Friday, March 12, 2021

Review: Ocean Prey

Ocean Prey Ocean Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

Ocean Spray? What kind of a name is that for a book? What’s it about? The history of the drink? Or is it a biography of the guy who made the viral video of him skateboarding and drinking Ocean Spray while he lip synced that Fleetwood Mac song? I mean, that was cool and all, but how are you gonnna do a whole book about… What’s that? It’s not Ocean SPRAY, but instead it’s Ocean PREY? Well, that sounds like a John Sandford title. Oh. It is a John Sandford novel.

That makes a lot more sense.

A Coast Guard patrol runs across what appears to be drug runners doing a pick-up of previously submerged dope out of the ocean using a scuba diver off the coast of Miami. A shootout ensues that leaves several Coast Guard guys dead while the bad guys got away. Months later the FBI and local cops still have no clue as to who was behind it, and the prevailing theory is that there’s still a fortune in drugs waiting to be picked up once the heat dies down.

US Marshal Lucas Davenport gets asked to join the investigation by one of his political patrons in DC, and he quickly starts leaning on local dealers trying to get a lead on who might have been involved with the drug ring. As usual in a Davenport case, things start to get sticky, and when Lucas needs more help he turns to his old buddy, Virgil Flowers (a/k/a That fuckin’ Flowers.) to help him crack the case.

I’ve written so many Sandford reviews that I can’t think of a single new thing to say about why this one is another great crime thriller from one of my favorites in the genre. As usual, there’s solid plotting and tension mixed with just enough real world verisimilitude regarding police work and the political factors behind it to make it feel grounded and believable despite a plot that could easily turn into an action movie from the ‘80s. All the things I love about Sandford’s novels are on display here.

However, there are some very different things in this one. For one, ever since Sandford shifted Davenport from a Minnesota state cop to a US Marshal, he’s been sending Lucas on assignments across the country, and that has enabled him to do some different things with this series while still sticking to the parts that made it popular to begin with. Moving from typically land locked Midwestern settings to a Florida one that has a lot to do with boats and scuba diving makes it feel like Sandford is doing new things rather than just repeating himself.

That’s just the window dressing though, and the biggest difference from previous Prey novels comes in the structure itself. In the past, Lucas was the star of the these books, and then there was the spin-off series featuring Virgil Flowers as the lead. They existed in the same universe with some crossover between them, but generally one of the characters was the focus with the other being a supporting player. However, in this Lucas is the focus in the first third with Virgil taking over the next part, and the last act shifts between them both.

I assume that this is because Sandford has said that he’s only going to do the Prey series from now on, and it seems like he’s folding Virgil into Davenport’s story much like Robert Crais began splitting time between Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. That gives this book a hybrid feel in that it doesn’t entirely seem like a Davenport novel, and yet it’s not exactly Virgil’s book either.

It’s a little odd. Not bad, just different. Sandford is in his late 70s now, and he’s written about 50 novels after a career as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. If he had decided to retire completely, he’d have more than earned the right to do so at this point. So if I can get some more of his novels because he’s cutting his work load and figuring out a way to combine his two most popular characters in one series, you won’t hear me complaining about it.

Aside from all that, if someone had never read another Sandford book and just picked this one up, I think they’d find it an entertaining crime novel with some great twists as well as an interesting premise with the angle of the bad guys trying to find a way to retrieve a fortune in drugs from the ocean.

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