Certain Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #10)

Certain Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #10)

4.2 103
by John Sandford

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In Certain Prey, Davenport confronts an entirely new kind of adversary. Clara Rinker is a southerner, trim, pleasant, attractive - and the best hit woman in the business. She isn't showy, not one of those movie killers; she just goes quietly about her business, collects her money, and goes home. It's when she's hired for a job in Minnesota that things become…  See more details below


In Certain Prey, Davenport confronts an entirely new kind of adversary. Clara Rinker is a southerner, trim, pleasant, attractive - and the best hit woman in the business. She isn't showy, not one of those movie killers; she just goes quietly about her business, collects her money, and goes home. It's when she's hired for a job in Minnesota that things become complicated for her. A defense attorney wants a rival eliminated, and that's fine. But then a witness survives, the attorney starts acting weird, this big cop Davenport gets on her case, and loose ends begin popping up faster than a sweater unraveling. Clara hates loose ends, and knows of only one way to deal with them: You start cutting them off, one after another, until they're all gone. Lucas thinks the case is worrisome enough, but he has no idea of the toll it is about to take on him. For of the many criminals he has hunted during his life, none has been as efficient or as ferociously intelligent as the one who is about to start hunting him - and none knows so well what his weak spots are ... and how to penetrate them.

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Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
May 1999

Certain Prey is John Sandford's 11th novel in ten years, and the tenth to feature hard-edged, charismatic homicide detective Lucas Davenport. Once again, Sandford has managed to avoid the traps of repetition and overfamiliarity that mar so many attempts to create an extended series and given us a shrewdly plotted, furiously paced novel that is as visceral and gripping as anything he has published to date.

The opening chapters find Davenport in unusually placid circumstances. He is financially secure, having developed and sold a lucrative line of computer simulation software; he is enjoying a brief, atypical period of complete celibacy; and he is increasingly isolated from the life of the streets by the endless bureaucratic demands of his role as deputy chief of the Minneapolis Police Department. Reality, of course, soon intervenes, and Davenport is pulled down from his ivory tower by a vicious, execution-style killing and its unexpected aftermath.

The killing is initiated by Carmel Loan, a sociopathic defense attorney with a million-dollar-a-year practice and a tendency to get what she wants. When she decides that she wants the handsome but unattainable husband of a wealthy local socialite named Barbara Allen, she hires the services of an out-of-town hitwoman named Clara Rinker, who successfully eliminates the inconvenient Allen but is also forced to shoot a Minneapolis police officer who stumbles onto the scene. From that point, events take on a life and momentum of their own.

First, a blackmailer with incriminating tapes ofCarmeldiscussing the proposed murder enters the picture, and Carmel and Clara join forces to eliminate the blackmailer and track down all existing copies of the tape. The resulting flurry of murders leads to a manhunt that pits Davenport, the Minneapolis PD, and numerous FBI agents against two desperate women who are ruthless and resourceful enough to give the combined forces of the law a serious run for their money.

While it is fascinating, as always, to watch the intuitive, equally ruthless Davenport bring his gamesman's instincts to bear on yet another complex investigation, the real heart of the novel is Sandford's striking presentation of the symbiotic relationship between his two killers and his gradual revelation of their essential characters. Clara Rink, a brisk, efficient professional hitwoman with dozens of murders to her credit, reveals an aspect of her nature that is surprisingly human, even vulnerable, while Carmel Loan, a pillar of the community with impeccable credentials, reveals a previously undiscovered taste for murder, mayhem, and conspiracy. It is Carmel who initiates most of the novel's more violent interludes, Carmel whose maneuverings lead to a final, bloody confrontation with Lucas Davenport.

Sandford — pseudonym of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Camp — writes clean, clear, highly kinetic prose that moves the action along at a pace only slightly short of the speed of light. The momentum of his writing galvanizes the narrative, enabling it to surmount and survive the occasional lapse in credibility (as, for example, when one of Carmel's dying victims scratches an important clue into his skin with his fingernails, a singularly unconvincing plot device I would never have expected from Sandford). Mostly, though, Certain Prey is an intelligent and authoritative thriller, a certified page-turner that rarely takes a questionable step. It may not exactly be art, but it is polished, professional entertainment of a high order and should more than meet the expectations of its author's large, and loyal, following.

—Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. He is currently working on a book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Lucas Davenport Series, #10
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.40(w) x 7.54(h) x 1.06(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    Clara Rinker.

    Of the three unluckiest days in Barbara Allen's life, the first was the day Clara Rinker was raped behind a St. Louis nudie bar called Zanadu, which was located west of the city in a dusty checkerboard of truck terminals, warehouses and light assembly plants. Zanadu, as its chrome-yellow I-70 billboard proclaimed, was E-Z On, E-Z Off. The same was not true of Clara Rinker, despite what Zanadu's customers thought.

    Rinker was sixteen when she was raped, a small athletic girl, a dancer, an Ozarks runaway. She had bottle-blond hair that showed darker roots, and a body that looked wonderful in V-necked, red-polka-dotted, thin cotton dresses from Kmart. A body that drew the attention of cowboys, truckers and other men who dreamt of Nashville.

    Rinker had taken up nude dancing because she could. It was that, fuck for money or go hungry. The rape took place at two o'clock in the morning on an otherwise delightful April night, the kind of night when midwestern kids are allowed to stay out late and play war, when cicadas hum down from their elm-bark hideaways. Rinker had closed the bar that night; she was the last dancer up.

    Four men were still drinking when she finished. Three were hound-faced long-distance truckers who had nowhere to go but the short beds in their various Kenworths, Freightliners and Peterbilts; and one was a Norwegian exotic-animal dealer drowning the sorrows of a recent mishap involving a box of boa constrictors and thirty-six thousand dollars' worth of illegal tropical birds.

    A fifth man, a slope-shouldered gorilla named Dale-Something, had walked out of the bar halfway through Rinker's last grind. He left behind twelve dollars in crumpled ones and two small sweat rings where his forearms had been propped on the bar. Rinker had worked down the bar-top, stopping for ten seconds in front of each man for what the girls called a crack shot. Dale-Something had gotten the first shot, and he had stood up and walked out as soon as she moved to the next guy. When she was done, Rinker hopped off the end of the bar and headed for the back to get into her street clothes.

    A few minutes later, the bartender, a University of Missouri wrestler named Rick, knocked on the dressing room door and said, "Clara? Will you close up the back?"

    "I'll get it," she said, pulling a fuzzy pink tube top over her head, shaking her ass to get it down. Rick respected the dancers' privacy, which they appreciated; it was purely a psychological thing, since he worked behind the bar, and spent half his night looking up their ...

    Anyway, he respected their privacy.

    When she was dressed, Rinker killed the lights in the dressing room, walked down to the ladies' room, checked to make sure it was empty, which it always was, and then did the same for the men's room, which was also empty, except for the ineradicable odor of beer-flavored urine. At the back door, she snapped out the hall lights, released the bolt on the lock and stepped outside into the soft evening air. She pulled the door shut, heard the bolt snap, rattled the door handle to make sure that it was locked and headed for her car.

    A rusted-out Dodge pickup crouched on the lot, two-thirds of the way down to her car. A battered aluminum camper slumped on the back, with curtains tangled in the windows. Every once in a while, somebody would drink too much and would wind up sleeping in his car behind the place; so the truck was not exactly unprecedented. Still, Rinker got a bad vibe from it. She almost walked back around the building to see if she could catch Rick before he went out the front.

    Almost. But that was too far and she was probably being silly and Rick was probably in a hurry and the truck was dark, nothing moving ...

Dale-Something was sitting on the far side of it, hunkered down in the pea gravel, his back against the driver's-side door. He'd been waiting for twenty minutes with decreasing patience, chewing breath mints, thinking about her. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of his mind, breath mints were a concession to gentility, as regarded women. He chewed them as a favor to her.

    When he heard the back door closing, he levered his butt off the ground, peeked through a car window, saw her coming, alone. He waited, crouched behind the car: he was a big guy, much of his bigness in fat, but he took pride in his size anyway.

    And he was quick: Rinker never had a chance.

