back to about the midpoint and moving forward again. (Sorry, I've already explained this off-color procedure for reading a book series in several reviews, but for the sake of future readers who will probably read my reviews in the order the books were published, I feel I must mention it again, to be clear. These explanations will get really tedious around the time I catch up to where I first joined the series, then skip back all the way to the beginning and go forward from there. Maybe I'll just bookmark this parenthetical blurb and drop links to it into future reviews, to save time. Whew!) Even more confusingly, I skipped from Book 15 to Book 17 of this series, then had to go back to catch this one. So it's been hard (or is going to be hard, depending on your point of view) to keep my reviews from spoiling books not yet read. Sorry in advance!
So, anyway, as I meant to say before I so rudely interrupted myself, Ruffe Ignace (Roo-fay Ig-nas; now you know) is this weaselly, ambitious reporter who wants like nobody's business to work for The New York Times. In spite of his shortcomings, he begins to develop into an ally of Davenport and soon-to-spin-off Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Virgil Flowers; they amiably use each other to further their own agendas, and in the main, those agendas eventually prove to coincide with the public good. Ignace isn't a complete reptile; I know, I know, but that just goes to show the subtlety and depth of Sandford's characterization - not to mention the fact he was a newspaper writer himself, when he was still John Camp; so his portrait of Ignace probably has some affectionately satirical resemblance to a type of character he might have drawn from life. Ignace is perhaps more important in this book than any of his subsequent appearances, because this is the one in which the serial killer calls him up to tell his story to the press - information Ignace dutifully passes on to Davenport, who eventually discovers most of it is designed to mislead the cops.
Whoever the real killer is, he doesn't seem to care whether the people he tortures, rapes, and murders are male or female. He (or she, or even possibly they) also proves terrifyingly adept at dragging red herrings across the trail the BCA and local law enforcement are following. Slowed down by deceptions, including steering the investigation after the wrong suspect, the cops realize they are two steps behind the killer and falling farther behind, even while the race to save the life of the next victim is roaring down the roads of rural southern Minnesota at breakneck speed. Somehow, the killer is tied to the "big three" inmates at a secure mental hospital near Mankato - yet even with the suspects narrowed down that much, the killer remains elusive. Somehow, again, the killer is connected to - Sandford uses the phrase "hovering near" - an orgasmic college girl and her randy, Serbian-American surgeon lover; but in what way, I didn't guess until the explosive revelation. As Lucas & Co. get closer to identifying the real bad guy, as the killer gets closer to what he and his "Gods Down the Hall" speak of as Armageddon, the number of lives and limbs at stake, including (of course) Lucas' own, increases on a steep curve - a graph drawn in blood. Ick.
I gather this is also the last book to feature Davenport's recurring crime-solving partner Sloan as a Minneapolis police detective. Sloan reaches the burnout point while investigating the case in this book; I happen to know, again due to my non-linear reading of the series, he is featured in Book 17 as a former cop who runs a bar. I don't remember him figuring in any subsequent books in the series. So, again, I have the awkward sense that I'm going to see more of Sloan in the part of this series I should have read before this, but that is too old to be held by my local public library; awkward, because I won't see most of his character arc until long after I have seen where it ends.
Other than little continuity snarls like this, however, I find this to be a series that can be read in any order, or simply enjoyed as freestanding novels. Each one presents its own world of literary and criminal problems and solutions, and a convincingly unique twist on the crime-thriller cliche, "It started like any other homicide case, but by the time Lucas Davenport (or whoever) realizes something really sick is going on, it may already be too late to stop a disaster in which many lives, including our hero's, will be at stake." Okay, if not unique, at least distinctive enough to remember amid all the other variations on it played by this and similar authors. And part of what sells this particular variation of it, is the believable humanity of Lucas Davenport and the characters around him, taking his toughness and frailty together, his crime-detecting brilliance that makes him so dangerous to bad guy after bad guy, along with his human limitations and even moral failings that make this duel of wits a frighteningly even match.
EDIT: For future reference... This is the book in which Davenport makes a list of the 100 best songs of the rock era - an amusing fount of non sequitur banter between the characters throughout the book, as well as an actual list at the end. It's notable for including (1) no Beatles songs and (2) a waltz from Shostakovich's Jazz Suite No. 2.