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Still burning bright: 'Naked Prey' as gritty, satisfying as rest of series
by Rick Steelhammer
May 11, 2003
Despite cranking out 14 novels in his Prey series in 14 years , cop novelist John Sanford  shows no signs of impending burnout with his latest offering featuring cerebral St. Paul, Minn., sleuth Lucas Davenport .
In Naked Prey, released this month by G.P. Putnam's Sons, Davenport explores a side of a small-town not likely to be found in a John Cougar Mellencamp song.
Davenport, now the chief troubleshooter for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety , is summoned to a crime scene in tiny Broderick, Minn., where Custer County's sole black man is found hanging nude from a tree limb with his equally dead and bare white girlfriend.
As one local lawman put it, "Our cultural diversity just went back to zero."
Davenport quickly discerns that the double homicide is not the racially charged lynching it appears to be, and begins unraveling a complex web of deceit and criminal activity.
For a town that supports only one crappy diner, two bars and a convenience store deli run by a poetry-spouting counterman, Broderick has more than its share of crime: In addition to local police corruption and rural drug trafficking, there is a commune of ex-nuns whose border-crossing activities involve contraband of another kind, and an auto rebuild shop that merges the body parts of cheap Canadian clunkers with hot American cars to produce street-legal hybrids .
Davenport, while still the brusque, no-BS, rule-bending, macho investigator of previous Prey novels, seems a bit less over the top  than usual in Naked Prey. Maybe that's because he's married to Weather, his surgeon sweetheart of previous novels, and the father of a toddler son.
While Davenport may have mellowed, he still applies whatever muscle, intimidation and political string-pulling necessary to get to the truth. He and partner Del Capslock salt the dialogue with wry observations and witty comebacks as they solve one piece of the puzzle, only to find two more, until they can finally put them together and solve the crimes within a crime.
Sanford paints a vivid, if bleak, portrait of modern rural life in America's heartland:
The thing that made traveling across the land so strange, Lucas realized, was that you did nothing. You simply sat in your car and time passed. Driving almost anywhere else, the road moved: you went up and down hills and around curves and past houses, speed zones came and went, cars and trucks went by, and something new was always popping up. Out here, the road was dead straight with hardly anything on it, or on the sides. Rather than whipping around a curve over the crest of a hill, and finding a town tucked away, surprising you, here the towns came up as a slowly growing lump on the horizon; you could see them, it seemed, for hours before you arrived.
The story takes place in the dead of winter on the frozen, pool-table-flat plains of northwestern Minnesota, where the per capita incidence of shattered dreams, damaged souls and dark hearts is at least as high as in any major metropolitan area.
John Sandford is the pen name of ex-reporter John Camp, who spent most of the '70s working at the Miami Herald, alongside fellow journalist/novelists Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan, before moving to Minnesota, where he worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch.
In 1986, he won a Pulitzer Prize for a series detailing the life of a Minnesota farm family facing the prospect of having to leave their land because of the nature of America's agricultural economy.
A few years after winning the Pulitzer, he sold his first novel, The Fool's Run , under his real name. Several months later, his first novel in the Prey series, Rules of Prey, was ready for publication. Since it was considered bad form for a single author to debut two novels simultaneously, he used the name John Sandford Sandford being a family name on his grandfather's side  to appear on the credits of his second novel.
Camp's experience with deadline pressure apparently served him well as a novelist. He produced one Prey novel each year from 1989 until 2003, skipping only 1997, when he substituted The Night Crew for another Prey book.
In addition to The Fool's Run, Camp has produced two additional novels under his own name , featuring painter/computer whiz/industrial spy Kidd.
Needless to say, his days as a journalist are behind him, although he does accept the occasional assignment that captures his fancy leaving reporters with novelist aspirations green with envy.
1. It's actually fifteen years, unless the span is not only leaving out The Night Crew, but also the time it took to write it (and the tour, and all associated events).
2. Oddly, the name is spelled properly towards the end of the article. Huh.
3. Lucas was actually a Minneapolis cop, of course. Sure, he lives in Saint Paul, but he's never worked there.
4. Why is "small town" hyphenated?
5. This is probably true, but only because the Department of Public Safety probably doesn't have any other troubleshooters at his level. But technically, he's just in the BCA.
6. The first time I read this, I didn't pick up "hot" as meaning stolen, so I was wondering why making street-legal hybrids was being offered up as crime, because the auto-shop people in Broderick do a lot of legal custom work (or so it is implied).
7. In my opinion, "over the top" should be hyphenated, much in the same way that "small-town" should not be.
8. It's actually just "Fool's Run" in the article (both times), but I've changed it to match the correct name. Also, there is a novel called Fool's Run. It's some kind of science-fiction thing.
9. His grandfather's side of the family? That doesn't even make sense. To straighten it out (once again), Sandford is his paternal grandmother's maiden name.
10. Not true. He's only produced one other novel under the Camp name (that sold, anyway). Namely, The Empress File. The Devil's Code was a Sandford novel from day one.
27 February 2020
The Prey series, the Virgil Flowers series, the Kidd series, The Singular Menace, The Night Crew, Dead Watch, The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle, and Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut are copyrighted by John Sandford. All excerpts are used with permission.
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