Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Gathering Prey

Gathering Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

This 25th book in the Lucas Davenport mystery-thrillers stretches the franchise's Minnesota-based outlook. It begins with Letty, daughter of Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Agent Lucas Davenport, befriending a pair of "travelers" during her freshman year at Stanford University in California. It follows the pair to South Dakota, where cute, apple-cheeked Henry disappears, leaving tough young Skye shaken. Convinced there may be something to her ravings about the "devil" getting Henry - understanding "devil" to mean a Charles Manson-like villain named Pilate, who comes complete with a band of insane groupies - Lucas helps Letty bring Skye to St. Paul with an offer to help her find her friend. Henry actually does turn up, murdered in pretty much exactly the way Skye suspected, which makes her seem a bit less crazy. Meanwhile, Pilate and his groupies continue their drug-fueled crime wave across northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Ah, the UP: a place I have never visited, but that I now feel I have experienced with vivid impressions on most of my senses (maybe not taste, so much). I've come to trust John Sandford's descriptions of cities, small towns, and countryside in the Upper Midwest, after reading his account of places I've been and finding them as I remembered them. I wouldn't mind seeing the UP in person, sometime, if I could do so at the wheel of the Mercedes SUV Davenport drives. But I'll pass on some of his gruesome and heartbreaking discoveries, such as a northwoods "underground railroad" for undocumented Somali refugees sneaking across the Canadian border, or the murdered body of a drug dealer found inside the melted remains of a Winnebago Minnie RV, or the innocent folks who pay with their lives for getting in the way of the Pilate juggernaut. For most of Pilate's crew, the rampage ends in an armed standoff in a small, Upper Michigan town where the cops have set up a roadblock. But there is still blood to be shed, bodies to drop, and traps to snap shut before Lucas, Letty, and the wider public can breathe safely.

There's a bit more to this book than a by-the-numbers, police-procedural murder investigation. Lucas, for example, stretches his jurisdiction a bit, sticking his once-broken nose into investigations in three or four other states, getting deputized in Michigan, and moving from a favor to his college-age daughter to a bloodbath on the streets of a tiny Michigan town. He learns more than you ever thought there was to know about the Insane Clown Posse and their fan subculture, known as the Juggalos. He also faces political and bureaucratic consequences for this case that will change the course of this series - and not too soon. I'm already reading Book 26, Extreme Prey. After that, I might have to dig back to Book 1, Rules of Prey.

John Sandford is a pseudonym for John Camp, a now New Mexico-based writer who won two Pulitzers during the 1980s while writing for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. I guess that answers my question, posed in a previous review, about how a guy from N.M. got to be so good at describing places in MN. His other novels, besides the Lucas Davenport/Prey series, include four now very dated "Kidd" novels, featuring a cyber-criminal; 10 "Virgil Flowers" novels, a spinoff series featuring a Davenport protégé; a young adult trilogy co-written with Michelle Cook; a few stand-alone thrillers and non-fiction books, and even a sci-fi thriller.

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