Lucas Davenport makes his seventeenth appearance in John Sandford's
newest novel, BROKEN PREY. Davenport's current position is as a
Minnesota State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator, who,
of late, has been doing behind-the-scenes gigs for the governor.
But a sadistic psychopathic serial killer has been released from
the state hospital for the criminally insane and horrific murders
are popping up like bad pennies. "All major metro areas ha[s] them,
sometimes two and three at a time. The public ha[s] the impression
that they were rare. They [aren't.]"
The first body was that of a young woman. "Her body…was
crisscrossed with cuts that had probably been made with some kind
of flail, Lucas thought: a whip made out of wire, maybe … she
was scourged." Law enforcement responders entered a scene that
resembled a tableau that could have been staged by the Marquis de
"A week [after that, Davenport] sat in a booth in St. Paul bar
sharing break time with two lawyers when his cell phone rang." The
call was from Gene Nordwall, the sheriff of Blue Earth County,
fifty or sixty miles southwest of the Twin Cities, and the home
base of the BCA. He told Lucas "somebody killed a kid and tortured
his dad to death." The crime was so hideous that the sheriff said,
"I ain't seen anything like [this] in fifty years."
When Nordwall was asked if the body was arranged, he wanted to know
how Davenport knew that. Simple answer: he'd just seen it on his
own turf…the dead woman who was left in a similar position.
On the way to the site of the second murder Lucas and his partner
Sloane discussed the two crime scenes: "One thing about this guy
--- he's leaving the bodies in our faces. He's probably scouting
locations, putting them where they attract attention, but he feels
safe doing it."
The murders are especially grim and the book is dark. At the center
of the plot is St. John's mental hospital outside of Minneapolis.
"A few weeks back a guy named Charlie Pope was turned
loose…he was a Level Two, convicted of raping a woman and
trying to strangle her." Since "he was only convicted of one rape,
and he was coming to the end of his sentence…they decided the
best thing to do was to let him go a few months early --- he was
desperate to get out --- and … a long-term ankle bracelet
[was] part of the deal." Of course, "he cut off the bracelet and
Now, a maniacal killer who leaves only a trail of blood but not a
shred of forensic evidence is loose among the population. He is
Charlie Pope, and he is the prime suspect in both killings. Then,
out of the blue, he calls Ruffe Ignace, an ambitious and obnoxious
reporter with the Star-Tribune. "The killer [planned to] use
[the journalist] to point [the detectives] in the wrong direction.
Serial killers occasionally talked to the press or cops … but
usually they were looking for glory or turning themselves in. This
guy pretended to be looking for glory, but he was actually trying
to use Ignace in a manipulative way."
The monster in BROKEN PREY is a demon, but a very smart demon. He
has every move choreographed right up to the finale. He tortures
his victims with a passion born of rage and insanity, a brain wired
in such a way that it is not recognizable as human. When Lucas and
Sloane visit St. John, the "snake pit-like" hospital, they are told
that Pope was close to "The Big Three" --- men who are nuts,
violent, believe women need to die a horrible death, and yet, have
charismatic power over the other inmates. They are the worst kind
of killers --- they like what they do.
Charlie Pope was seen huddling and whispering and apparently
planning "who knows what with these guys." Now he is "out" but his
pals aren't going anywhere. The investigative team tinkers with
ideas that Charlie has morphed into a kind of robot using all of
the horrendous methods of the "Threes" to inflict the most pain and
damage when killing his prey. Is it possible for the criminally
insane to influence another inmate so that he will carry out
pre-planned murders? This is a question that takes BROKEN PREY to a
new level in genre fiction. It raises the spectre of evil among all
of us, yet we have no way of knowing when or who it will strike.
How law enforcement goes about trying to solve this conundrum makes
for fast-paced, white-knuckle reading.
This strange and complicated case takes every bit of energy and
brainpower Davenport and his team can muster. The way the
investigation is conducted, its outcome and how long the BCI takes
to break the case is being closely watched by politicians and
rainmakers who have their own agendas. The words of the title
BROKEN PREY reflect the nature of the criminals, the victims and
everyone who has had any contact with these madmen. Unfortunately,
the crimes against humanity explored in the novel bear a
too-accurate resemblance to current kidnappings and recent sexually
sadistic crimes. Readers are forced to question the role fiction
plays in our everyday lives.
John Sandford touches every base in BROKEN PREY. And part of what
saves the book from being over the top is the way he infuses a
couple of devices to bring some order to the chaos. He sets the
scene by conveniently sending Weather and the kids to London for
the summer. Not having to worry about their safety, Davenport can
stay focused. Weather calls him every morning at 8 a.m. so they can
keep each other apprised of how their day went. Her work is going
well. His is a living nightmare. At the same time the narrative is
punctuated with witty, humorous chit-chat and smart-alecky remarks.
Also, an ongoing discussion of which 100 top rock-and-roll songs
Lucas should program into his new iPod breaks the tension for the
cops and for readers. This works! These lighter moments offer both
the investigators and readers some space to digest the horrific
nature of the crimes and to process what we learn about those among
us who become vicious serial killers.
Sandford has ratcheted the suspense level with masterly narrative
and a fierce plot that functions like a mobious strip. Fans will
treasure BROKEN PREY and new readers will certainly be hooked to
Sandford's body of work.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 23, 2010