    When she stepped around the truck, keys rattling in her hand, he came out of the dark and hit her like an NFL tackle. The impact knocked her breath out; she lay beneath him, gasping, the gravel cutting her bare shoulders. He flipped her over, twisting her arms, clamping both of her skinny wrists in one hand and the back of her neck in the other.

    And he said, his minty breath next to her ear, "You fuckin' scream and I'll break your fuckin' neck."

    She didn't fuckin' scream because something like this had happened before, with her stepfather. She had screamed and he almost had broken her fuckin' neck. Instead of screaming, Rinker struggled violently, thrashing, spitting, kicking, swinging, twisting, trying to get loose. But Dale-Something's hand was like a vise on her neck, and he dragged her to the camper, pulled open the door, pushed her inside, ripped her pants off and did what he was going to do in the flickering yellow illumination of the dome light.

    When he was done, he threw her out the back of the truck, spit on her, said, "Fuckin' bitch, you tell anybody about this, and I'll fuckin' kill ya." That was most of what she remembered about it later: lying naked on the gravel, and getting spit on; that, and all the wiry hair on Dale's fat wobbling butt.

Rinker didn't call the cops, because that would have been the end of her job. And, knowing cops, they probably would have sent her home to her step-dad. So she told Zanadu's owners about the rape. The brothers Ernie and Ron Battaglia were concerned about both Rinker and their bar license. A nudie joint didn't need sex crimes in the parking lot.

    "Jeez," Ron said when Rinker told him about the rape. "That's terrible, Clara. You hurt? You oughta get yourself looked at, you know?"

    Ernie took a roll of bills from his pocket, peeled off two hundreds, thought about it for a couple of seconds, peeled off a third and tucked the three hundred dollars into her backup tube top. "Get yourself looked at, kid."

    She nodded and said, "You know, I don't wanna go to the cops. But this asshole should pay for what he did."

    "We'll take care of it," Ernie offered.

    "Let me take care of it," Rinker said.

    Ron put up an eyebrow. "What do you want to do?"

    "Just get him down the basement for me. He said something about being a roofer, once. He works with his hands. I'll get a goddamn baseball bat and bust one of his arms."

    Ron looked at Ernie, who looked at Rinker and said, "That sounds about right. Next time he comes in, huh?"

They didn't do it the next time he came in, which was a week later, looking nervous and shifty-eyed, like he might not be welcomed. Rinker refused to work with Dale-Something at the bar, and when she cornered Ernie in the kitchen, he told her that, goddamnit, they were right in the middle of tax season and neither he nor Ron had the emotional energy for a major confrontation.

    Rinker kept working on them, and the second time Dale-Something showed up, which was two days after tax day, the brothers were feeling nasty. They fed him drinks and complimentary peanuts and kept him talking until after closing. Rick the bartender hustled the second-to-the-last guy out, and left himself, not looking back; he knew something was up.

    Then Ron came around the bar, and Ernie got Dale-Something looking the other way, and Ron nailed him with a wild, out-of-the-blue roundhouse right that knocked Dale off the barstool. Ron landed on him, rolled him, and Ernie raced around the bar and threw on a pro-wrestling death lock. Together, they dragged a barely resisting Dale-Something down the basement stairs.

    The brothers had him on his feet and fully conscious by the time Rinker came down, carrying her aluminum baseball bat; or rather, T-ball bat, which had a better swing-weight for a small woman.

    "I'm gonna sue you fuckers for every fuckin' dime you got," Dale-Something said, sputtering blood through his split lip. "My fuckin' lawyer is doin' the money-dance right now, you fucks ..."

    "Fuck you, you ain't doing shit," Ron said. "You raped this little girl."

    "What do you want, Clara?" Ernie asked. He was standing behind Dale with his arms under Dale's armpits, his hands locked behind Dale's neck. "You wanna arm or a leg?"

    Rinker was standing directly in front of Dale-Something, who glowered at her: "I'm gonna ..." he started.

    Rinker interrupted: "Fuck legs," she said. She whipped the bat up, and then straight back down on the crown of Dale-Something's head.

