Neon Prey by John Sandford (2019)
US Marshal Lucas Davenport is back in the latest blockbuster from the pen of John Sandford (John Roswell Camp). This time the maverick lawman is on the trail of a serial killer cannibal responsible for many grisly murders, some of which were undertaken during his employment as a hit man for a New Orleans gangster. This contains some spoilers.
Clayton Deese doesn’t appear to be the cleverest criminal Davenport has ever pursued. He buried his victims at the back of his remote property and then did a runner prior to a court case for assault which he would likely have beaten. It was this bolt that led the Marshal Service to his door and caused the subsequent discovery of dead and partially eaten bodies.
But even a base predator like Deese has an inherent survival instinct, and Lucas finds that tracking him is not as easy as it would at first seem. Davenport is assisted as usual by both Rae Givens and Bob Matees, US Marshals trained in the heavier, gun-toting aspects of apprehending runners. Together with handsome young FBI agent, Tremanty, (Rae’s got a thing for him) they begin an exhilarating hunt that takes them from Louisiana to LA to Las Vegas, as Deese bobs and weaves in a frantic effort to evade justice.
In LA, the team run into serious trouble when they eventually track Deese’s brother to a house in a quiet suburb. Here he has become ensconced with his half-brother’s heavily armed house invasion gang. As SWAT move in, a gunfight breaks out and Lucas is shot and seriously wounded. It puts the hunt for Deese on the back-burner for a time as he recuperates. But Lucas is a very determined individual and he quickly regains most of his former fitness and resumes the pursuit, picking up Deese’s trail again in Las Vegas.
In a alternative angle, we are brought into the lives of Deese and the gang he is running with. In addition to the man now known nationally as ‘The Cannibal’, we have his half-brother, Beauchamps, Cole and the quirky and impressive Cox, girlfriend to Beauchamps who hedges her bets by getting with Cole on the side. They make for an interesting and entertaining group of conflicting personalities who somehow manage to keep it together even as numerous law enforcement agencies scour the country for them.
It’s one of the strong signatures of John Sandford novels that even the bad guys get a fair back-story. They are seldom portrayed as one-dimensional as is the case in many other novels. Deese is a vile creature but is shown as someone with at least a light sense of humour and practical nature. Beauchamps is a man caught between family loyalty to his kin and the fact that he is repulsed by him. Cole just wants a big score so that he can retire and get away, from Deese in particular. Cox is the most complex of them all. She is a beautiful blonde bombshell with a love for money and cocaine and will hitch her wagon to whoever can provide them, with the exception of Deese who she also is repulsed by. Cox comes across as a typical dumb blonde but, in an explosive ending to this story, she triumphs over the menfolk using her feminine wiles. It makes for a refreshing ending to a great tale.
There is a plethora of other notable characters spread throughout this book. From Roger Smith, former employer of Deese, and his aide, Santos, to Deese’s perverse uncle, Ralph. Each brings something new to the plot and help keep the pace of this story formidable. There are rough elements to it, as you might have guessed from the whole cannibal part. But Sandford treats the heavier aspects with respectable aplomb which allows us to continue our enjoyment whilst delving into what are normally very serious subjects.
If you haven’t already guessed, Rebel Voice is a massive fan of John Sandford‘s writing and the Lucas Davenport series in particular. The plots are always fresh and intriguing. Bringing Davenport from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to the US Marshal Service was inspired, as it opened up the scope of future adventures. Rae and Bob are two very enjoyable characters worthy of a series in their own right and, who knows, Sandford might just make that happen.
A constant throughout the Prey Series is the humour. It’s droll, dry and sharp. The cops laugh at themselves as do the criminals. They tease one another in the way that normal folk do. Too many novels try to portray people as stoic, bland and ultimately shallow. John Sandford will never be accused of that as his literary creations are fully formed. From the meet-once-thief to the recurring character, they are all of note. It’s incredible to read a Sandford book and observe how a true master manages to stitch his stories together with seeming ease. The character list in these stories all contain people that we can in some way relate closely to in their flaws if nothing else (hopefully not the cannibalism). Some authors got it, some don’t.
As Lucas and his team close the net on the gang, the desperadoes become ever more panicked. However, that doesn’t stop them from attempting one final big score that almost comes off. The Marshals are forced to pull out all the stops in the bid to pick up the trail again before a kidnap victim is murdered. Do they succeed? Read it and find out!
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. This is a fantastic story and perhaps one of the best yet in the Lucas Davenport series. Sandford shows no signs of deterioration in his scripting of plots as the US Marshals hunt across the nation. It’s got humour, horror, thrills and spills galore as well as one of the most finely plotted tales you will ever read. Sandfords‘ attention to detail is admirable as Lucas figures out how to track and capture his prey. This is a book that will not disappoint.