Lucas Davenport hits the ground running in this latest thriller, mixing politics and his duties at Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. As a close race for the US Senate fast approaches, both Republican Porter Smalls and newcomer Taryn Grant, a Democrat, are in a contest too close to call—until the media breaks a story of child pornography found on Smalls’ campaign office computer, a scandal days before the election. Governor Elmer Henderson asks Lucas to quietly investigate, hoping to avoid any drama that might impact his own plans for career advancement.
As Lucas sets to work using a broad network of contacts, both departmental and governmental, he studies activities in both political camps, frustrated by a lack of information pointing to either someone in Smalls’ campaign or dirty tricks from that of the up-and-coming Grant. Both politicians are rich, so this is a high-stakes game played on a field reserved for power brokers and money men. While Smalls has his enemies, he is essentially an honest man—for a politician—and stoutly denies any such activity in his affairs. Less cooperative, Taryn Grant is a narcissist with a touch of the sociopath who has no intention of losing the race or taking advantage of her opponent’s dilemma.
This is where Sandford’s experience in the genre pays off. Whether the traditional thriller or one laced with poisonous politics, Davenport’s usual methods prove successful, usually because he thinks outside the box, especially when considering human motivations in this “gunfight at the one-percent corral.” Privy to the same ease with which these folks walk through their lives, Lucas is not swayed by the perks of wealth or entitlement that accompany this particular cast of characters. Calling in his savvy computer expert, ICE (Ingrid Caroline Eccols), and Kidd, an artist (and former computer hacker) with mad skills, Lucas sneaks in the back door to discover secrets he can’t use in court but can use to facilitate a better game plan.
When the disappearance of a political operative appears too coincidental to the breaking Smalls scandal, a vital connection is made and a devious plot brought to light near the election date. Nothing Lucas can overtly use, but it does give him some idea whom they are looking at and what it might take to flush him from the anonymity that is giving protection. Even Virgil Flowers, one of Davenport’s crack agents, gets called in to assist an investigation that requires unearthing information buried by the government from the war in Iraq.
Current and contemporary, Sandford taps into the trend for political thrillers, though his solid “plain folk” mysteries are more satisfying for me. These characters, while well drawn, are particularly hard to like, so when a little double-dipping by a peripheral player occurs, it’s not disappointing. Of the primary characters, Taryn Grant is near impossible to like, or even admire. A sly climber on her way to Washington and more power, Grant may not be an exception in that venue, but she certainly does nothing to inspire hope for the future. Still, Lucas is at his best when facing down a sociopath, regardless of pedigree, origin or financial status. This is one adversary he won’t soon forget.