Monday, July 3, 2017

Stolen Prey

Stolen Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

When a suburban family of four is viciously tortured and killed in the style of a Mexican drug gang, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Agent Lucas Davenport is all over it. He brings in some computer experts from past phases of his career - a programming expert nicknamed ICE and a database maven, not to say hacker, named Kidd. Together with team of DEA agents and another BCA team led by the more by-the-book Agent Bob Shaffer, Davenport's investigation is soon hunting for three targets: (1) the hitmen from south of the border who carried out the killings, and who aren't done yet; (2) a drug money laundering pipeline that leads back to a gang with the improbable name "Los Criminales del Norte"; and (3) the Twin Cities-based embezzlement ring whose scheme to hijack the cartel's bank transfers has triggered an ongoing bloodbath.

Each group of investigators has his own priority. And though solving murders is usually Lucas' forte, in this case, his target of choice is the thieves who inadvertently unleashed a string of grisly murders, in which most of the victims are completely innocent. The danger of being captured and killed gives the felonious foursome an incentive to stay hidden, in addition to escaping justice. But if Lucas can't catch them, he can't protect them either - as one of them finds, to his cost. His prey in this hunt includes a depressed, almost humorously lazy guy who nevertheless shows enough initiative to be the only victim to escape from the assassins; a schizophrenic hippie chick; and a Lithuanian Jew who frequently wears a veil to impersonate a Syrian Muslim. The killers, on the other hand, include three guys named Juan who distinguish between themselves using the numbers Uno, Dos, and Tres - and at least one of them is legitimately insane - plus, an extra ace in the whole, a spy that the cartel has placed inside the investigation.

So, naturally, things get a little out of control. While killers and the cops run parallel investigations into who stole the cartel's money, it takes Davenport a while to realize the killers aren't just a step ahead or behind the cops, but that they're racing neck-and-neck. Everywhere they go, they arrive just a moment after a body drops. Meanwhile, the window of opportunity to catch the thieves is closing, as the increasingly desperate accomplices begin to turn on each other. Turning the case around requires a classic Davenport move, using a bit of manipulation and deception to force the killers into a no-win situation, so he can stop the bloodshed before the thieves have time to get away clean. Albeit with a sprinkling of humor, the storyline's twists and turns torque the tension to a climax of exquisite menace, right up to a closing line of dialogue that is so perfect, you won't know whether to laugh or cringe.

This is the 22nd of currently 27 "Lucas Davenport" mysteries by John Sandford, a pen-name of Pulitzer-winning journalist John Camp. Click here for a mansplanation of why I'm reading this series so atrociously out of canon order; sorry, I'm just tired of repeating it. Besides this series, Camp/Sandford is also the author of going-on-10 Virgil Flowers mysteries (featuring a character who figures in this book), four Kidd novels (ditto), and the recent sci-fi thriller Saturn Run. Next on deck for this series is Book 23, Silken Prey.

No comments: