Cover image of "Ocean Prey," a thriller about drug smugglers

So, here we go again with our old friend Lucas Davenport, star of thirty previous novels in John Sandford’s “Prey” series. Lucas left the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) quite some time ago. He’s been a United States Marshal ever since. Still based in the Twin Cities, but he gets around. A lot. And this time it’s Florida. A US Senator from that state holds the purse-strings for the Department of Homeland Security, where the Marshals Service is housed. So, when Senator Colles calls, Lucas jumps. This time his charge is to help unstuck a long-running FBI investigation out of Miami. About all that’s known, or at least guessed, about the culprits is that they may be drug smugglers. So far, the FBI has found bupkis.

Awhile back, four men in a small boat murdered three U.S. Coast Guard officers who caught them hauling up buckets from the sea. Those buckets probably contained heroin from somewhere south of the border. A lot of it. The Senator figures that Lucas can figure out who the drug smugglers were and bring them to justice. Lucas always gets results. And he takes no prisoners.

Of course it turns out that the Senator’s right. This is, remember, a novel. And it features Lucas Davenport, after all!

Ocean Prey (Prey #31) by John Sandford (2021) 431 pages ★★★★☆

Diagram of scuba diving gear like that used to catch the drug smugglers in this novel
The deep-sea diving that figures so prominently in this novel requires a great deal of gear. Image:

Nobody can find the drug smugglers—until Lucas arrives

So, here’s what Lucas has gotten himself into. He and another Marshal named Bob are joining an inter-agency task force led by the FBI and including the Coast Guard, Miami-Dade and Ft. Lauderdale police, Broward county sheriff’s department, and other law enforcement agencies. They’ve been at work for months without meaningful results, and morale is low. Which doesn’t mean they welcome the addition of two US Marshals. However, attitudes start to change when Lucas and Bob quickly start turning up links to the drug smugglers. Their very un-FBI-like techniques work wonders on low-life drug users who are easily intimidated by a former champion heavyweight wrestler with enormous shoulders (Bob) and a man his friend Virgil calls “a killer” (Lucas), meaning the term literally.

Of course, we get an inside view of the crooks because Sandford writes in the omniscient third person. And here’s how he describes the men we later learn are drug smugglers: “If someone were to guess their jobs, the guess would involve trucks in some way, and the things that fell off them. The guess would be correct.”

Eventually, Lucas and Bob work their way to a single degree of separation from the three surviving murderers. Then things start to get hot . . . and hotter. Virgil and another of Lucas’ colleagues in the Marshals Service enter the picture, and the story gathers momentum all the way to a shattering climax.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced and well-written detective story, you can’t go wrong with Ocean Prey. And if you enjoy scuba diving, you’ll find the abundant detail about the recovery of that heroin from the sea to be a plus.

Don’t be misled: this novel stars Lucas Davenport

Now, the cover of this novel, at least of this edition, proclaims it to be “A Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers novel.” But that’s a little misleading. Virgil, of course, is the crack investigator in the BCA who is Lucas’ opposite in many ways. For starters, he holds a degree in environmental science and is a part-time writer for fishing and hunting magazines. He’s working on his first novel. And he abhors guns. Almost never carries one, no matter the danger. Now, if Virgil really co-starred in this book, he’d be involved from the start. But in reality he only enters the action halfway through the story. And in this context he’s what Hollywood calls a supporting actor. One of several, in fact, including two US Marshals who have teamed up with Lucas in the past: Bob Matees and Rae Givens. Bob and Rae. (There’s Sandford’s sly humor cropping up, as it often does. Bob and Ray, get it? Oh, well, you need to be of an age to understand.)

About the author

Image of John Sandford, author of this novel about drug smugglers
John Sandford. Image: Evan Frost | MPR News via Wikipedia

Former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Roswell Camp (1944-) has written fifty-three mystery and thriller novels to date under the pen name John Sandford. Ocean Prey is the thirty-first entry in his “Prey” series. Virgil Flowers appears in some of those novels, as in this one, working for and with Davenport. He also stars in a series of his own numbering twelve novels to date.

As Camp discloses in an Author’s Note at the end of this novel, “I know about guns and have been shooting since I was in elementary school.” He also explains that he is a “recreational diver, but the diving portrayed in this book isn’t recreational, it’s technical . . . overrun with numbers.”

For a detailed biography of the man, see what he has written on his official website.

For more reading

I’ve read a great many of John Sandford’s fine mystery novels featuring Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers. For those with the former as the protagonist, go to the home page and search for “Lucas Davenport.” For the latter, see John Sandford’s excellent Virgil Flowers novels.

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