    The impact sounded like a fat man stepping on an English walnut. Ernie, startled, lost his death grip and Dale-Something slipped to the floor like a two-hundred-pound blob of Jell-O.

    "Holy shit," Ron said, and crossed himself.

    Ernie prodded Dale-Something with the toe of his desert boot, and Dale blew a bubble of blood. "He ain't dead," Ernie said.

    Rinker's bat came up, and she hit Dale again, this time in the mastoid process behind the left ear. She hit him hard; her step-dad used to make her chop wood for the furnace, and her swing had some weight and snap behind it. "That ought to do it," she said.

    Ernie nodded and said, "Yup." Then they all looked at each other in the light of the single bare bulb, and Ron said to Rinker, "Some heavy shit, Clara. How do you feel about this?"

    Clara looked at Dale-Something's body, the little ring of black blood around his fat lips, and said, "He was a piece of garbage."

    "You don't feel nothin'?" Ernie asked.

    "Nothin'." Her lips were set in a thin, grim line.

    After a minute, Ron looked up the narrow wooden stairs and said, "Gonna be a load `n' a half getting his ass outa the basement."

    "You got that right," Ernie said, adding, philosophically, "I coulda told him there ain't no free pussy."

Dale-Something went into the Mississippi and his truck was parked across the river in Granite City, from which spot it disappeared in two days. Nobody ever asked about Dale, and Rinker went back to dancing. A few weeks later, Ernie asked her to sit with an older guy who came in for a beer. Rinker cocked her head and Ernie said, "No, it's okay. You don't have to do nothin'."

    So she got a longneck Bud and went to sit with the guy, who said he was Ernie's aunt's husband's brother. He knew about Dale-Something. "You feeling bad about it yet?"

    "Nope. I'm a little pissed that Ernie told you about it, though," Rinker said, taking a hit on the Budweiser.

    The older man smiled. He had very strong, white teeth to go with his black eyes and almost-feminine long lashes. Rinker had the sudden feeling that he might show a girl a pretty good time, although he must be over forty. "You ever shoot a gun?" he asked.

That's how Rinker became a hit lady. She wasn't spectacular, like the Jackal or one of those movie killers. She just took care of business, quietly and efficiently, using a variety of silenced pistols, mostly .22s. Careful, close-range killings became a trademark.

    Rinker had never thought of herself as stupid, just as someone who hadn't yet had her chance. When the money from the killings started coming in, she knew that she didn't know how to handle it. So she went to the Intercontinental College of Business in the mornings, and took courses in bookkeeping and small business. When she was twenty, getting a little old for dancing nude, she got a job with the Mafia guy, working in a liquor warehouse. And when she was twenty-four, and knew a bit about the business, she bought a bar of her own in downtown Wichita, Kansas, and renamed it the Rink.

    The bar did well. Still, a few times a year, Rinker'd go out of town with a gun and come back with a bundle of money. Some she spent, but most she hid, under a variety of names, in a variety of places. One thing her step-dad had taught her well: sooner or later, however comfortable you might be at the moment, you were gonna have to run.


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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for Certain Prey

“Intensely cinematic...slickly compelling.”—The Seattle Times

“Brilliantly swift…sinks a meat hook under the reader's jaw on page one and never lets up.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Clever plotting, sure pacing...rich in authentic detail.” —Publishers Weekly

“Keep[s] readers up way past bedtime—and keep[s] them awake even after the last page is reached.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Suspense to the end...intelligent and fascinating.” —Naples Daily News

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Certain Prey 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoy the Prey series and working my way through them and this one was as great as the first nine. Exciting series...on to the next!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had watched the movie and then decided to read the book. The book was excellent and thoroughly enjoyed reading.
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Great book!
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Enjoy this series though some are better than others. This one was my favorite thus far. Consistent action, doesn't drag in spots like some of the others have. Plus two interesting villians. One of whom is quite likeable!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved the characters in this book and I thought the story line was very clever. Another great book by sandford.
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He is a really great story teller. Good character development, exciting page turner. Hard to put down. Pinky
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Don't critize my spelling. I loved this book but i kind of skipped 2 through 19 and read Buried prey it was just as great if you didn't like this series you will never know what a great book this is.