Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Review: The Investigator

The Investigator The Investigator by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.

And so begin the adventures of Lucas Davenport Jr.

Wait, I guess it’s technically the adventures of Letty, the adopted daughter of super-cop Lucas Davenport, but calling her Davenport Jr. is still accurate because she is definitely a chip off the old block. In fact, she may be even more dangerous than her father.

Letty has come a long way since we first met her when she was a desperately poor kid who had to depend on herself rather than her alcoholic mother. Her life got much better once Lucas Davenport and his wife took her in, but she’s remained an independent pragmatist capable of making tough choices and taking action when its needed. Now in her early ‘20s and just out of college, Letty is working in the office of a US senator, but she’s bored with it and thinking of moving on. After she pulls a couple of bold moves to help catch an embezzler, the senator wants Letty to check into an odd problem and offers her a spot with Homeland Security as an investigator.

Some petroleum companies in west Texas think that someone has been stealing crude oil from them, and there’s a suspicion that a right-wing militia group might be responsible. The amount of money involved is small for an oil company, but it’d fund a lot of domestic terrorism so Letty gets teamed up with an ex-soldier named John Kaiser to try and sort it out. Letty and Kaiser start by investigating the disappearance of an oil company employee who had been looking into the thefts. Soon enough Letty and Kaiser figure out that something big is in the works, and they may be the only people who might be able to stop a catastrophic attack.

Letty was introduced as a character in the Prey novels almost 20 years ago, and I’ve often suspected that Sandford would someday do a book or series with her in the lead. (In reality, Letty would be in her 30s by now, but Sandford characters exist in a slowed down version of reality.) She’s been a big part of several of the books, often driving her adopted father crazy by her stubborn insistence on doing things her way, but also saving the day a couple of times. Despite the Prey books having one successful spin-off series with the Virgil Flower novels, I was always a little uneasy about how Letty seemed destined to be the hero of a Sandford thriller someday. I’m not sure why, it just seemed like nepotism even if these are all fictional characters.

However, at one point in one of the recent books Lucas and Letty had a conversation which indicated that she wasn’t interested in a career in law enforcement so it seemed like maybe Sandford was letting us know that the long teased Letty-book would never happen. Yet here we are so I don’t know if this was always the plan, or if something changed, but it did seem a little odd to me.
I got nervous right at the start of this one when Letty is pulling a break-in to investigate the embezzling going on at one of the senator’s campaign offices. She has several tricks to get into an office building that Sandford has used before in both the Davenport and Kidd novels, so I was instantly worried that this was just going to be a rehash of things done before with just a new character in the lead.

As usual, I was wrong to doubt Sandford.

While that opening was familiar, Letty quickly establishes herself as a different person than Lucas, Virgil Flowers, Kidd, or any other Sandford hero. Like all of them, Letty is smart, resourceful, and capable of pulling a sneaky and/or illegal move when necessary, but what sets her apart is that Letty has what might best be described as a mean streak. Yeah, Lucas could be a real bastard when necessary, and capable of outright murder when the situation calls for it. But Letty takes that a step further and seems even more ruthless than her father at times.

The plot of this one also seems like Sandford kicked things up a notch. There’s the usual cat-and-mouse thing where he follows the bad guys for part of the book and tells us some of what they’re planning, but just enough is held back to give us some twists and turns. The last act is one of the biggest and most ambitious things to happen in any of the books. A few years back, I might have said that it seemed unlikely, but these days, it sounds horrifyingly plausible.

Through it all, we’ve got Letty doing a lot of good detective work as she’s hot on the trail of the militia, and while she’s already a force to be reckoned with, there are still things for her to learn as well so she doesn’t seem too perfect as an action hero. The partner Kaiser provides a nice counterpoint to her as a veteran soldier who knows a lot about some aspects of the job, but he isn’t really an investigator so lets Letty take point.

It's just once again Sandford doing what he does so well, creating a high-octane mystery-thriller that keeps you turning pages. If the next book also stars Letty, I won’t be disappointed.

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