by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+
James Qatar's crimes are many. He steals from the women he sleeps with, especially the ones he strangles and buries on a hilltop in Goodhue County, and uses the proceeds to buy himself nice clothes. Did I mention he likes strangling women? Busty blondes, especially. He really gets a sexual kick out of it, so he does it a lot. Also, when he's not in the mood to murder, he uses a combination of Photoshop and art skills to create hand-drawn pieces of revenge porn, featuring the heads of women who have displeased him, grafted onto the bodies of online porn actresses; he then anonymously mails these masterpieces to their real-life subjects.
Qatar could get away with all these crimes for a long time, especially given his utter selfishness, his insane lack of conscience, and his ability to cry convincingly on cue. But then one of his victims comes unburied, and a drawing in her possession (which, incidentally, she stole from her killer) connects the crime to all those harassing drawings targeting a similar artsy, blonde body-type in the Twin Cities area, Davenport jumps on the case. He and his ally, outgoing Police Chief Rose Marie Roux, both see it as an opportunity to enjoy the twilight of their career on the M.P.D. Also, there's a sheriff's deputy from Wisconsin hanging around, who sees a connection between the murdered girl and several other missing women, including his own niece. More digging - literal and otherwise - turns up a whole graveyard of murder victims.
With the media dubbing him the "gravedigger," Qatar feels the noose tightening around his neck, and this pushes him to take desperate steps that cost more lives. Meantime, Davenport and his team of investigators have their own obstacles to overcome - such as the involvement of a crack-smoking pimp who has his own reasons to hate Lucas and everyone else wearing a badge, and a potential witness's hyper-sexual approach to setting a trap for the killer, and that Wisconsin guy's increasingly fragile emotional state endangering the whole case.
It's a legal, police-procedural, and psychological thriller, wrapped in an Adult Content Advisory-worthy depiction of deviant sex, violent action, down-to-earth humor, tragedy, and romance. It features many of the recurring characters who are, individually and as a group, among the reasons this series remains satisfying after ever-so-many installments, and whose changing circumstances provide an illusion of the passage of time in a series that could otherwise easily play like the Simpsons, with Bart eternally in fourth grade. You know this is "that" book because Marcy "Titsy" Sherrill is recovering from being shot in the previous book, and Sloan's hair has turned a paler shade of silver, showing his age; it's the book in which the governor first seems to take notice of Lucas as a potential political asset, and which ends with... oh, that was close. I almost spoiled it!
John Sandford, a.k.a. John Camp, has written another 15 Prey books since this one, plus 10 or so books in the spinoff series featuring Virgil Flowers, plus several books featuring a character named Kidd who has a cameo in this book (possibly his first crossover to this series), and even more. Unless I stumble across some of his books that I haven't spotted locally, my opportunities to read his stuff are played out for the time being, but I'll be watching the library's holdings and used book sales for more of this author's sure-fire formula for making a dull evening zip by.