Friday, June 12, 2009
Lucas Davenport returns in "Wicked Prey" by John Sandford
With so many of the “Prey” series novels written, it isn’t surprising that John Sandford has been focusing more on family in each book and less on his signature character Lucas Davenport. Beyond the fact that Lucas has been married for many novels now with children, there is his work family of the folks at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. They always play many roles in the books and that is not an exception here. The last several novels have also featured the criminal family-- united by blood, a need to get even with Lucas, or some other circumstance.
The latest in the series “Wicked Prey” opens as many have lately in the criminal family arena. Brutus Cohen and Rosie Cruz, both aliases, are in St. Paul looking to link up with other members of their gang in the days before a big score. The Republican convention is also in town and the gang has big plans to take advantage of all that money. The fact that the political money men really can’t let out to the police what happened to them or how much money they lost just makes the job easier and very lucrative. And ripping off the money men is just the start on a much larger plan.
Naturally, Lucas and his people are called in to work the case. It isn’t the first time Lucas has handled a sensitive political situation and the illegality of what the money men are doing is without question. But, the world of politics is what it is and the bigger issue is that Brutus Cohen and Rosie Cruz and other members of the gang have a history of killing law enforcement and civilians. A nasty pattern that quickly repeats itself making Lucas and his team frantic trying to find these killers before others get hurt or killed. Naturally, things go sideways and then very bad with events becoming increasingly violent and harder to deal with from a media and publicity angle while the death and injury count climbs.
If that isn’t enough, there is the secondary story line of his adopted daughter, Letty, who at a very sophisticated fourteen, is messing with a psycho. A psycho who wants Lucas Davenport to suffer before he kills everyone in the family. Yet another storyline involves a shooter who wants to take a shot at McCain.
Once again, John Sandford tells us virtually all the bad guys and bad gals in the opening chapter. So there is little mystery to figure out. Instead, this book is all about the chases and the hunts for the various suspects. Unfortunately those various chases are less than riveting which leads to a lack of suspense or thrills for the reader.
The various chases also lead to major ethical questions regarding the Letty storyline. Not only is there a major plot point hole regarding her age and her internship for a local media outlet, the actions she takes in this novel go far beyond what Lucas has done in the past. She really does seem to believe and live the concept that the ends justify the means and doesn’t care who she sacrifices to achieve her goal. By the end of the book one begins to wonder if she is a budding psychopath headed to be in direct and violent conflict with Lucas. The fact that he becomes aware of her actions and says absolutely nothing about the matter raises serious questions as to his responsibilities as a father.
The main case, the search for Cohen and Cruz, holds some interest even though the chase is disjointed, scattered, and is not totally resolved leaving open and guaranteed a sequel with some of these villains. A lot of authors seem to be doing that these days by bringing back the same criminals for return engagement after return engagement. Biggest case in point for that are recent books by Robert B. Parker.
However, the biggest issue by far is the read itself in that the book doesn’t read like a John Sandford novel normally does. Language is almost always unnecessarily graphic lately and that continues in this novel with Lucas and others using the f-word in every situation regardless of event, audience, or suitability. Beyond that fact, there is the feeling that the novel just flat out doesn’t read like a Lucas Davenport novel. The voice, style, whatever that elusive quality was that made a Lucas Davenport novel read like one is gone from this book.
Ultimately, that is our loss as readers. One hopes that John Sandford can get that quality back—and soon.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (part of Penguin Group)
Book provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2009