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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Killing Season Is Here!
John Sandford's Easy Prey marks the 11th appearance of charismatic Minneapolis police chief Lucas Davenport. Set just months after the events recorded in Certain Prey -- which pitted Davenport and his fellow officers against a most unusual contract killer -- Easy Prey is vintage Sandford: an authoritative, furiously paced, sometimes very funny novel that reinforces Davenport's position as one of the more durable, hard-edged heroes in contemporary crime fiction.
As the new novel opens, it is late fall, and the first hints of arctic weather are settling in on the Twin Cities. Against this backdrop, world-famous supermodel Alie'e Maison -- formerly Sharon Olson of Burnt River, Minnesota -- returns to her home state for a fashion shoot conducted by Amnon Plain, an innovative photographer with a complex personal history. Trouble begins when Alie'e attends a party given by a wealthy Minnesota socialite. The party -- which is attended by literally dozens of the city's beautiful people and is characterized by the presence of an "ocean of drugs" -- ends prematurely when Alie'e is discovered in an unused bedroom, naked from the waist down and strangled to death.
By the time Davenport arrives on the scene, a bad situation has quickly gotten worse. A second body -- that of Sandy Lansing, hostess at an upscale local hotel -- has been found in a closet. Cause of death: a fractured skull. Eyewitness testimony points to the presence of a suspicious stranger,an apparent "street person" who turns out to be an undercover narcotics officer for the Minneapolis Police Department. When a postmortem examination indicates that, shortly before her death, Alie'e had had sexual contact with one or more women, Davenport realizes that this latest investigation has all the earmarks of a public-relations nightmare and a media circus. And that is just what it turns out to be.
During the course of the investigation, which lasts for a week and captures the attention of the entire nation, Davenport finds himself caught up in a rising tide of violence, as a second wave of murders sweeps across both Minneapolis and St. Paul. At least one of these murders appears to be the work of the original killer, who is desperately attempting to cover his tracks. The rest seem to have been committed -- by a friend, relative, or demented fan -- as an extended form of revenge against the people responsible for the moral decline and ultimate destruction of Alie'e Maison. The hunt for these two independent killers leads Davenport through a series of overlapping encounters involving religious mania, multiple personality disorder, drugs, orgies, incest, and celebrity sex. The result is a novel that works both as a viscerally exciting crime story and a shrewdly judged portrait of our tabloid, media-saturated culture.
Complementing all of this is Sandford's ongoing portrait of the complex personality -- and the equally complex personal life -- of Lucas Davenport. The Davenport who comes gradually into focus in these novels is a man of action who is equally at home in the upper echelons of City Hall politics and the lower depths of the Minneapolis streets. He is a problem solver, but not a thinker; is at ease with violence but loves poetry, particularly the work of Emily Dickinson. He performs his duties with ruthless efficiency, but is never quite sure whether he is driven by the desire to serve justice or the need to win, whatever the cost. Most centrally, he is a man who is defined by his endless -- and helpless -- attraction to beautiful women, an attraction which, more often than not, is mutual.
In Easy Prey, three women circulate in alternating rhythms through Davenport's life. One is Dr. Weather Karkinnen, whom he once almost married, and who may be on the verge of reentering his life. Another is an old college sweetheart currently undergoing a classic midlife crisis. The third is a beautiful, bisexual former model with an uncomplicated affinity for therapeutic sex. As Davenport vacillates from woman to woman, wanting them all and unable to choose, Easy Prey develops an unexpectedly comic dimension, underscored by Davenport's ironic reflection on the words of St. Augustine: "Lord, let me be pure. But not yet."
Easy Prey is another certified Sandford crowd-pleaser: crisply written, cleverly constructed, difficult to set aside. Once again, Sandford has avoided the insidious traps of laziness, repetition, and over-familiarity, and has created a fresh, exciting entry in a consistently exciting series that seems poised to continue for a good many years to come.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, will be published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com) in the spring of 2000.