By the time a series gets appreciably past its salad days, the signs of writer fatigue are usually unmistakable. Which is what makes this 14th outing from Sandford so remarkable: the brilliant Prey series goes bopping along, taking steps two at a time, acting like your basic spring chicken.
Series hero Lucas Davenport (Mortal Prey, 2002, etc.), self-styled “richest cop in Minnesota”—with a fortune derived from the design of beautifully complex computer games—has a new job, crime-solving for Governor Elmer Henderson: that is, taking on those hot-potato assignments deemed political dynamite. When Deon Cash, a black man, and Jane Warr, a white woman, are found naked and dead, dangling from a tree in backwater Broderick, the Governor’s men hurriedly summon Lucas, the word “lynching” much in the air. But it’s not a lynching. To begin with, Broderick, a six-hour drive from St. Paul, simply doesn’t have that kind of problem. Moreover, it doesn’t take long for the real motive to surface: vengeance. Cash and Warr, it turns out, kidnapped and killed the young daughter of prominent Minnesota businessman Hale Sorrell. Acting as judge, jury, and hangman, Sorell has meted out vigilante justice, and savvy Lucas nails him for it—but before Sorrell can be arrested, he, too, is gunned down. Now Lucas surmises that more than Cash and Warr were involved in the kidnap plot. Back to Broderick he goes, where the evidence leads in an unforeseen direction. And where 12-year-old Letty West, freckled and gritty (“she might have been a female Huckleberry Finn”) does a lot to capture a sociopathic killer—as well as Lucas’s unexpectedly susceptible heart.
Nonstop drive, dialogue that amuses and surprises, deft characterizations. But most notable of what Sandford continues to do—better, perhaps, than anyone in crime fiction—is humanize his monsters: that makes for a special kind of creepiness.