Friday, September 1, 2017

Easy Prey

Easy Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the 11th of currently 27 crime thrillers featuring Lucas Davenport, a guy whose crime-solving genius is founded partly on his ability to organize a team of detectives and partly on his keen predatory instincts - bad guys being his prey of choice - rises to what I reckon to be the peak of his career as a deputy chief of the Minneapolis police force. So that makes the murder of a bisexual, heroin-chic supermodel named Alie'e Maison the crowning case of that phase of his career.

Alie'e is found strangled in a bedroom at a socialite's house during a party attended by more than a hundred people. Even more disturbing, a second corpse falls out of a closet while the cops are clearing the scene - a hostess from a swanky hotel, whose head appears to have been smashed against a doorjamb. Assuming Alie'e was the primary target and the other girl was killed to cover up the crime, Davenport's team gets nowhere fast. Interesting things start to drop, however, when they turn it around and start investigating the possibility the hotel hostess was killed first, and Alie'e died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Among the things that start to drop are more dead bodies. The case is further clouded by the fact some of the new murders seem to be motivated by revenge for the fate of Alie'e, while others look like the work of the original killer. Davenport likes Alie'e's brother, an ecstatic saint-type charismatic preacher, for the former and a drug-dealing real estate kingpin for the latter; but when more murders happen right under the noses of a police protection detail, the possibility that he may be wrong about both suspects becomes a dead certainty.

It's a keep-you-guessing mystery, a fascinating police procedural, and an entertaining cop romance all rolled into one. The surrender of one of the killers is one of the goofiest surprises I have come across in crime fiction. How he becomes a suspect is one of the most out-of-the-blue surprises since I don't remember when. The romance bit also places this installment at an interesting point in Davenport's character arc, with one ex-girlfriend languishing in a hospital bed, another having a midlife crisis and trying to drag him into it, a third (probably the love of his life) warming up to him again after their relationship cooled a book or two back, and topping it all, a sexually ravenous young beauty throwing herself at him. Yes, a murder mystery involving a supermodel would be wasted if... well, let's put it this way: Adult Content Advisory!

John Sandford, a pen name of the Pulitzer-winning newspaper writer John Camp, is a long-running, prolific crime fiction franchise that, so far, hasn't missed a trick - and I say this after having read a couple dozen of his titles. The older titles in this series show their age a bit, but mainly in their references to then-current technology, such as Palm Pilots, and Davenport's attitude about it, such as constantly having to be lectured about keeping his cell phone turned on. But their dialogue, action, intrigue, and character interplay remain just as crisp and full of twanging tension, laugh-out-loud humor, and action sequences that choreograph themselves perfectly in the theater of the mind.

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