Golden Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.
The twenty-seventh book in a series would be when you’d really expect an author to run out of gas and just coast along on the fumes of creativity and the goodwill of hard core fans. So how do you explain John Sandford writing one of the most exciting Prey novels in the entire series now?
You can’t. So just enjoy it.
Lucas Davenport is now a deputy US marshal, and he got the gig thanks to his political connections. In fact, Lucas has so much juice that he gets to pick and choose his cases, and he’s still got a taste for hunting the worst of the worst. That’s why he decides to track down Garvin Poole, an armed robber who shoots first and doesn’t bother asking any questions later because he killed anyone who could have answered.
Poole dropped out of sight until he recently ripped off a massive amount of cash, but a small child was collateral damage on that caper so Poole is back on the government’s radar. He also mightily pissed off a drug cartel because it was their money Poole stole, and they want it back so badly that they’ve dispatched a pair of cold blooded thugs to viciously torture and kill anyone who ever knew Poole on the off chance that they might know where he is.
Giving Davenport a new gig with the US Marshal’s Service was an inspired choice because Sandford writes great manhunts and a big part of what marshals do is chase fugitives. (It also makes me fantasize about a crossover between Lucas and the late Elmore Leonard creations Raylan Givens and Karen Sisco.) So the book immediately plays to Sandford’s strength as Lucas first sniffs around for a lead on Poole, and then finds himself in a race against the cartel to find him.
Having Davenport run around various Southern states gives the whole thing a sense of momentum, and the cat and mouse games between him, Poole, and the cartel killers shows off the kind of fantastic plotting and pacing that Sandford can seemingly do in his sleep. He almost always manages to make everything seem realistic, natural, and intelligent while keeping a reader turning pages as fast they can to see what happens next.
Taking Davenport out of his usual Minnesota setting also freshens things up. I don’t think that Sandford ever fell into a rut, but any long running series is going to develop a certain rhythm to it after a while. Lucas had his home life to ground him along with his cop buddies and a bunch of friends he’d turn to for help regularly, and while it was all still good it was also very familiar. This isn’t the first time that Sandford has mixed things up because Davenport has changed jobs before, and he’s grown and mellowed as a character over time.
That’s all still here, but by putting Lucas into a completely new branch of law enforcement as well as changing his geographic location it took away all the old support systems. Which means that Sandford has to develop new characters, new ways of handling things, and new problems for Davenport. All of which he’s done very well, but Sandford also knows where his bread is buttered so it still seems very much like a Prey novel. It’s like he’s given Lucas a makeover. He’s still the same old ruthless bastard he's always been when he's on the hunt, but now with a new haircut and a spring in his step as he does it.
Also, since I've reviewed a lot of Sandford on here I regularly get asked if it's the kind of series you can read any book or if you need to read the whole series to understand. My standard answer is that most are self-contained stories that can be enjoyed by themselves, but this one in particular would make a great place to jump in for anyone looking to try it out.
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