Thursday, June 22, 2017

Invisible Prey

Invisible Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

It is this 17th novel in the currently 27-book "Lucas Davenport" mystery-thriller series in which Virgil Flowers, a Davenport protégé whose going-on-10-book spinoff series hadn't yet spun off at the time, shoots a woman in the foot while aiming for center mass, only to see her finished off by another woman more inclined to shoot to kill. It's an incident I've already seen mentioned, in spare outline, in many other Davenport/Flowers books written after this, due to the order in which I have been reading the books being stupendously at odds with their publication order; but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

The case that brings together the pistol-marksmanship-challenged Flowers and the victim of his first shooting-related fatality is, after all, a Lucas Davenport mystery. It starts with a rich, politically connected old lady and her maid being beaten to death with a pipe. At first, to Davenport and the St. Paul homicide detective working the case with him, it seems like a robbery gone wrong. But there are pieces missing - pieces from the old lady's collection of antiques and paintings, that is - suggesting that the robbers/killers weren't just junkies trying to raise drug money by selling stolen stuff. The perpetrators could apparently tell the difference between really valuable stuff, items of middling value, and worthless junk - choosing what to steal, what to leave intact, and what to smash to cover their tracks, accordingly. Then the sleuths spot connections between the murders at the Bucher mansion and the unsolved killing of another rich, antique-collecting old lady in Wisconsin; and then a connection to a supposedly solved murder in Iowa, for which a suspect has already been tried and convicted. Then a young woman comes forward and claims her grandmother's seemingly accidental death must also be connected; though Davenport isn't sure, until the young woman herself disappears in ominous circumstances.

The case really gets interesting when a witness in the prosecution of a state senator who had sex with a teenage girl is targeted for kidnapping in a way that bizarrely connects the two seemingly unrelated cases. Unlike that granddaughter of one of the murder victims, the girl in question gets away from the kidnappers, thanks to the doggy heroism of a pit bull/rat terrier mix named Screw. Once bitten, the killer - who turns out to be frighteningly close to the murder investigation - goes increasingly out of control. Even stealing the really valuable objets d'art isn't his whole motive; nor is he only trying to cover up a colossal fraud. In fact, the dude is a flat-out psychopath, and he isn't acting alone. And so, as Davenport's cases so often do, what begins as a straightforward whodunit turns into a bedlam of betrayal, blackmail, frame-ups, fire-bombs, grisly (and never entirely explained) discoveries in a southern Minnesota farmyard, and a downtown St. Paul sting operation that goes completely sideways and ends with shots fired. And at the turning point of it all, a sniper has Davenport himself in his crosshairs.

I promise you, there are good reasons why I'm reading this series so ridiculously out of order - starting toward the end, jumping back to about the halfway point, and working forward from there with the occasional hop, skip, or jump in one direction or other. The fact that I skipped from Book 15 to this is apparently due to a mistake on my part, when I was trying to check out the earliest handful of books in this series held by my local public library. I'm going on (back?) to Book 16 next; it's titled Broken Prey. I've got five more Lucas Davenport novels to read after that; and then I'll be in the awkward position of having to skip back again and try to find copies of earlier installments that my library doesn't have.

I'm not saying these are the best books I've read in this decade, but I'll tell you this much: I'm not getting much else read while I stumble and weave through the John Sandford oeuvre (or John Camp, if you want his real name). A hard-core critic would probably describe it rather as an hors d'oeuvre, but I'm just a humble book booster, so I'll bear witness that this series of books has sufficed to keep me reading during every spare moment so far this summer. It's as good as a season of a TV crime show on DVD; it's so good, if someone turned it into a crime show, I would get that DVD. But when you're all about keeping the TV unplugged and stashed in the front closet, I have to give this series credit for keeping my couch time devoted to the joy of books.

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