Three characters control the outcome of this story. One is a cop, one is a lawyer and one is a television reporter. Each one is ruthless, manipulative, vicious, highly intelligent, a player and a killer of either body or soul.
Lucas Davenport is the cop. He is also a highly successful creator of fantasy/combat computer games. His ability to strategize on the fly, to think multiple steps ahead of the current action and to utilize violence with little remorse makes it difficult for him to play nicely in the sandbox with others not of like mind. Even though his ability to lead a squad of officers is virtually non-existent, he is still one of the most successful vice and homicide detectives in Minneapolis PD’s history.
Now a lieutenant, he is a division of one, a specialist in gathering intel from a vast street network, forwarding the tips and whisperings on to the appropriate squads for follow-up. Keeping his own hours and reporting only to the Chief of Police, he often works a parallel path with the official investigation teams. As a result, to date and still in his early thirties, he has killed five men in the line of duty.
Lucas Davenport is a predator, whether the hunted is a suspected criminal or the next intelligent and attractive woman on his dance card. He despises the first and he respects the other. But the quest for either is still a hunt that has well-established rules of prey.
The lawyer is maddog, one word and spelled in lower-case, but his real name is Louis Vullion. He appears to be that sub-genre of psychopath who is broken from birth. And with parents who were as remote and isolated as the Texas ranch on which he was raised, there appears to have been no chance for repair. He has always known he was “wrong,” and he has willingly chosen to play that hand rather than seek psychological help.
Like Lucas, maddog is adept at gamesmanship. Like Lucas, his strategies are focused on the guilty and the women, even if, to maddog, they are one and the same. Like Lucas, his kill count is at five. And like Lucas, as he demonstrates with each raped and knifed body, he has very distinctive and formulated rules of prey.
Jennifer Carey is the TV reporter, and she has been one of Lucas Davenport’s bed partners for about three years now. At her core, Jennifer is a sociopath. She is one of those media people that adds to the callous reputation of the breed. She uses every tool at her disposal – lies, threats, bribes, blackmail, tears, her gender, even her biological clock – to get what she wants personally or professionally.
And she does so without a single care for the consequences or collateral damage to the people she targets in her stories or in her life. She is every bit as adept at gamesmanship as Lucas and maddog. However, with little sense of ethics, she has few rules to limit her actions, and definitely no defining rules of prey.
In this first entry of the Prey series, which is still in production after nearly 25 years, John Sandford creates, in Lucas Davenport, a character that is atypical within the normal detective genre of its time. As far as timelines go, Davenport is a contemporary of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. However, he is a cop rather than a PI, and he works out of the Twin Cities rather than LA. He isn’t witty like Cole or Spenser, and he does not have a lethal sidekick.
Davenport writes computer code and bad poetry and he doesn’t flaunt his wealth. He pays as much attention to his mental health as to his physical one. He accepts full responsibility for his actions and their consequences, personally and professionally. Yet, in the end he is a stone cold killer with a badge, a vigilante when justice cannot or will not prevail.
The action in the story – mental, physical and emotional – is well crafted, realistic and logical. Because we know the identity of the killer from the first page, there are no mysteries for the reader to solve, no red herrings to wade through. There are, however, more than enough bumps, grinds and mistakes on everyone’s part to make the story one that builds tension steadily to the point where sleep becomes highly over-rated.
The attacks and murders are vicious and graphically described. Also graphically detailed are maddog’s internal monologues between killings. The man is not an egotistical maniac with delusions of grandeur or superiority. He is an intelligent but broken little man with a psychological compulsion to kill that has besieged him since he was a toddler. Quite frankly, Sandford’s portrayal of maddog makes you feel sorry for the man. Not sorry enough to want him to survive, but sorry for him, nevertheless.
As you reach the final pages of the book, Sandford closes down the story arc without a cliffhanger ending or a police-related hook for the next novel. He does leave a personal hook involving Lucas, however.
Unfortunately, what Sandford does not do is dispatch Jennifer Carey – literally or figuratively. One can only hope that that particular circumstance will come soon. Believe me, she is one character that possesses a kind of evil that every female reader recognizes and has well and good reason to fear.
Cover Art From Goodreads