In most television cop shows, the clever detectives on the squad grapple with one baffling case. They solve it, of course. Then, in the next episode, they move on to another one. It’s neat, clean, and easy to follow. By contrast, the printed page offers space to paint a more realistic picture. In real life, a big-city homicide detective is likely to be saddled with a dozen or more different cases—and then to be handed a fresh one as it rolls in the door. Some authors seize this opportunity to portray the complexity of police work. John Sandford‘s series of “Prey” novels about the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is one of the better examples. In Lucas Davenport’s BCA, reality intrudes with disturbing frequency.
Wicked Prey (Prey #19) by John Sandford (2009) 420 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Lucas Davenport’s BCA is at the center of the action
As of April 2018, there are 28 novels in the Prey series. Wicked Prey is number 19. Lucas Davenport, who seems to run all the BCA’s field operations, is well into middle age. His adopted daughter, Letty, is 13. When three deadly criminal plots unfold simultaneously in the midst of the 2008 Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities, Lucas and his team of investigators are pushed to the limit. Unfortunately, one of those plots targets Letty. So, that couldn’t happen at a worse time.
A genuinely engaging protagonist
Lucas Davenport is one of the most engaging protagonists in all of detective fiction. Of course, every detective in a successful series has the requisite collection of flaws and idiosyncrasies. But too many fictional creations in the genre simply aren’t at all likable. Some are even downright nasty. Lucas has the capacity for rage. He blows his top at times. But he’s never ugly. (“Lucas’s view, as regarded cops and robbers: it was all chaos, accident, stupidity, insanity, and coincidence.”) And his backstory is fascinating. After being forced out of the Minneapolis Police Department, he built a software business and made millions. He’s now happily married to a surgeon. Together, they’re raising Letty and an infant boy who’s biologically their own. Presumably because he’s become a political donor, Lucas has made a number of powerful friends in the Democratic Party, including the Governor. Those connections help him snag the toughest cases. Wicked Prey is a great example.
Three overlapping criminal plots
Each of the plotlines in Wicked Prey could easily justify a novel of its own:
- A right-wing nut from Oklahoma has purchased a .50-caliber sniper rifle. He has driven to the Twin Cities to target someone at the Republican Convention. The presumptive nominee, John McCain, it seems.
- A gang of robbers who killed two police officers in New York has come to the area. They’re deploying for a series of bold heists that may also involve the convention.
- And a malicious, wheelchair-bound criminal who blames his crippling injury on Lucas has set out to kidnap and torture Letty to get even with him.
Wicked Prey is a thoroughly satisfying example of the mystery and thriller genre. You’ll want to return to Lucas Davenport’s BCA.
For additional reading
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- Top 10 mystery and thriller series;
- 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers; and
- 20 outstanding detective series from around the world.
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