Tag Archives: Prey

The Humpday Times Book Review

One of the benefits of being a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is that when you turn your hand to writing thrillers, as John Sandford (aka John Camp) did in the 1980s with Rules of Prey and its numerous sequels, you have enough background knowledge and information-gathering skills to portray high-fliers and low lifes with ease and authority. Having trolled the gutters in his last three “Prey” novels, Sandford heads upmarket with Silken Prey, which tosses his detective hero SILKENPREYLucas Davenport into the middle of a scandal involving kiddie porn, kidnapping, and possibly murder, all with a high-pressure Senate race rumbling overhead. This is the most political novel in the series since Wicked Prey, which was set during the GOP national convention in Minnesota, but don’t let that scare you off. There are no polemics here, just a sharp awareness of how money and power skew everything, even a hunt for justice. Especially a hunt for justice. And Sandford is too much of a pro to let his political inclinations turn his characters into ideological puppets. Silken Prey is first and foremost a police procedural involving targets with enough money to buy off trouble, or pay to have it inflicted in spades on their enemies. Sandford himself sums it up early on: “Shootout at the one percent corral.”

A better comparison for this novel might be Secret Prey, which played its murder investigation against intricate corporate maneuvering during a bank merger — think The Bonfire of the Vanities crossed with Thomas Harris and you’ll get an idea of the novel’s unique flavor. Silken Prey doesn’t quite match that book’s dazzling high-wire act. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say there’s a promised confrontation that doesn’t arrive, which undercuts the finale just a smidge.There’s also a bit too much cross-pollination with Sandford’s other two series characters, Kidd and Virgil Flowers, which seems a little too gimmicky for this otherwise exemplary author.

Which is not to say Silken Prey isn’t as engrossing as its predecessors, just that it doesn’t hit the peaks of Secret Prey, Storm Prey, or the black sheep of the series, Shadow Prey. There’s a great deal of gallows humor on display, as when a character who’s a poster child for narcissistic personality disorder reads a description of the condition and angrily dismisses it point by revealing point.

There are also hints that Sandford may be preparing a graceful exit for Lucas. The series began in 1989 as a top-grade Thomas Harris knockoff in which the hero often proved as scary dangerous as the psychos he was hunting. By about the eighth novel it ripened into top-grade police procedurals, and now Sandford has been adding intimations of mortality to the mix. I don’t think Sandford will kill Lucas off — for one thing, his publishers know that too final a terminus will dampen sales of the backlist — but Silken Prey ends with an antagonist well positioned to put him out of the way, career-wise or in any other sense of the word. I think we’re going to see some interesting changes in the next couple of novels.            

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Friday finds

How about this one-woman band?

Cloud formations over the Canary Islands. Hypnotically beautiful.

The Battle of Point Judith, a U-boat engagement that happened after Germany surrendered. Makes me want to re-read Shadow Divers.

Has the incidence of swearing in John Sandford’s hard-boiled Prey series gone up or down? The numbers don’t lie.

How much would you bid for H.L. Mencken’s beer stein collection?

“Imagine a man who buys a chicken from the grocery store, manages to bring himself to orgasm by penetrating it, then cooks and eats the chicken.” No, dude, how about you imagine it and leave the rest of us out of your sexual fantasies. That sentence, penned by NYT winger columnist David “Babbling” Brooks, is only one of a selection of genuinely weird observations taken from Brooks’ new book, The Social Animal.

Westies playing tag, singing along with Maria Callas, discovering snow, and taking a lap nap.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Lucas Davenport for Obama!

Wicked Prey, the nineteenth entry in John Sandford’s broad-shouldered series of thrillers starring Minnesota detective Lucas Davenport, is set in and around the 2008 Republican National Convention. Ingeniously designed and characterized villains are a hallmark of the series, and here Sandford strikes gold by making the villains a murderous gang who arrive in the Twin Cities to rob the various party bagmen attending the convention with payoff money in hand. And while it has no bearing on the plot or the pace of the action, which remain accessible and captivating to all points on the political spectrum, I am relieved to report that at one point we learn that Davenport is sorely put off by John McCain’s choice of a running mate and expects to vote Democratic in the upcoming election.

I say “relieved” because the early titles in the Davenport series played off the sense that the hero was only slightly less crazy than the serial killers he was chasing, but Sandford gradually calmed him down enough to make him plausible as a sane husband and family man. Had Davenport considered Sarah Palin a plausible vice president, we would have had to worry that his hard-won equilibrium might once again be slipping.

Since John Sandford is in real life John Camp, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, I snatched up Wicked Prey hoping for some juicy inside stuff, maybe even some thinly veiled political satire. But that’s not what the Prey books are all about. Sandford isn’t going to turn into Tom Wolfe this late in the game, and Wicked Prey stays true to the series template: fast-moving police procedurals with dialogue as hard-edged as the frequent bursts of violence. Even so, I appreciated the details about the disbursement of street money by political operatives, and the bit of color that has developers allowing GOP aparatchiks to occupy their unsold condos in hopes of winning future business.

The book’s Achilles heel is the subplot involving Letty West, the young girl Davenport brought into his life in Naked Prey. Now a preternaturally brave and resourceful 14-year-old, Letty learns she is being stalked by a pimp with a vendetta against Davenport, and spends the novel turning the tables on him. The trouble is that the pimp never seems remotely credible as a threat, and the girl is more than a match not only for him but his woozy associates as well. It’s not a crippling weakness, but for me it does set Wicked Prey firmly in the second tier novels of the series. It’s a step up from the previous few entries, but it won’t join Secret Prey and Shadow Prey as the books I recomend to people looking to pick up on the Davenport novels.  

As it turns out, you can get more color on the GOP convention from Sandford’s Web site, which showcases some articles Camp wrote for the local print. The heading Gray-Haired Protesters had me fearing the worst, but Camp did the protestors the courtesy of actually speaking with them, and the piece is mercifully free of the usual nostalgic-hippie stereotypes. There is also a handy primer on how to cover a riot and keep from getting trashed by either the police or the rioters, and a just-the-facts chronicle of how a protest march was deliberately led on an exhausting snipe-hunt by the police. Because Camp is still a pro, he leaves the reader to contemplate the balancing act between maintaining order and allowing democracy to function.

Tagged , , , , ,