STORM PREY is the 20th installment in John Sandford’s Prey series, which charts the law enforcement career of Minnesota Police Investigator Lucas Davenport. I will apologize in advance for the cliché, but it seems like it was only yesterday that I cracked the binding on a book called RULES OF PREY that started things off for Davenport and a revolving cast of supporting characters (and I use the term “character” in every sense of the word). The series has always been readable, even great; for the last couple of books, however, Sandford has been functioning at an entirely new and higher level, and he maintains altitude with STORM PREY.
The premise is simple enough. A doctor wants drugs and recruits a band of low-level thieves to steal them from a hospital pharmacy. The three masked bandits enter the hospital early in the morning and carry out the brazen act, which almost goes according to plan. No one is supposed to get hurt, but one of the pharmacists does, and terminally so. What would have been a significant but mid-priority robbery becomes a priority homicide investigation. What kicks STORM PREY up a notch or three is that Dr. Weather Karkinnen, Davenport’s wife, unwittingly becomes intertwined with robbery and the subsequent investigation. It develops that Karkinnen happened to observe one of the thieves, who was unmasked, as she was arriving at the hospital, and shared an elevator ride with the doctor involved. She thus becomes the only witness who can testify against the men and link them to the robbery. Davenport reacts as expected when an assassination attempt is made against Karkinnen --- if your guess is that he goes “ballistic,” you would not be wrong --- and the chase is on.
Sandford divulges far more information to the reader than Davenport and his team are given, and it’s great fun to watch Davenport go sniffing in a number of different directions --- some right, some wrong --- until his radar hits the right path. Much attention, however, is focused on Karkinnen. She is in the midst of performing the surgical procedure of her career, one that involves the separation of twin babies who are conjoined at the head. While not a medical thriller per se, there are enough passages involving an over-the-shoulder description of the operating theater as a team of doctors fight an uphill battle to save two innocent little lives. But as with any great thriller, STORM PREY includes some fabulous, even over-the-top bad guys, including the trio of outlaw bikers who execute and ultimately screw up the pharmaceutical heist, the drug-addicted doctor who puts them up to it, and the chilling young assassin who begins cleaning up the mess they’ve made in the only way he knows.
There are also a number of wonderful elements in STORM PREY that aren’t necessarily germane to the plot but that set the background mood, the type of thing that makes an already great book even better. The weather is one. The brutal Minneapolis winter provides an ever-present backdrop to the main story, particularly at the conclusion, when a heart-stopping tableau is played out in a residential neighborhood. Another involves the mention of a forgotten song from the 1980s, a hit entitled “Twist in My Sobriety” by Tanita Tikaram. I haven’t thought of that song in decades and didn’t even like it when it was on the radio. Sandford, though, sets it up so well that I couldn’t get it out of my head and ultimately had to download it from iTunes, and play it over and over as I read the remainder of the book.
What more could you want? If you can’t wait for the next Virgil Flowers novel, Flowers plays a secondary but nonetheless prominent role here, and there is a bit of a bombshell at the end that will play out in future Prey volumes. Yes, STORM PREY is one of those books that will do you in so many ways that you will love at least a few of them --- and probably all of them.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011