The latest installment in John Sandford's series featuring the iconic Lucas Davenport lifts the veil off of Davenport's early career as one of his first cases comes back to haunt him in a number of ironic and, yes, horrific ways. This is a work of immediate and mandatory appeal to long-time Sandford fans as well those encountering the author and his creation for the first time.
BURIED PREY begins with the grisly and heartbreaking discovery of the remains of two young girls in an abandoned house. It is quickly established that the bodies belong to a pair of sisters who went missing over a quarter-century before. Their disappearance was one of the cases that enabled an ambitious and driven Minneapolis police officer named Lucas Davenport to be promoted to plainclothes duty. Although the supposed perpetrator was killed while resisting arrest, Davenport was dissatisfied with the resolution, feeling that there were too many unanswered questions related to the incident. Other cases were initiated, however, and Davenport never followed through on his intent to further investigate the matter.
Now, the discovery of the girls' bodies proves that Davenport's hunch was correct. Possessed by overwhelming guilt, Davenport resolves to bring the true perpetrator to justice, inspired by the all-but-certain knowledge that the fiend who killed the sisters so long ago has claimed other victims as well.
Interestingly enough, the narrative is (roughly) divided into two parts. Almost the entire first half is devoted to an account of Davenport's original investigation. It is by turns intriguing, amusing and fascinating to get an extended look at Davenport, just out of college, developing and refining the facets of his somewhat unique personality. At his core, though, he's the same: relentlessly driven and unable to stop himself from tenaciously investigating and pursuing leads, even if it means breaking (or at least bending) orders coming down the chain of command.
The second half of BURIED PREY is given over to the current-day investigation. Although Davenport isn't involved in the case, that doesn't prevent him from poking and prodding at things. When a sudden and tragic twist occurs that strikes very close to Davenport, he loses whatever self-imposed restraint he had and goes full-bore in pursuit of a twisted, brilliant adversary who has escaped justice for over a quarter-century and is all too aware that his day of reckoning is fast approaching.
BURIED PREY is brilliantly plotted, and Sandford takes his reader from point to point, punctuating the narrative with unique and colorful turns of phrase. But the focal point of the story is, of course, Davenport. Immensely likable, even sometimes in spite of himself, Davenport, at least from the standpoint of his personality, is perhaps the most realistically portrayed character in crime fiction. Sandford gives us a warts-and-all picture of the blue line, and a state police administrator who at heart is still a dogged street cop. The result is what may be his best work to date.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 24, 2011