Sunday, August 27, 2017

Secret Prey

Secret Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

In his preface to a relatively recent re-issue of this book, novelist John Sandford (a.k.a. sometime journalist John Camp) recalled this ninth of currently 27 "Prey" novels featuring Lucas Davenport as having the most complicated plot of them all. If he hadn't mentioned it, the reader wouldn't have noticed, since the book seems effortlessly structured, so that one is caught up in its twists and turns. For the author, it was secretly "brain prey." For the reader, it's simply brain candy - a completely satisfying thrill-ride of crime and detection, with something enjoyable on every page.

For the benefit of any confirmed John Sandford readers who can't keep all these Prey novels straight - and let's face it, their titles aren't much help - this is the one in which the chairman of the board and CEO of a major Twin Cities bank takes a load of buckshot in the back while hunting with four of his top executives. With the bank about to be swallowed up by a corporate merger, and thousands of jobs on the line, there is no shortage of possible suspects, but the four most obvious ones were right there in the woods with him, toting guns. Nevertheless, Sandford keeps us guessing about which one done it until the chairman's death proves to be only the latest in a series of murders by the last person anyone would have suspected of being a psychopath. Although, to be precise, it doesn't stay the latest murder for very long.

Minneapolis Police Chief Lucas Davenport - a dangerous hunter to have stalking you, if you're a killer - is on the hunt, joined by several of his regular cronies, such as incurable sad-sack Del Capslock, whose discomfort is hilarious as he finds himself forced to bust an opium ring of nice old ladies; mild-mannered Detective Sloan, who is frequently described as the best interrogator in the department; and Marcy Sherrill, whose 40-day affair with Davenport takes place during this installment, during a cool-down in his relationship with then-fiancee Weather Karkinnen (for reasons better understood if you have read Sudden Prey). Between these two subplots, the creepy, violent, gruesome murder mystery is livened up by sexy romance and laugh-out-loud comedy, not to mention a gentle exploration of Lucas' struggle with depression.

Because I have been reading this series out of order, I happen to know things aren't really as "over" between Lucas and Weather as they appear in this book; also, I know how and when Sherrill and Sloan part company with the series. I have not yet seen Lucas's career take him to some the places I know it goes. It's a little weird to be finding out what role they played in it after seeing their role end, so I would recommend the "read straight through the canon" approach, starting with Rules of Prey, rather than my "catch as catch can" reading order. But I can bear witness that in whatever order you read them, each Lucas Davenport novel is a gripping mystery, full of shocks and fumbles, battles and chases, intriguing puzzles and astonishing discoveries. I'm torn between wanting to read them all right now and dreading to run out of them. But for the moment, I'm just looking forward to getting back to my couch and the next book in the series, Certain Prey.

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