Gathering Prey
John Sandford
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Gathering Prey
John Sandford
432 pages
April 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Sandford is back with a vengeance! Just when it seemed Lucas Davenport was sliding into the enforced bureaucratic mediocrity of his politically sensitive position at Minneapolis’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, he breaks out of the mold. It’s all thanks to Letty, his adopted daughter with her own aspirations in law enforcement, currently home from college. When Letty was in San Francisco, she left her number with two Travelers she met there, Skye and Henry, who planned to head her way for a musical gathering of like-minded folks. In San Francisco, Skye mentioned her concerns that the sweet-faced (albeit grimy) Henry might be seduced by a man called Pilate, a sometimes-actor who preaches of the Fall and coming anarchy, tempting Henry into his band with the promise of a role in a movie. Wary of Pilate and his “disciples,” Skye welcomes Letty’s offer to call if needed.

In Sturgis, South Dakota, for the annual motorcycle rally, Skye calls Letty to tell her of Henry’s disappearance. Lucas offers to bring the Traveler to Minneapolis and help plan a strategy for finding Henry. Skye arrives by bus with rumors about Pilate and his merry outlaws, fearful that something terrible has happened to Henry. There’s not much to go on other than Skye’s unsubstantiated fears. Besides, Lucas has plenty going on at home--a current murder case at a critical juncture and the imminent arrest of a jewel thief--but offers to get involved and accompanies Letty in a quest for Henry. That simple favor explodes into a harrowing manhunt for a tribe of unpredictable killers who fly beneath the radar with false identities, obscured among moving populations of Travelers, hippies, and wanderers who go from one festival to another. The mayhem covers unexpected territory, from L.A. to San Francisco, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis.

Everything is on hold when Skye leaves to search for Henry on her own and Letty decides to follow. The journey segues from one festival to another and slowly reveals the murder and destruction of Pilate and his renegade band, a group that brings to mind the terror of the Manson cult murders in California, now with a new breed of drug-addled psychopaths led by a megalomaniac with a genius for avoiding attention. Bit by bit, fragments of information yield a broader picture of the growing menace. Skye is kidnapped by Pilate, saved at the last moment before slipping away again. Davenport coordinates with small-town police departments with great heart and a willingness to work across jurisdictions with the resources at hand, leading the charge and working the phones between different departments as Pilate zigzags from place to place. By the time Letty, in her desire to confront Pilate and save Skye, ends up the victim of a savage beating at his hands at a festival, Lucas is all in, supported by local police and any officers available for duty in a series of confrontations that result in some arrests of Pilate’s aberrant disciples. Not the elusive monster behind the vicious killings, though: Pilate slips away at the last minute in a last-ditch effort to evade capture and make his way back to California.

Davenport is at his best, ragged, exhausted and engaged, depending on local cops who come together in common purpose to keep this threat contained before more people are hurt and more deputies wounded. The supporting characters--rural officers from small towns--combine forces with the camaraderie of men and women on a mission to protect citizens in Pilate’s path as Lucas literally risks it all to stop the rampage once and for all. The ride is harrowing, unpredictable and compulsive, right up to the jaw-dropping denouement. Don’t count Lucas Davenport out yet: the next chapter for this popular fictional protagonist has just begun.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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