Sandford has shed some, not all, of the political machinations that have bogged down recent Lucas Davenport novels and returned his sartorially savvy Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent to the field, where the innate challenges of a case inspire him to be most effective and interesting. As cases go, this one is a doozy. A cache of bones found in a cistern in an isolated, rural landscape—small town Red Wing, Minnesota—murders going back at least a decade that create a public relations nightmare for the agency and a flurry of network interest, media following agents likes locusts to a feast.
After the discovery of the shocking string of murders (possibly more than seventeen by last count, many still unidentified), an investigation begun with a massive effort in manpower is predictably bogged down with little movement and thousands of pages of murder books but still lacking a break that will unravel the who and the why. When an agent leading the fact-gathering portion of the investigation, a critical element in finding the pattern behind it all, is murdered, Davenport has no choice but to retrace the agent’s last days, hoping to intuit what led him directly into the lair of a serial killer and certain death.
The pathology of the crimes is unusual, twisted and precise enough to avoid detection for years until two teens in search of privacy stumble over the cistern. The terrible smell leads to the discovery of the cistern on an abandoned farm. Working closely with local cops (especially the spunky and territorial Goodhue County Deputy Catrin Mattsson, who refuses to give any ground to the authority of the BCA), Davenport travels between city headquarters in St. Paul where the politicians demand action and the field work that will ultimately reveal what led the BCA agent to his death. But getting there—the slow, tedious gathering of facts, the rereading of the murder books, the incremental discovery of details that point to persons of interest—is what makes crime novels so fascinating, a skill Sandford has long mastered in his Davenport series.
A proactive agent who thinks on his feet and trusts his instincts, Davenport has sometimes gotten bogged down in the politics of bureaucratic crime fighting, stuck in St. Paul to micromanage the finer point of his cases. Fans who have followed Davenport from the beginning of the “Prey” novels have missed that daredevil persona that got him in hot water but also added an edge to his adventures. More mature now, seasoned in the ways of the world and perhaps spoiled by the luxury of his lifestyle, it’s a welcome change when Lucas gets fired up and throws caution to the wind—especially since the killer he’s seeking hasn’t given up yet, set on one more spectacular coup that puts Deputy Mattsson in grave danger and literally fighting for her life.
Replete with familiar characters of former novels and a few nerve-wracking situations that add both danger and tension to Davenport’s current predicament, Field of Prey doesn’t lose a beat from start to finish. Lucas wants this killer badly, wants answers for the families of all the missing women and wants to put an end to the horror that has lain silently in the heart of a small town. But getting there is costly. Mattsson lies directly in the crosshairs of a monster, Davenport possibly out of time when he needs it most. This is Sandford at his most appealing in the kind of thriller he does best, with Lucas Davenport leading the charge.