by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+
If you've read at least a few books in this ongoing series, in which almost every book has a two-word title ending with "Prey," I suppose the first thing you want to know is: This is the one in which Sex and the City meets Thelma and Louise. Kinda.
Carmel Loan is a powerful Twin Cities lawyer who is used to getting things her way. One day, she decides she wants a gorgeous, though not too bright, real estate lawyer named Hale Allen. Small problem: He's married to an heiress. He may fool around on her, but he's not going to leave her. Solution: Squash the heiress like a bug. Carmel does this by going to one of her clients, a lowlife Hispanic drug dealer with ties to the St. Louis mafia, and calling in a marker. Accordingly, Rolo sets things up with a nice girl named Clara Rinker, a Wichita bar owner who is finishing her college degree, and who has a thriving side business putting six or seven .22 slugs into the brain of anyone her clients want. She is very careful, very quick, and very elusive; the FBI wants her for at least 27 killings. But the one she does for Carmel, in the stairwell of a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp, goes just wrong enough to send both their lives spinning out of control.
Perhaps their mistake is trying to get away with murder in the same city where Lucas Davenport is the deputy police chief in charge of investigations. Davenport has a great team, including mild-mannered interrogation genius Sloan, the hard-driven Marcy Sherrill - a former flame of Lucas's, who (unless I'm mistaken) first gets her nickname "Titsy" in this book from Carmel Loan - and Sherrill's semi-closeted gay partner Tom Black, among others. They almost don't need Davenport's help, but he willingly joins them; anything to get out of having to read a 600-page anti-discrimination policy for a departmental committee.
Once he is involved, however, things get really messy. When Rolo attempts to blackmail them, the hit-girl and her client go on a rampage of torture, terror, and murder to try to cover up their previous crime, only to get mired even deeper - a situation Clara aptly likens to the tar baby from the tales of Br'er Rabbit. Now their lives are on the line, not only because being convicted of murder would be bad, but also because Clara's mafia connections will come after her as soon as they see her as a liability. With Davenport little more than a step behind - and in one thrilling scene, considerably less than a step behind - you almost sympathize with these killer women; especially since Davenport is not above pulling some ethically iffy stunts to find out who done it. As he has pointed out in previous installments, finding that out is the biggest part; making the charge stick, however, is what makes this a twisty, dangerous, unpredictable thrill-ride.
Though it's the 10th book in an ongoing series, Certain Prey shows no sign of losing energy or slackening tension. And though it's only the 10th in a series that has grown to 30 installments, it already seems to be going full speed, with a mature main character in full command of his crime-solving assets, and a mature author in full-command of whatever makes a book sexy, creepy, suspenseful, and in all other ways fun. You might not be able to remember, a year from now, whether this particular mystery was the fourth, or the 14th, or the 24th book in the series; but canon-order issues only matter so much. The formula, "At first the crime seems to be about one thing, and by the time they reealize it's really this other thing, the lead detective and those close to him find themselves personally in danger," could describe literally hundreds of books, and is pretty much the recipe by which this entire series has been cooked. But one seldom finds an author who more regularly and reliably does it to a turn.