Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BOOKS: Phantom Prey - John Sandford

John Sandford's Lucas Davenport books, the so-called 'Prey' books, are never bad reads. But his latest in the series, Phantom Prey, surely rates at the bottom of the list.

I think Sandford's obvious lack of knowledge about the Goth culture is a key part of the problem. Other than describing most participants as wearers of black, and some odd facts here and there (I didn't know that there had been three waves of popularity for Goth since it largely first surfaced in the 60's), the 'setting' of this book feels phony. A disjointed beginning of the book also doesn't help.

Comparing this book to the one I read on Monday, Jeffrey Deaver's Broken Window, the narrative isn't much different. You get an early insight into the mind of the looney tunes killer. The detective finds himself somewhat divided between this new killing spree and the B Plot problem. There's a resolution to the A Plot that involves multiple bad men, and then a resolution to the B Plot that is almost as interesting as the A Plot's denouement. No question, the Deaver book accomplishes all of its goals, Phantom Prey few of them.

As hard as I am coming down on Sandford for this book, it still has page-turning capability. Davenport, who hasn't been scarred in a while, gets a new one near his privates, courtesy of a murder attempt. He has a fair bit of interaction with wife Weather, who we find hen-pecking him more than usual. That's entertaining. One character in the book describes him as a thug, and there's a lot of that buried in him. It's always amusing to see his wife handling with such little effort.

The B Plot has everything from the movie, Stakeout, except Davenport getting up close and personal with Heather Toms. Still funny stuff. Balancing that was Davenport's adopted daughter Letty behaving more like a member of his squad, then a teen-aged girl.

Bluntly, I think Sandford wrote this one on contract. He REALLY wanted to write another Virgil Flowers book. He probably mentions Flowers a half-dozen times (Kidd from Luellen & Kidd gets another handful of mentions, suggesting there might be a story for THAT series in the future). He always refers to Flowers with an alliterate expletive.

Well, quit swearing about Flowers. Get writing! You've used your mulligan on this one.

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