Phantom Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Lucas Davenport goes goth.
Alyssa Austin is a wealthy widow that returns home to find a bloodstain on her wall and that her adult daughter Francis has vanished. With no body and no leads, the police can’t do much with the case. After a friend of Francis is murdered by a mysterious goth woman known only as Fairy, Alyssa turns to her friend Weather for help.
Weather just so happens to be married to Lucas Davenport, one of the top cops with Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as well as being the governor’s chief rat catcher. Weather pushes Lucas to look into it both as a favor to her friend and to get him out of his annual post-winter funk. Lucas starts reluctantly at his wife’s nagging, but soon finds himself intrigued by the mystery of Francis’s disappearance.
As Lucas starts talking to people in the Minneapolis goth community, he's also running an extended stake-out on the pregnant girlfriend of a dangerous Lithuanian gangster who skipped town in case he comes back for her. Lucas also has to deal with a mountain of political bullshit due to the upcoming Republican National Convention.
I’ve sung John Sandford’s praises in plenty of reviews here on Goodreads, and I don’t have much to add to them. He’s several notches above the typical thriller hacks who own the best seller lists because he creates intriguing stories with characters you can relate to and he routinely builds momentum and suspense to the point where a reader may find themselves on their feet instead of in their chair because the tension won‘t allow them to sit still.
One thing that caught my eye here was the way Sandford portrays Davenport’s attitude about his job. It's a thriller cliché to have the hero horrified and burned out by the crimes they investigate, yet they continue to do it because only they have the knowledge and skill to stop the killer, etc. etc. Lucas isn’t like that. He enjoys his work both for the mental aspect of figuring things out and the adrenaline rush of throwing on a bulletproof vest and crashing through a door. While he’s flirted with a clinical depression at times, a genuine mystery to solve can snap him out of it like in this book where his wife is tired of him moping around after a long dull winter and basically kicks him in the ass to get him revved up again. He’s not cold or immune to the suffering of others, but he can ration out his empathy so that he’s not consumed by it.
I also realized I’m probably not giving Sandford enough credit in the writing department. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning print journalist and sometimes his plain prose hides genuine cleverness. Like this:
“Lucas slurped the coffee, which tasted sort of brown, like a cross between real coffee and the paper sack it came in.”
This is another highly entertaining entry in the Prey series. It’s not quite up to the recent level that Sandford has hit with the crazily good Buried Prey or the Virgil Flowers story in Bad Blood, but it’s a great example of how Sandford thrillers stand out from the pack.
Next: Lucas vs. the Republicans in Wicked Prey.
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