Tag Archives: John Sandford

‘Golden Prey,’ by John Sandford

Golden Prey

If you like John Sandford’s Prey novels, you’ll probably like his latest, Golden Prey. I do, and I did.

Golden Prey is pretty much written to pattern, except that the locations and the cast of characters have been shaken up. Hero cop Lucas Davenport has left the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and joined the US Marshal’s Service. His unique status, as one who saved the life of the woman expected to be the next president (clearly modeled on Hillary Clinton), allows him, unlike other marshals, to be selective about his assignments. He holds out for “interesting” jobs, which means what he’s always done best – pursuing serial killers.

This time he goes to the American southwest to hunt a couple of stick-up men who ripped off a huge money delivery meant for a drug cartel, killing several people in the process. Meanwhile a pair of killers sent by the cartel are on the robbers’ trail as well. Their investigative methods are not subtle – they torture to death anyone they can find who knows their targets.

Lucas teams up with a female/male/black/white team of FBI agents to catch the robbers before the cartel killers can get to them, meanwhile trying to identify the cartel killers’ next targets so they can be protected. There are a lot of interesting opportunities for moral ambiguity, balancing off our sympathies as awful people are pursued by even more awful people.

Golden Prey breaks little new ground. It’s written pretty much to pattern, and if you like the pattern, you’ll probably enjoy the book. Cautions, as usual, for lots of black cop humor, foul language, and violence.

‘Escape Clause,’ by John Sandford

Escape Clause

Eleven years: Peck would give everything to have had those eleven years back. For one thing, he wouldn’t have messed around with those women in Indianapolis. If he’d gotten a regular doctor job, he’d be driving the big bucks now, fixing everything from Aarskog syndrome to Zika virus.

I’m fond of cop humor. Cop humor is black humor, often profane humor, the humor of people who’ve seen the worst things life can dish up, and have found ways of coping. John Sandford’s novels about Minnesota cops are full of cop humor, which is one of their charms. In comparison to his Prey novels, starring Lucas Davenport, his Virgil Flowers novels tend to lean more heavily toward slapstick. Escape Clause is perhaps the most comic of his novels to date, though there are several murders along the way.

In Escape Clause, we begin with the theft (kidnapping?) of two rare tigers from the Minnesota Zoo. There’s no mystery in this story – it’s a thriller. We know who the bad guys are (an eastern medicines doctor and a few thugs), and the suspense is in how fast the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, in the person of Virgil Flowers (the only guy they can spare because of security demands at the Minnesota State Fair during visits by presidential candidates) can figure out what’s going on and stop it.

Virgil is a good cop, though not a very good shot, and generally reluctant to even carry a gun. He also tends to take a lot of pratfalls in this outing. Simultaneous with this job, he gets involved with stopping some thugs, hired by a sweatshop owner to beat up his girlfriend’s sister, who’s doing sociology research on the illegal alien workers.

It’s all a lot of fun, and it’s mostly dirtbags who get killed. The climax is obvious a mile away, but no less enjoyable for that, on a visceral level.

An interesting new element in this story is the character of “Father Bill,” a Catholic priest who leads an odd life. He works as a supply pastor for the Minneapolis-St. Paul diocese nine months of the year, and is celibate then. During the summers he works at a resort and has a girlfriend. This is kind of jaw-dropping, but I suppose it’s not unthinkable in today’s church. Virgil, whose father is a Lutheran pastor, makes some small effort to talk him over to the Protestant side.

Anyway, I had a good time with Escape Clause. Cautions for lots of bad language and adult situations, also the death of an animal (almost always more traumatic than human death in a novel).

‘Extreme Prey,’ by John Sandford

He fit in the crowd like pea in a pod, he thought: the basic difference between Minnesotans and Iowans was a line on a map. Other than that, they were the same bunch, except, of course, for the physical and spiritual superiority of the Minnesota Gophers over the Iowa Hawkeyes, in all ways, and forever. Between the Hawks and the Badgers… they’d have to work that out themselves.

Another Prey book from John Sandford. Another good, entertaining story, and this time – I’m happy to report – a little lighter on the perversion and sadism.

As Extreme Prey begins, Lucas Davenport is working on remodeling his Wisconsin cabin, ogling his sexy carpenter. He’s unemployed for the moment (no great hardship for a multimillionaire), having quit his job with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Nevertheless, he still takes a call from the governor.

The governor is running for the presidential nomination (Democrat), and he’s worried about the safety of the front-runner in the race, Michaela Bowden, a former cabinet secretary. Messages he’s gotten from the lunatic fringe among his supporters have him suspicious that there’s an assassination plot aimed at Bowden. So he asks Lucas to liaise with her campaign and try to ferret out the plot, if one exists. Everybody’s in Iowa for the state fair this week, so that’s where Lucas heads in his big Mercedes SUV.

What follows is one of the more entertaining and thoughtful of the Prey stories. The plot centers around an eccentric band of rural activists, violent and crazy, but just like regular folks in alarming ways. I admired the way author Sandford defused the political implications of such a story by pretty much ignoring Republicans altogether, except for a few slighting asides. The very good and the very bad are all Democrats, and they too are not immune to criticism and satire.

As in all the Prey books, there’s plenty of low humor, and a lot of rough language. But the level of cruelty and gore is lower this time around. I enjoyed Extreme Prey a lot.

‘Gathering Prey,’ by John Sandford

They also had to deal with the question of whether Minnesotans were actually aliens. Terry brought it up: “You know what? Everybody I seen around here has big heads. You seen that?” They did, on their runs into town for food and beer. Minnesotans all had big heads. When they spotted a guy with a cowboy hat and a small head, they asked him if he was from Minnesota, and he told them no, he was from Montana.

Another John Sandford “Prey” book. Cause for rejoicing at my house. Sandford may not be the greatest creator of vivid characters in the world, or the greatest writer of dialogue, but when it comes to the art of ratcheting up the tension in a police thriller, while keeping the tone light with timely injections of cop humor, nobody comes close to him. He does what he does better than anybody.

Gathering Prey, the umpty-fifth Prey novel, starts in California, where hero Lucas Davenport’s adopted daughter, Letty, is attending Stanford University. She meets a couple of buskers, Skye and Henry, and befriends them. They mention to her a man they call “Pilot” who (Skye informs her) is “the devil.”

Some time later, back home in St. Paul, Letty gets a call from Skye. She’s on her way to Minnesota from the biker rally in Sturgis, SD. Henry has disappeared, and he had been talking to Pilot, who was also there. She’s convinced Pilot kidnapped Henry.

Letty tells Lucas, and Lucas looks into it, and one thing leads to another until he’s involved in a manhunt across South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Upper Michigan, pursuing a Manson-like killing cult that’s growing increasingly unstable.

I’m impressed with the way author Sandford manages to keep an old formula fresh. The book was as lively and engrossing as any he’s written. An incident at the end indicates he plans to change things up a little in the next entry, but that’s fine with me too.

The Prey books are fantasies to some extent, and not only in terms of the male wish-fulfillment embodied in the character of Lucas Davenport, millionaire cop. Davenport is clearly a Democrat, but he lives in a Minnesota where Democrats don’t consider every criminal a misunderstood child who just needs a hug, and where men can tell women dirty jokes without losing their jobs.

But I don’t object to a little fantasy either. Keep the books coming, John Sandford. Me and my big head are waiting for them.

Cautions for language, adult themes, and some pretty appalling (but not too graphic) cruelty.