There are times when I simply want to engage in a well-written, easy-read fast-paced thriller, (call it "comfort-blanket-with-pin-ends-in-every-thread" kind of reading), and John Sandford's Prey series has always managed to fit that bill for me.
The last one I read – Broken Prey – left me with the feeling that the series protagonist, Lucas Davenport would benefit from retirement, especially now that he'd had so much of a lifestyle change. In the intervening years, I've managed to miss Invisible Prey; so for once, with Phantom Prey, I was reading out of sequence. Not that it made much difference when it came to accepting Lucas as the new and true family man on this outing; he's so perfectly ensconced in that role and with so much credibility, accepting him and the circumstances was easy.
On to the plot. There's a troubling unsolved case hanging around and Weather, wife of Lucas is friendly with the mother of the victim. Alyssa Austin, recently widowed, returns home to a set of suspicious circumstances. She expects to find her daughter there, but doesn't. After drawing her gun, she notices some streaks of blood in the hall and calls the police. Her daughter Frances is soon confirmed as missing. Lucas reluctantly agrees to look at the case after Weather's urging.
Frances was involved with a group of Goths and soon, others in the group are found dead. There is one, nicknamed the "fairy" by the remaining Goths, who has been on the periphery, flirting in and out with the gang and Lucas cannot trace her.
As always, Sandford's writing style (lean and mean with great respect to human emotion) had me reading to the end and quickly. But, with this outing too, I remained disappointed at the end. In this case it was entirely due to the dénouement. For me it was unconvincing and perhaps, the easy route to take, along a road much travelled before, in crime and thriller novels. That said, for character development over the series this novel fitted well, but it did not have the magic of earlier novels.
If you haven't read Sandford's Prey series, I recommend you start at the beginning and the author's site conveniently lists them here, from the top down. Lucas Davenport is a charismatic creation: a high achiever both outside the police and in, making money from computer games in his earlier days; someone who has remained loyal to a friend who became a nun and his consultant on some cases; a fearless soul with one exception when it comes to flying, but he makes up for it with his Porsche. I believe the earlier novels were more graphic with violence and with Lucas more ready for a scrap, hence the scars he develops over the years.
I have loved this series and I'm not sure it's over yet, but Sandford's latest is Dark of the Moon, concentrating on Virgil Flowers. A second novel in this series Heat Lightning (not yet available in the UK) does have mention of Lucas in the synopsis. I have a sneaking suspicion that Sandford may be performing a very successful segue with series characters here? And the first of this type? Do let me know what you think or actually know. I'd be most interested to hear.
In conclusion: not the best of the Prey series with Phantom Prey by any stretch of the imagination, even if it makes for a pretty good read but with a grumbling appendix sort of ending.
But, don't try this author on this novel if you've never read this series before and specifically want to read this series. Start at the beginning with Rules of Prey. It's explosive and can easily get you hooked. Just as sherbert once did to you as a child, or candyfloss at the local fair. Where Lucas was created as a true human dynamo, he moved on to being dynamic and in his later days, but in different ways and someone who might prefer cruise control, but only when the moment is right. That's an arc of good character development over a long running series and sign of real ageing.
But please, I beg of you, do not read Phantom Prey before you read any other Sandford for this series, as you will be disappointed and the risks of you missing such a good author and a great series are immense. Please see the advice in the above papragraphs and enjoy. If you follow it, I am confident you will find another great series and another great author. As for the possible original series characters' segue? I am on to it and looking up the next books right now…