An eminently satisfying novel of suspense

A review of Phantom Prey, by John Sandford

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Phantom Prey is #18 in John Sandford’s best-selling Prey series, the latest of which is #21. It’s one of a total of 33 novels Sandford has published since 1989, all of which seem to be set in his home state of Minnesota.

An innocent reader might wonder how Sandford finds so many clever plots involving the life of law enforcement officers in Minnesota, which is after all a state with a population of little more than five million people. That same reader might also wonder how Sandford can do such a brilliant job writing these fascinating stories.

Part of the answer is that all is not as it seems. According to Wikipedia, “John Sandford is the pseudonym of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Roswell Camp,” who worked as a reporter from 1971 to 1990 for the Miami Herald and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with journalism is aware, you don’t spend two decades as a reporter for major metropolitan daily newspapers without doing one hell of a lot of writing. There’s little question in my mind that Camp put in at least the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell says (in Outliers) is required to gain mastery of any craft. And no doubt he’s written for more hours than that in his two decades as a novelist.

Phantom Prey, like others I’ve read in the series, is a flawlessly executed tale built around a complex and unusual plot. A young heiress, Frances Austin, has disappeared, leaving behind spatters of her blood in her mother’s house that suggest she was murdered, but she has apparently withdrawn $50,000 from an investment account and colected it in cash, suggesting that perhaps she was not murdered but has simply fled. Other murders take place in close succession, linked to the heiress through friendship. In other words, it’s all a muddle.

Thus it is that Lucas Davenport, Sandford’s brilliant but unorthodox hero-investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), becomes caught up in a bizarre investigation into the local community of Goths, struggling to identify a young Goth woman called “Fairy” who unfortunately resembles other young Goth women but is clearly none of them. Fairy is apparently the perpetrator of the subsequent murders, if not also Frances’. As Lucas begins to close in on Frances’ murderer — having concluded she didn’t run away —  he is shot in the leg coming out of a Goth nightspot by a guy in cowboy boots. Meanwhile, Lucas and his sidekicks in the BCA are maintaining surveillance on a ruthless and violent Lithuanian drug dealer.

As you can see, a summary makes absolutely no sense. If this is all you know about the book, you know nothing. Read it. You’ll enjoy it.


Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

3 responses to “An eminently satisfying novel of suspense

  1. Pingback: Suspense galore in John Sandford’s latest Lucas Davenport novel | Mal Warwick's Blog on Books

  2. Pingback: Politics in Minnesota: Murder, scandal, and psychopaths at play | Mal Warwick's Blog on Books

  3. Pingback: John Sandford’s latest best-seller: Murder on the run in rural Minnesota | Mal Warwick's Blog on Books

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