I recently have been recommending to friends and relatives SILKEN PREY by John Sandford, a political thriller disguised as a mystery. Maybe I have that backwards; perhaps it is a mystery disguised as a political thriller, or a hybrid, like one of those cars that uses electricity and gas. Unlike such vehicles, though, this book doesn’t break down on you 500 miles from the dealership, never loses power, far exceeds 45 miles per hour, and didn’t (as far as I know) require a government subsidy to get built. Whatever it might be, SILKEN PREY is one of those books that fans of the Lucas Davenport novels can and must read, as it appears to mark the beginning of yet another turning point in this consistently well-written and long-running series.
"SILKEN PREY is one of those books that fans of the Lucas Davenport novels can and must read, as it appears to mark the beginning of yet another turning point in this consistently well-written and long-running series."
Sandford gives readers most of the information they need early on in the novel, so they can enjoy watching Davenport slowly uncover and unravel the mystery, following clues and instincts, some of which are correct. One of the elements that makes this series such a joy to read is Sandford’s ability to discern and explore variations on classic plots and storylines. So it is that in SILKEN PREY, a murder is committed early on; we learn the why and the who in short order, though it takes Davenport and his crew a bit of time to determine that it actually has taken place. The victim is an unscrupulous political operative who, one week before an election, has loaded child pornography onto the personal computer of Porter Smalls, an incumbent U.S. Senator from Minnesota running for reelection. As a result, Smalls sees his lead in the polls evaporate and disappear while his opponent, a ruthless narcissist named Taryn Grant who has a dictionary full of mental problems, makes political hay from the discovery. It is Grant, of course, who commissioned the implantation of the pornography onto Smalls’s computer.
The sitting Minnesota governor, who is a political adversary but personal friend of Smalls, knows in his heart that Smalls has been set up. Thus, he orders Davenport to quietly conduct an investigation into who is responsible for the smear and to clear Smalls before the election. Davenport is able to discover quickly enough that the material was indeed planted on Smalls’s computer. Furthermore, Davenport is quick to suspect Grant’s complicity in the incident. The problem, however, is proving it. Davenport pokes here and there, and gets reactions, though not the ones that necessarily either entirely clear Smalls or implicate Grant.
Meanwhile, the election --- the ticking clock --- approaches. Davenport’s methods begin to bear fruit, even as his future, politically and personally, becomes doubtful. These are dangerous people with whom Davenport is dealing, and he is making some political enemies as well, given that his party of persuasion has a vested interest in Smalls’s defeat, regardless of the reason.
The ending is a surprising one and undoubtedly will have repercussions in future volumes of the series. There will be a bit of fallout from Davenport’s actions, and the occurrences here may be the first step toward a change of employment for him. There is also lots of business left unfinished at the conclusion, and the knowledge that Davenport possesses as a result of his investigation may have painted a target on his back. However, one of the most interesting elements of the book, in a story loaded with them, is the unexpected but welcome return of Kidd. Longtime Sandford readers who have waited for a fifth installment in the Kidd series will find their appetites whetted with a subplot that gives Kidd and his wife a prominent role.
Did I mention that SILKEN PREY might constitute a turning point in the series? Read it and see for yourself.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 10, 2013