John Sandford’s Prey series featuring Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) agent Lucas Davenport has been consistently listed on the New York Times Bestsellers List (Fiction). I read the latest book in the series, Gathering Prey, last year and was blown away by the way it was written. So naturally, I had to read another entry from the series. I did that when I picked up this one from 2014, the 24th in the Prey series, Field Of Prey.
The novel starts with a flashback of sorts, when we are provided a description of the only time a girl managed to escape from the hands of the villains of the story, R-A and Horn, who are serial rapists and killers. I noticed this in Gathering Prey as well that Mr. Sandford doesn’t hide the identity of his killers from the reader, instead providing their part of the tale too, how, why and when they like to kill people, with some very detailed descriptions of the crimes.
The next chapter jumps to the present day with a teenager going to a corn field with his girlfriend to ‘score’. They smell something really rotten there, like a big dead animal, and the next day the guy informs his acquaintance in the Police department who then discovers a lot of dead bodies in the well hole in the field. The whole police department and the BCA guys (including our hero Lucas) along with some Feds too, converge on the scene of the crime. And thus starts the manhunt.
The book, and the series too I would guess, are different from other books of the genre also because they show the protagonist handling more than a single case at any given time, although the focus of the story is always on the one we’re shown at the beginning. Also, Lucas’ family life, his wife Weather and kids, including adopted and soon-to-be-going-to-college Letty are also involved in the story, Letty especially so because a lot of times, she works as an assistant to Lucas and he uses her expertise and mind for his investigation too. As for the man himself, Lucas is largely a man of principle but is shown as someone who doesn’t mind bending the law when it suits the interest of justice. Also, he’s different from other heroes of similar series in the sense of fashion and financial status too. While most other heroes of the genre are generally depicted as depending on their salary and not affluent, Lucas has a lot of money and likes to splurge on apparel. Also, he drives around in a Porsche or a Mercedes.
Back to the story then. Police gather almost 21 female skeletons from the “Black Hole”, as it is named by the media, and unsurprisingly for the story, they don’t have any DNA or such evidence to nail the killer. The killer has a preference for young, blonde women who drink but from time to time, he kills other types too. The police are convinced that the killer is someone local, even someone whom people see regularly. Two teams research the case with the one led by Lucas supporting the other one. After a plot twist, the case falls squarely on Lucas’ shoulders and that’s when the book goes from yet another serial killer thriller to a really good police procedural. The book explores the various false dawns – like when after a fresh killing, a 6 year old girl tells the police she saw the killer. It also deals with the kind of negative publicity the police have to deal with from the press if they are perceived to be incompetent or worse, high-handed in carrying out their duty. It also shows how people don’t mind lying and demonizing someone innocent for their own 15 minutes of fame. The killers, after seeing the coverage of their crimes’ investigation, taunt Catrin Mattson, the local Sheriff’s Deputy working with Lucas on the case, in an attempt to divert the police’s attention and capture her. Mattson, as you may have guessed, is also young and blonde! The climax, when it arrives, is gruesome as well as deeply fulfilling on various levels.
This kind of serial killer thriller can become stale, run-of-the-mill stuff pretty quickly but in the hands of an expert craftsman like Mr. Sandford, it is a sheer joy to read. The way he keeps the plot engaging despite the many distractions, in fact weaving them into the narrative, is marvellous. The tension doesn’t let up at any stage although the author provides for comic relief from time to time through the use of “insights” gained by various characters throughout the story, especially through Lucas’ interactions with Virgil Flowers (his assistant who has his own book series) as also with various one-liners that are scattered throughout the book. It is, for want of a better word, almost unputdownable. This is an example of a book by a very good author in top form. Not to be missed!
Rating : 4.5/5