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Tom Chaney: Prey Tale Us

Of Writers And Their Books: Prey Tale Us. Tom say that Sandford creates his characters with a clear feeling for truth, having studied the human race and serving up believable evil. This column first appeared 13 July 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: The Elephant in the Room

By Tom Chaney

Prey Tale Us

In 1989 John Sandford began his "Prey" series of crime thrillers with his Minneapolis detective-hero Lucas Davenport in Rules of Prey. Number eighteen in the series, Phantom Prey [Putnam, 2008], has just been published.

He was chugging along when I discovered him some four or five years ago, and I was soon running to catch up. Along the way he turned to the Kidd series for four books and another four or so not in the series.

In the early "Prey" novels, Davenport is a womanizer who gradually begins to look like a predator. Independently wealthy from his hobby of creating computer games, he drives a Porsche and achieves an unusual degree of bureaucratic independence at first from local authorities and then as a state agent working at the pleasure of the governor of Minnesota.

Along the line he is seriously wounded. His life is saved by a skilled surgeon -- Weather who becomes his wife and bears him a child.

By the time of number eighteen he is pretty much domesticated.

Yet, in this novel Weather plays a major role on the detective side. It is she who introduces Lucas to Alyssa Austin -- wealthy widow whose husband was recently killed in a plane crash in Canada -- who comes home to bloody evidence of murder. Blood on the walls but no body. Her daughter is missing.

The daughter has been associating with Goths -- folks who dress in black with black make-up and who are fascinated with all aspects of death and dying. Through Weather, Alyssa persuades Lucas to become involved in the search for her daughter Frances. This he reluctantly does, especially when another Goth is slashed to death.

Of course, there are subplots. What would a "Prey" novel be without 'em? Lucas and his cohort Dell are staking out the apartment of Heather, whose drug dealing lover, Ziggy, is on his way back from Miami. In a memorable shoot-out reminiscent of the O. K. Corral, justice wins, Ziggy bleeds to death, and Heather and her unborn child are safe.

Sandford has all the qualities of a popular suspense writer. His villains are evil and complicated; his hero is flawed but basically good; his car chases are outrageous but believable; and right prevails.

But he is more than that.

Sandford is a nom de plume for a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaperman -- John Camp. That route to novelist brings attributes that not every would-be writer of thrillers can muster.

In the first place Camp/Sandford communicates a vivid sense of place. Had I never been to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, I would have a clear sense of their detail from Sandford's novels. Since I have been to those cities several times over the last 35 years, I can attest to the validity of his description.

Although his characters are often beyond the pale of normality, Sandford creates them with a clear feeling for truth. He has studied the human race -- especially the secret underbelly -- and serves up believable evil.

Finally, he does all of that with a verbal style that is fluid and easy. His language is deft, and his sense of humor is delicious. When a ringer for Ziggy comes into Heather's apartment, and the SWAT team is ready to pounce, Lucas' associate Jenkins stops them. It's not him. "His earlobes are wrong."

And Lucas is also busy planning security for the upcoming Republican convention. We hear an echo of the current news when he has to fight the bureaucrats who, ignoring need, design the security based on budget.

I'm waiting for the next two "Prey" novels with baited breath, and a couple of "Kidd"s would be nice as well.

[Editorial Note: Since Phantom Prey there have come Wicked Prey, Storm Prey, Buried Prey, Stolen Prey, and Silken Prey.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-07-14 02:24:43
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