Serial murder in Indian country

indian country

Shadow Prey, the second of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport novels, demonstrates why the long-running series has been reaching bestseller lists for nearly three decades.

Sandford first introduces us to a young cop named Lawrence Duberville Clay as we observe him raping a drunken young Indian girl in a Phoenix back alley. This and other, similar crimes remain hidden as Clay rises rapidly through the criminal justice system. Eventually he becomes director of the FBI. His designs on the White House are clear.

Murder by design

Meanwhile, a slumlord in a Minneapolis suburb is murdered in his office. He is widely known as a racist, with a special animus for Indians. It’s clearly no coincidence that an Indian has slit his throat with a ceremonial knife. Shortly afterward, another outspoken racist, a social worker, is murdered in the city in a similar manner. Around the same time, a wealthy and ambitious politician in New York City falls to an Indian knife as well. He too is widely known as a racist.


Shadow Prey (Lucas Davenport #2) by John Sandford @@@@ (4 out of 5)


Circumstances point to at least two and probably three different killers. The pattern is clear: a small group of Indians has undertaken a terrorist campaign, and the Minneapolis Police Department mobilizes a task force to track down the murderers. Simultaneously, the chief assigns Lieutenant Lucas Davenport to pursue an independent investigation. Soon the FBI enters the picture as well.

The wages of racism in Indian country

Murders continue to proliferate as the hunt for the killers stalls. Gradually, Lucas turns up first one, then another lead. Though the FBI gets in the way, the police eventually close in on three suspects, all Indians. Seeking headlines, FBI director Larry Clay rushes to the twin cities, pushing the case into national headlines. As Clay himself becomes a target of the killers, the suspense builds to a thrilling climax.

John Sandford is a gifted writer. While faithfully following the activities of the police, he paints a picture of the grim conditions in which so many Indians live both on the reservation and in the cities and of the racism they encounter so frequently. At the same time, he fleshes out his portrait of Lucas Davenport. The man emerges in three dimensions — a brilliant investigator, an increasingly wealthy game designer, a womanizer, a police officer who often skirts the law, and a man capable of great violence.

The evolution of a hero

Lucas Davenport is the protagonist of 26 novels to date in what author John Sandford calls the “Prey” series. Though I’ve read many of the later books, I recently started going through the series from the beginning. Shadow Prey was the second book. Reading it and remembering its predecessor, Rules of Prey, it’s easy to see how Sandford turned this engaging series and its charismatic hero, Lucas Davenport, into such a long-running franchise.

In the later novels, Lucas is happily married to a surgeon and raising an adopted daughter. Though he is still tough in middle age, the cruelty he displays as a young detective on the police force is not evident. Nor is the womanizing that he pursues as a younger man.

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