Monday, June 19, 2017

Hidden Prey

Hidden Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

To continue reading the 27-book "Lucas Davenport" series, without springing for the latest hardcover, I had to skip backward in the series. This 15th installment is as far back as my local public library goes. It depicts the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's top agent at the height of his career, solving a murder on the Duluth waterfront that leads him to unearth a circle of Soviet-era spies, dating back to World War II, stretched out among Iron Range towns such as Virginia, Hibbing, and Eveleth. It finds him partnering with a Russian counterintelligence agent, witnessing the slaughter of a local policeman, and receiving a key clue from an eyewitness who is as determined to disappear as - and more successful at doing so than - the killers themselves.

The killers, plural, are an elderly man and the teenaged great-grandson in whom he has instilled a passion for Communism. Together they carry out a series of reckless yet infuriatingly successful stealth killings, fighting to protect their aging spy cell from post-Soviet Russian intelligence, from the Russian mafia, and from discovery by the American authorities. But as good as they are at covering their tracks, Lucas is even better at sniffing them out - realizing, for example, that the physically wrecked suspect they have framed for the murders would never have been able to outrun him in the hilly streets of Duluth.

This mystery hops back and forth between the sleuths' and the killers' points of view, building sympathy for both sides of their deadly game, and ultimately leading to the type of ending that reminds one of real life - bitterly short on satisfying resolution, but with the characters' frustration felt by the reader, and their compromises with their consciences sitting uneasily on ours. It's a grim, gruesome, sometimes shockingly violent, heartbreaking, occasionally sexy, not infrequently funny, fascinating exercise in the arts of committing and solving a series of crimes that stir up memories of revolutionary fervor. It is a glimpse into a type of extremism that could, and perhaps does, hide under the guise of ordinary citizenship. And it comes to one of those climaxes in which you bite your nails, in part, out of concern for what will happen to the bad guy. So, it's a most interesting cocktail of crime thriller and tragedy, set in a part of Minnesota not far from where I went to high school. I could have known the junior killer in this tale. The thought gives me chills.

John Sandford, in case you just tuned in, is the pen-name of sometime Pulitzer-winning journalist John Camp. His fiction also includes the Virgil Flowers novels, a spinoff of this series.

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