Monday, April 13, 2020

Review: Masked Prey

Masked Prey Masked Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

Wait a minute. This is the THIRTIETH Prey novel?!? That can’t be right because I remember buying the first Prey book when I was about twenty so that would make me….


I better get this review done before I drop dead of old age.

The teenage daughter of a US senator is running some internet photo searches to see if any pics from her Instagram account have been shared when she stumbles across a chilling discovery. Someone has posted secretly taken photos and of her and other children of prominent politicians on a web site featuring racist propaganda as well as providing personal details on the kids. While there are no overt threats the implications are clear, and the fear is that some nutjob with a rifle will take the hint.

Deputy US Marshal Lucas Davenport is brought in by some of his political pals to quickly and quietly try to pin down the source of the pictures. With few clues to go on Lucas has to start talking to members of organized alt-right groups, but since most them are armed and make no secret about their hatred of the government it’s hard to whittle down the list of suspects. As Davenport tries to figure out who was behind the whole thing, a quietly angry man inspired by the site starts to make plans including committing his first murders.

This one starts with an intriguing and timely premise, and for most of the book it's John Sandford delivering as usual so I had no complaints. However, some serious cracks show up in the third act that undermined the foundation of the book for me.

First off is the political angle. Sandford has long been carefully walking through the minefield of having his lead character linked to prominent politicians without Lucas being particularly political himself. That’s served the series well because it provides the story logic as to why this one cop/federal agent keeps being involved in all these high profile cases without Sandford alienating anyone.

However, these days it’s getting increasingly hard to believe that Lucas can continue to dance between the raindrops while having powerful friends from both sides of the political divide. The idea that he doesn’t have any real political enemies coming after him while being able to solve the problems of other highly politically connected people is getting increasingly hard to buy, especially because his cases usually make national news. Somebody would be trying to tar and feather him these days.

The other problem I had with this one is due to a shift in the ending. When the series started Lucas was more of a lone wolf who was more than willing to do some highly illegal stuff to get what he considered justice. That’s faded over time, and since he’s become a federal agent he’s much more of a team player so that we haven’t seen Davenport running a shady solo operation for a while now.

Without giving anything anyway… It seems like Sandford made a conscious decision to bring back some of the old Lucas for the climax of this one, and we once again see Davenport pulling sneaky and underhanded moves to get the outcome he wants. The difference this time is that in the previous books Lucas was always very careful about covering his tracks, and his manipulations to set things up were generally subtle. This time his scheme is glaringly obvious with none of the cleverness or caution that we’ve seen him use in the past in similar situations.

None of the shortcomings ruined the book for me. It’s still Sandford doing a Prey novel so it’s highly enjoyable to read, but tight plotting and thinking through ramifications of actions have long been a hallmark of this series so it’s jarring to feel like the ending of one was a little sloppy.

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