I’m rereading the Prey series by John Sandford, and I don’t think I ever read the first one, Rules of Prey. But then, I may have just forgotten, having begun the series when it first came out over twenty years ago, and my mind and memory aren’t what they used to be. You know, the old joke about having a library of three books, reading them and rereading them over and over, chuckling every time over a humorous section, shivering every time over a scary section, each chuckle and scare a brand new sensation. Sandford mentions in the introduction to Rules that when he wrote this first one about Lucas Davenport he thought it would be a stand-alone novel. But then he began writing more of them, all Preys, all with Davenport. He’s now up to twenty-three, the last one called Buried Prey, in which he flashes back to when Lucas was a beat cop working his way up to detective. I have a lot of favorite writers and series—Harry Bosch by Connelly, Travis McGee by MacDonald, Spenser by Parker, Elvis Cole by Crais, the 87th Precinct by McBain, Mathew Hope by McBain, Matt Scudder by Block, Dave Robicheaux by James Lee Burke, Jack Reacher by Child, Alex Delaware by Kellerman, and Thorn by James W. Hall—but I’m beginning to think that Lucas Davenport and the Prey series may be my most favorite. The character is so believable and the writing is so first-rate. And Davenport ages in real time, unlike some of the other characters, like Spenser or Travis McGee or Steve Carella or Alex Delaware, all of whom span almost thirty years and yet haven’t aged a bit.
Back to the Prey series and Rules of Prey. Lucas is assigned the maddog case, a serial killer who targets women, carefully stalks them, then subdues them, rapes them, and stabs them to death. But he’s no maddog. He’s methodical and very intelligent, and he makes it a point of following various rules he’s made up, then leaving that rule with the body to confound the police. A good plot device, excellent characters. When I say that Sandford’s novels are well written, I mean it in a technical, commercial sense, not in a literary sense. Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald were great literary stylists, and although they all met with commercial success, their styles weren’t dictated by commerce. For example, Sandford writes of Lucas: “He ate lunch at a McDonald’s on University Avenue, sharing it with a junkie who nodded and nodded and finally fell asleep in his French fries. Lucas left him slumped over the table. The pimple-faced teenager behind the counter watched the bum with the half-hung eyes of a sixteen-year-old who had already seen everything and was willing to leave it alone.” That’s not great but it’s certainly very good. James Lee Burke is the only other who comes close to a style that might be considered literary. More on this when I stumble onto other passages that illustrate my point.