Lucas Davenport’s 29th outing…
Clayton Deese looks like a small-time criminal, muscle for hire when his loan shark boss needs to teach someone a lesson. Now, seven months after a job that went south and landed him in jail, Deese has skipped out on bail, and the U.S. Marshals come looking for him. They don’t much care about a low-level guy–it’s his boss they want–but Deese might be their best chance to bring down the whole operation.
Then, they step onto a dirt trail behind Deese’s rural Louisiana cabin and find a jungle full of graves.
Now Lucas Davenport is on the trail of a serial killer who has been operating for years without notice. His quarry is ruthless, and — as Davenport will come to find — full of surprises…
This is the 29th novel in Sandford’s excellent Lucas Davenport/Prey series. I started reading them, I think, when Certain Prey, was first published in the UK. Since then, I’ve managed to read almost all of them (the first few weren’t available in Britain at the time, but are all getting published this year). With each new novel, I was impressed by Sandford’s ability to keep the series fresh and interesting. Neon Prey is no exception: I really enjoyed this.
This many novels into the series, I often find myself wondering if I have anything else to say about it: how many different ways can one write, “I really love this series”? Or that it’s gripping, expertly-paced and crafted? Needless to say, Neon Prey is another great instalment in the series, and I remain an evangelist for the author and all of his books: if you haven’t read John Sandford, then I highly recommend that you give his novels a read. I’d also recommend his Virgil Flowers series, which I still need to get caught up on; and also his four-part Kidd & LuEllen series, which is equally excellent and features characters that occasionally crop up in the Davenport novels (as does Flowers).
Sandford, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of 40+ bestselling novels, has managed to make each new novel as engaging as the previous. By offering slight twists on the crime, mystery and thriller genre(s), he is able to keep the reader’s interest as well as keep us guessing. The novels never feel formulaic, or like he’s just going through the motions. Sometimes he does this by weaving multiple cases together, or running a couple in parallel. In Neon Prey, the story focuses on two cases involving the same antagonist, some time apart.
Clayton Deese is one messed up dude. An enforcer, of sorts, for the New Orleans underworld, a job at the start of the novel goes wrong and he ends up getting pinched by the cops. Early on in the novel, Lucas and his compatriots discover Deese’s darkest secret, which places him squarely on the Most Wanted list, and thus begins a national manhunt. To make ends meet, and because he’s compulsively incapable of not committing crimes, Deese hooks up with a relative and his criminal crew out West.
The author has a fantastic writing style. It is never a struggle to get into a new Sandford novel, and the pacing always feels just right: Neon Prey is a fast-paced novel, but by no means does it feel rushed. The flow matches that of the investigation — quicker at moments when the Marshalls are making progress, but dipping when they hit a wall or some other roadblock.
The characters are realistic and, in the case of the protagonists, extremely well fleshed out. Long time fans of the Davenport/Prey novels will slip easily back into the series, as Lucas and his two new Marshall side-kicks (not that they think of themselves this way) — Rae Givens and Bob Matees — continue to grow. Their banter and interactions are great, portraying a very realistic working relationship and friendships, in-jokes and fierce loyalty.
All of the characters’ experiences inform their actions and development, too — for example, old and new injuries make Lucas moderate his actions; at the same time, his long history of successes makes him rather confident and more reckless than he should be (much to his partner, Winter’s chagrin).
In short, then: another great addition to the series. Sandford remains one of my favourite authors of any genre. Highly recommended.