serial hero

After reading (and reviewing here) 10 novels in John Sandford‘s two long-running series featuring Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, which all told now number 34 and counting, I thought it would be amusing to turn back the clock to the very first book in the Davenport series, Rules of Prey. I was not disappointed.

A serial killer makes the “rules”

The first surprise in this series about a cop who always gains the upper hand is that the “rules” of the title are not Davenport’s creation but the taunting challenges of a twisted serial killer. Davenport, a detective lieutenant in the Minneapolis Police Department, has already achieved a reputation as the smartest detective in town. (His senior job at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lies somewhere in his future.) Davenport has a wide network of informants throughout the city, gained during years as a vice cop, and the chief of police holds him in high esteem. He seems to get whatever he wants — but it’s not enough to catch the brutal serial murderer who leaves numbered notes on his victims spelling out the “rules” he follows to avoid capture.

Rules of Prey (Lucas Davenport #1) by John Sandford @@@@ (4 out of 5)

How a serial hero came to be

In an introduction to the Kindle edition, Sandford tells the diverting tale of how he turned to writing fiction to escape his increasingly tedious work as a newspaper reporter. (NB: he was no slouch. Sandford had won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.) Rules of Prey was actually his second novel. He wrote it after his agent suggested, having sold his first, that he might be able to earn a living writing crime fiction. However, Sandford notes, “When I wrote Rules, it never really occurred to me that this one guy, Lucas Davenport, was going to be a second career for me.” But it’s not hard to see how this superior murder mystery gained the success on which he could build that career.

The Lucas Davenport in Rules of Prey bears some resemblance to the more mature man who appears in the later novels, but there are differences. Here, Davenport beds practically every attractive woman who crosses his path, quite in contrast to the securely married man of the later novels. He is also a bad-ass, and when he breaks the rules, it’s not just to wave a fist at feckless bureaucrats but to act out in ways that should get him arrested. As Sandford notes, “Cops don’t act like Lucas Davenport [in Rules of Prey] — they’d be fired or even imprisoned if they did. They aren’t rich, they don’t drive Porsches, most could give a rat’s ass about fashion. Lucas Davenport does all that.” However, though he does already drive a Porsche, Davenport in Rules is working hard, nights and weekends, to earn the fortune that gives him the independence he flaunts in the later

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