There are some really twisted people walking around. They don't have big neon signs pointing this out to the world, or dots on their hand that glow, or anything like that. They look like you or me (well, like you, anyway) and you'd never suspect them of anything until they abduct a child or the local gendarme find skeletons in their basement, and then their neighbors all wonder about the beast within. But they are out there amongst us. Oh yes, they are.
One of these mistakes of nature is the lead character of CHOSEN PREY, John Sandford's latest Lucas Davenport novel. Sandford, who just keeps getting better and better with these annual gems, doesn't waste any time introducing the reader to James Qatar; before the second page is turned you're going to be real uneasy about this guy --- and with good reason. Qatar is an art history professor, published author, and a really, really sick guy. He has a hobby: He secretly takes photographs of women and, using some modest artistic talent and some fairly commonplace computer software, turns them into highly imaginative sexual drawings. If he stopped at this we could all have ourselves a lively debate about invasions of privacy and the rights of men to privately exercise their imaginations, and consent, and a hundred other things --- but our friend Dr. Qatar doesn't stop there. No, Qatar learned back in his formative years that he likes killing and he has become very good at it. In fact, he is so good at it that no one is even aware that anyone has been killed.
CHOSEN PREY begins, interestingly enough, just as Qatar's terrible secret life is beginning to unravel. Sandford takes some really interesting chances here. There is no real mystery for the reader as to Qatar's identity; Qatar's victims, who have been concealed for several years, begin to be discovered before the first chapter is complete; and Qatar is by turns so interesting and repulsive that he threatens to hijack the story away from Davenport, who is supposed to be the star of the piece. Sandford, however, keeps things interesting enough, cutting back and forth between Qatar's activities and Davenport's methodical, less than perfect but realistic police work, that the reader can't stop turning pages. Longtime readers of the Davenport novels will be especially intrigued by Davenport's social life. He actually manages to remain monogamous for the entire novel (which is not to say that his attention never wanders, if only for a moment) --- and his future, both professionally and personally, portends great change. Sandford has become a master at not only keeping his readers interested in the novel at hand, but also at creating anticipation for the next one. Sandford also manages in CHOSEN PREY to plug his equally intriguing Kidd novels, and does so quite plausibly and without straining himself.
Sandford, with CHOSEN PREY, continues to tinker with Lucas Davenport's professional and personal life while introducing one of the more disturbing antagonists of recent crime fiction. This is one that will keep you awake at night for more than one reason.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011