Tag Archives: Lucas Davenport

Politics in Minnesota: Murder, scandal, and psychopaths at play


A review of Silken Prey, by John Sandford

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Here’s Lucas Davenport again, that brilliant, multimillionaire, Porsche-driving cop, a friend of the governor, who takes on the most difficult criminal cases in the state as the top agent in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This time around, Lucas is caught up in a murder case that’s somehow tied to the U.S. Senate campaign between the loony right-wing incumbent and the beautiful young billionaire psychopath who markets herself as a liberal Democrat. In other words, this is not the Minnesota we met in Fargo. It is, in fact, perilously close to the real state of the state. It’s no accident that Sandford’s suspenseful novel brims over with so much unrealized potential for satire. That’s just Minnesota. (Or, for that matter, just about any state in the Union.)

Here’s the skinny: A disgusting collection of child porn has shown up on the Senator’s personal computer, and the media is now merrily lynching him. Soon afterwards, an unscrupulous Democratic campaign trickster named Tubbs has gone missing, and foul play is suspected. Among the possibilities that occur to Davenport are (1) Tubbs planted the porn to torpedo the Senator’s campaign and was killed by whoever had hired him to do it, quite possibly the psychopathic Democratic challenger; (2) Tubbs was murdered by someone he was blackmailing, or simply on general principles for being such an odious character; or (3) Tubbs has gone on an extended bender, which he’s done before. Since the possible political repercussions of Tubbs’ disappearance are obvious, and evidence indicates that a bender is highly unlikely, the governor has asked Lucas to investigate. As Lucas ponders the possibilities, he learns that the source of the porn was, astonishingly, the Minneapolis Police Department. Soon, other complications ensue — and Lucas finds his life on the line as he pursues this case to the very top of the political heap.

Silken Prey is the 23rd novel in Sandford’s eminently satisfying Prey series, which revolves around the life and work of Lucas Davenport. Other characters in the series have spawned novels of their own — a total of 13 more books. Previously, I’ve reviewed several of Sandford’s works: Stolen Prey, Storm Prey, and Phantom Prey, plus Shock Wave and  Mad River, featuring investigator Virgil Flowers. Sandford writes with a sure hand, imbuing his characters with the sort of contradictory values and behavior that label them as fully human. Their foibles and foolishness give rise to humor, more often than not, softening the violence that characterizes all his books.

Sandford, now 69, was a Pulitzer-winning journalist before 1989, when he turned to full-time fiction writing. Sandford is a pseudonym for John Roswell Camp.


Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

John Sandford’s latest best-seller: Murder on the run in rural Minnesota

A review of Mad River, by John Sandford

@@@ (3 out of 5)

Virgil Flowers is not my kind of guy.

For starters, Virgil is a “pistol-packing, shit-kicking” type who drives a pickup and loves fishing, hunting, and arguing in bars about the best country singer of all time. The son of a conservative Lutheran pastor in rural Minnesota who still goes to church with his parents from time to time, he’s been divorced three times. He is also about six-one, blond, and thin, so if you know me you know I hate him. On the other hand, he’s an accomplished nonfiction writer who has been published in The New York Times Magazine and is now about to sign a contract for a major piece with Vanity Fair.

Oh, and by the way, Virgil is also an agent for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) who has piled up so impressive a record on high-profile cases that he has the governor on speed-dial – and he is the protagonist of a series of crime novels set in the upper Midwest by the pseudonymous John Sandford, who was an award-winning journalist in another life and under a different name.

In Mad River, Virgil has no sooner returned from a vacation in, of all places, the Bahamas when his boss, Lucas Davenport, assigns him to follow up on a brutal and seemingly senseless murder in a small rural town near Virgil’s home base in Mankato. One murder has turned into two by the time Virgil arrives in Bigham, the site of the first murder, and two more are discovered before Virgil and the disreputable local Sheriff can puzzle out what happened the first time around. Soon enough, however, it becomes clear that a couple of local young people, or maybe three of them, have gone on a killing spree. Mad River tells the unfolding tale of Virgil’s, and the Sheriff’s, rush to get to the killers first—Virgil, to take them in for prosecution, the Sheriff, to kill them on the spot.

This latest best-selling work from John Sandford – number six in the Virgil Flowers series – bears all the characteristics of the author’s trademark mastery of suspense. The story unfolds unpredictably, and, for a change, even ends in surprise. Nonetheless, I think Sandford (or his editor) may have been asleep at the wheel on this one. With only a few exceptions, every character in this novel, major or minor, is described as “thin” – not “skinny,” “slender,” “rail-thin,” “emaciated,” “skeletal,” “reedy,” or “light-weight,” but simply “thin.” To my mind, this seems an abuse of the writer’s spare, colloquial style, and as an editor by nature I find it offensive. Anyway, do Minnesotans really eat that little?

All told, Sandford has written 34 novels, including 22 in his “Prey” series, in which Lucas Davenport of the BCA is the central character and Virgil Flowers is usually in the supporting cast. In this blog I’ve previously reviewed Phantom Prey, Storm Prey, and Stolen Prey in the Davenport series and Shock Wave featuring Flowers.

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Suspense galore in John Sandford’s latest Lucas Davenport novel

A review of Stolen Prey, by John Sandford

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

There’s something a little different about this novel. In 21 previous entries in the Lucas Davenport series, John Sandford always managed to slip in wry comments here and there, exposing the dark humor that characterizes the banter among the agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Somehow, though, there was a lot more of that humor in this novel than I can recall reading before in several earlier books — despite the unusually horrific details of the case that senior agent Lucas Davenport takes on. Also, I don’t recall having gotten such a clear physical picture of Davenport than I got from this book. But maybe all this has been out there before. After all, this was the 22nd in the series, and I certainly haven’t read them all.

This tale is populated by a truly motley crew: three very young hitmen from a Mexican drug cartel who are called Uno, Dos, and Tres, because they’re all named Juan; a software millionaire and his young family; two senior agents from the Mexican Federal Police; two low-life methamphetamine addicts who (don’t gag) spend a lot of time hauling horseshit around the countryside; a disagreeable BCA agent who is ostensibly in charge of the case that Lucas will eventually solve (of course!); and — I almost forgot — the four criminals at the center of this very complex story.

The action begins when Lucas is called to the scene of a truly gruesome murder of a family of four, with no evidence and no leads to the killers or why they killed. It quickly transpires that the murder has something to do with the disappearance of $22 million from a Minneapolis bank, though whose money it is and where it went are completely unknown. I won’t say more, because the pleasure of reading this beautifully executed mysterty is all in the discovery. And, like any good thriller, it’s full of twists, turns, and surprises.

Here, then, is another great effort from a master of the crime genre, John Sandford. Previously, I’ve reviewed three other books in the Lucas Davenport series: Shock Wave, Storm Prey, and Phantom Prey. (The underlining means my reviews are linked to the titles.)


Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers