Extreme Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The more things change the more they stay the same. For example, Lucas Davenport may not be a cop anymore, but that doesn’t mean that he’s done chasing killers.
Lucas got fed up with certain elements of his old gig as a state investigator in Minnesota so he quit, but he’s still the first call that the governor makes when he needs a bloodhound. The gov is now running for president, and he got a bad vibe off some people he met on the primary campaign trail in Iowa. He fears that some whackos plan to do more than just vote for him and are going to assassinate the leading candidate of his party, Michaela Bowden. Davenport is soon tracing a network of political crackpots whose first instinct is to accuse him of being part of a federal conspiracy when he tries to talk to any of them.
This follows the standard formula of the Prey novels in giving us the parallel stories of Lucas and the people he’s trying to find. This time the villains are a middle aged woman and her son whose hard economic circumstances as rural farm folks have convinced them that Bowden is part of a system that has been deliberately keeping them down. When they learn that Davenport is trying to find them they desperately try to divert and stall him until they can pull off their plan, and their methods include murder.
Once again Sandford delivers a tremendously satisfying thriller. One of the great things about his books is that they depend on the bad guys being clever, but there are no Insane McGeniuses pulling off Bond villain levels of schemes. Instead they’re just people whose view of the world is about 10 degrees off center combined with certain paranoid and ruthless tendencies that make them dangerous but not unstoppable killing machines. Likewise, Davenport is as smart, capable, determined, and sometimes ruthless as you'd want the hero of this kind of book to be, but he isn’t some bulletproof action hero or a Sherlock Holmes type of detective either.
Sandford also still has a reporter’s instincts for having the pulse of current events as well as a knack for tapping into them for stories. Here, with a female presidential candidate campaigning in a time where an overworked sense of outrage and conspiracy theories have helped create an environment of seething political hatred that is immune to facts, logic, or common decency, we get a story that seems all too plausible. However, Davenport blessedly remains pretty much apolitical with little interest in who gets elected or getting drawn into debates.
You also have to give Sandford credit for being willing to shake up a winning formula this deep into a series. Shifting Davenport from a big shot Minnesota cop who can make things happen by picking up a phone to a guy without a badge wandering around Iowa makes for him going through an interesting adjustment. At times not being subject to the usual rules is an advantage he can use, but Lucas finds himself frequently frustrated with his lack of authority in these circumstances. It’s a nice bridge to what seems to be a new era in the series, and as a long time Sandford fan I’m excited to see what comes next for Davenport.
One side note: I’ve gotten several comments on my Sandford reviews asking if you can just read one book or if you need to complete the series for it to make sense. (My standard response is that most of the books are self-contained stories that can be read alone, but you will know how some events in previous Davenport books turned out from casual references. There are also a couple that do act as direct sequels to earlier ones.) This would be an excellent place for anyone who hasn’t read them to jump in because it’s the start of a new phase for the series with Davenport interacting with mostly new characters so it’s pretty light on the previous elements, but still has all the hallmarks of what makes them all such great crime thrillers.
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