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|The Prey Series|
John Sandford on Sudden Prey
There's an American proverb that says, "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy."
I was born out in the country, but not exactly on a farm though most city folks would probably think of it that way. You know: You got a barn, some pigs, a cow, a bunch of chickens, a couple of apple trees and a pear tree, a field where you grow and bale hay, a three-holer out beside the barn, and every year you can freeze sweet corn, string beans, carrots, beets, etc. You got a farm, right?
Not so much, in Iowa.
It's what Iowans, at the time, called an acreage, and a lot of people lived on them; this one belonged to my grandfather. They were subsistence vehicles. The main wage earner worked outside of the house, to earn cash for the things you couldn't reasonably make on your own, but the acreage was what kept things going.
My father was in the army when I was born, in Europe during World War II; but in civilian life, he worked for the post office in Cedar Rapids. Sometime after he got back, when housing became available, we moved into town, into G.I. Bill housing.
Still, my grandfather's place was only a couple of miles away, and we were back and forth on virtually a daily basis until I was eleven. It was sort of like Huck Finn, in some ways... swimming in Indian Creek, bathed in the dust of gravel roads, and so on.
Then, for four years, when the family got too big for the G.I. Bill house, we lived on another acreage; this one was owned by an uncle. There were chickens again, and dogs and cats and coal- and wood-burning furnaces, another creek (Prairie) for fishing and swimming, and apple trees and concord grapevines, and huge gardens. My uncle Clark Pease was quite possibly the best vegetable gardener in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and that's neither an exaggeration, nor an easy thing to be; there was lots of competition
We would literally fill full-sized chest freezers with those vegetables, and eat them all the way through winter until the next growing season.
Once, a big tree, possibly a cottonwood, fell down next to our house, and this was not considered to be an inconvenience as much as it was an opportunity. Over the next year or so, my father and I cut up the whole tree with a crosscut saw, and split the pieces with a maul and wedges, and fed it into the furnace. A penny saved is a penny earned and I sometimes suspected that was about what we saved with that tree.
Just before ninth grade, I was once again taken out of the country, to a suburban-style split-level where I finished high school. I left for college when I was eighteen, and never again lived in Cedar Rapids, and after graduation from the University of Iowa, I never again lived in Iowa.
I lived first in Miami, and then the Twin Cities, and now part-time in Los Angeles. But the country part of me just doesn't go away; and I have to confess you read it here for the first time that despite that fact, I didn't like the country life all that much.
Some of the best people I've ever known wouldn't live any other life, but I've snapped all the peas, shucked all the corn, weeded all the beans, sawed all the wood, watched all the beheaded chickens flopping around in the dirt (and plucked I won't until my dying day forget the smell of chicken plucking) that I really need.
Still, I keep coming back to it in the books, and that early experience is where I got much of Sudden Prey, and quite a few pieces of the Virgil Flowers books. Not so much the lifestyle, but what the lifestyle does to some people. My bad guys come from the country, but the country part of them isn't the bad part. They are brave, strong, self reliant, and they take care of themselves and their friends. That's the country part. And they're killers; that part, they did on their own, the same way city killers do it.
In my other books, the killers are mostly city people and they tend, to a certain extent, to be weasels. They're killing for money, or out of lust or insanity, but not out of revenge, not to right a perceived wrong. They're in no way Robin Hoods.
In Sudden Prey, Davenport and his gang of cops stalk, and then shoot down, a couple of women bank robbers. Sure, the women are serial robbers, and one of them, as Davenport says, is a sport killer: She shoots people to see them die. They've done it before, and they'll do it again.
But one of the women was married to a country guy named Dick LaChaise, who was also the brother of the other woman. In LaChaise's mine, you just didn't kill women like that: cold-bloodedly shooting them down, as Davenport had. LaChaise had friends who felt the same way, and in a web of country obligations, they agree to help him with his revenge mission.
The thing is, I knew people like that when I was growing up. Not killers, but country people who took care of themselves, and their families and friends, easy-going people who would not, however, take a deliberate insult lightly.
Once I thought of the general scheme of the book, the rest of it fell in place quite easily. Okay, not easily, because writing isn't easy, but quickly and surely, because it was mostly a matter of portraying a conflict between people who play by different sets of rules. I just happened to know both sets.
Lucas Davenport is a city man who is more interested in results than processes; Dick LaChaise was the product of a place where process is everything since the results are pretty much always the same: Work as hard as you can, and it's more chickens, more woodcutting, another winter going by, and the kids growing up and going into the army, because that's all there is.
Davenport was inevitably going to win this conflict; but it wasn't pretty, even for Davenport.
As for me, well, there was another old American saying or rather, an old song, from World War I: "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree)."
I've been down on the farm, and I've slept in Oscar Wilde's room at L'Hotel in Paree, and all in all, I'll take the Left Bank, and the morning stroll down to Les Deux Magots for croissants and the International Herald Tribune. Or driving down to Hollywood to the ArcLight or Amoeba Music, or walking down my street in Santa Fe to poke through the galleries on Canyon Road.
But I can't seem to keep my ass, or my books, out of the country. Or, for that matter, get Paree into them.
Just the way it is, I guess.
John Sandford, March 10, 2012
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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