Saturday, June 20, 2020

Neon Prey

Neon Prey
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport, the hero of some 30 crime novels, gets shot in this book. Not to worry, he bounces back – mostly – and within a few months, is back on the job, chasing a cannibal killer and his gang of home invasion robbers from a grisly crime scene in Louisiana to the suburbs of Los Angeles and finally (hence the neon) Las Vegas. Joined by a pair of younger Marshals named Bob and Rae, a rising FBI agent who looks like he could be Lucas' son, and the Clark County Sheriff's Office, he tries to catch up to the gang before they skip town again – or before they endanger more innocent lives.

Of course, the gang knows pretty quick that the heat is on, and they start planning a heist to raise funds for their next round of running and hiding. Meanwhile, Clayton Deese – the mean cannibal hit-man and enforcer whom the FBI wants more because he can lead them to a bigger crook than for his own crimes – isn't quite fitting in with his brother's home invasion gang. Beauchamps, Cole and Cox – two guys and a girl – don't kill people, as a rule, but with a loose cannon like Deese cocked to go off, every moment could present a kill-or-die choice. Then there's the mob boss's assistant from New Orleans, who has come to town with instructions to decide for himself whether to pay Deese to go away, or to make him go away and keep the money. When this guy, Santos, is added to the crucible, the mixture goes off with a bang, spreading a trail of blood from a sleepy bedroom neighborhood to a crowded shopping mall on the Strip. And when the surviving bad guys are finally backed into a corner, they're more dangerous than ever.

Like so many Sandford thrillers I have enjoyed before, this book's success rides on the charm of the characters, their witty and sometimes sexy patter, their remarkable bad-guy-catching skills and, of course, the wild card, which is that anything can go wrong at any moment and often does so, with sudden jolts of violence. Suspense purrs along, but it can't be really dreadful when everything is so much fun. I suppose the hero characters must be a little sick to be able to enjoy themselves so much in the midst of so much danger and the frequent sight of violent death. Maybe it's just a matter of having to become callused to it in order to survive in the job. Even they have a hard time keeping their stomach contents inside when they see what Deese has buried in his back yard. Sort of like how we, longtime killer thriller aficiones, may feel we've seen everything (vicariously, in books) and yet struggle, at times, to understand the wickedness in people's hearts. Wickedness comes in many nasty shades in this book, and the glow of neon lights doesn't make it look any better.

This is the 29th of now 30 Lucas Davenport mystery-thrillers by a sometime journalist whose real name is John Camp. Lucas started out as a Minneapolis cop, moved up to the state police (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) and by this point in the series has become a federal employee. I've read intermittently among the installments and have a long-term project to get through the whole set. The next one after this is Masked Prey, and there are are also 12 novels in a spinoff series featuring BCA detective Virgil Flowers, who also appears in this novel.

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