Field of Prey
It appears there is no limit to John Sandford’s ability to keep new breath and blood flowing into his Lucas Davenport series. Sandford seems to top himself with each new installment; the latest is no exception to that rule. FIELD OF PREY is a time bandit that demands readers sit in one place from first page to last. This thriller is set south of the Twin Cities in a rustic environment that conceals a terrible secret created by a pair of vicious thrill killers.
Sandford reveals to readers early on the solution to the mystery that Davenport and his team spend the book investigating. FIELD OF PREY begins years ago when a woman is abducted by a motley pair from a diner parking lot in a crossroads town. She manages to effectively turn the tables on one of her abductors, a local oddball named Jack Horn. She is able to immediately contact the police; Horn, though mortally wounded, escapes thanks to the assistance of his partner in crime, Roger Axel, a local businessman. It becomes clear all too quickly that Horn and Axel have been a part of this business for a while.
"It doesn’t get any better than FIELD OF PREY. At this point in the series, Sanford could be phoning in his stories and few people would care. He DOES care, though, and it shows."
How long and how much becomes clear as the narrative shifts to the present, when a pair of newly entwined lovers, in the aftermath of a tender moment, makes what becomes a grisly discovery on the abandoned farm that is the site of their tryst. A hidden cistern yields a trove of decaying human remains going back over a decade in time. Though Davenport has other pressing cases, from one involving the missing proprietor of a Ponzi scheme to a quartet of geriatric illegal gun runners, he is assigned to the serial murder investigation because of the attendant publicity and the feeling among the populace (and understandably so) that there is a murderer at large in their midst and that they are all in danger. Indeed, “they” are correct. Axel runs a hardware store, and while he is regarded as a bit weird, no one is exactly turning him in as a suspected murderer. When someone gets a bit too close to the truth, however, they wind up dead as well. This happens more than once, a situation that does not bring Davenport and his team any closer to solving their mystery.
The clock is ticking; the governor is up for reelection and doesn’t need an unsolved serial murder case in his state when the voters step behind the curtain. The additional murders certainly aren’t helping, either. What Davenport has to do is figure out what the newest victims knew to get themselves murdered. Time is running out, and just when it seems that things couldn’t get any worse, one of the officers on the investigation team --- a somewhat abrasive yet extremely competent woman with a bit of a history with Virgil Flowers, Davenport’s investigator --- also goes missing. Davenport has to solve the “who” part of the mystery quickly before someone else is lost. The answer to that question will put Davenport in mortal danger as well, maybe for the last time.
It doesn’t get any better than FIELD OF PREY. At this point in the series, Sanford could be phoning in his stories and few people would care. He DOES care, though, and it shows. My favorite part of the book is a little revelation Sandford drops about three quarters of the way into the story, a bombshell of a surprise that makes perfect sense. Then, of course, there is the rough humor and camaraderie, shot through the entire novel, and a tantalizing hint that things may change for Davenport in the near future. This is a series you must be reading if you are not already.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 9, 2014