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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
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 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.