Jack Rochester's Reviews > Storm Prey

Storm Prey by John Sandford
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Oct 04, 2011

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Read in August, 2010

I’m hooked on John Sandford’s “Prey” novels, featuring the emotionally complex Lucas Davenport, and have several friends who are as well. Last year’s Storm Prey was the 20th. The first, Rules of Prey, came out in 1989. That puts him at a book a year, except he’s launched two other series, Kidd and Virgil Flowers and has written a couple others besides. The point is, John Sandford has fallen prey to the New York publishing mill, turning out more and more and, at least for me, satisfying less and less. [Note: please read my review of 2011’s Buried Prey for my more positive reaction.] I’m willing to wager that his manuscripts go from first draft to print, with little if any revision. No time for enriching or embellishing, or working in more complex situations or characterizations, shrieks the publisher – we gotta have a hardcover and at least one paperback on the bestseller lists at all times!
To test my thesis, I recently bought a copy of Rules in a used book store [having collected all of them, then given them to my local library in Holderness, New Hampshire] and re-read it. The writing was scintillating, gripping, a real pleasure to read. By comparison, Storm Prey reads like little more than a good first draft without the rich scene descriptions, characterizations and plot intricacies. Just take a look at the first page of Rules of Prey:
“A rooftop billboard cast a flickering blue light through the studio windows. The light ricocheted off glass and stainless steel: an empty crystal bud vase rimed with dust, a pencil sharpener, a microwave oven, peanut-butter jars filled with drawing pencils, paintbrushes and crayons. An ashtray full of pennies and paper clips. Jars of poster paint. Knives.
“A stereo was dimly visible as a collection or rectangular silhouettes on the window ledge. A digital clock punched red electronic minutes into the silence.
“The maddog waited in the dark.
“He could hear himself breathe. Feel the sweat trickle from the pores of his underarms. Taste the remains of his dinner. Feel the unshaven stubble at his groin. Smell the odor of the Chosen’s body.”
” A digital clock punched red electronic minutes into the silence.” Wow. This is wonderful writing. You can see, smell, hear, feel the scene. There is an entire tableau before you, so you know it’s an artist’s studio. Sandford is paying attention to the detail that draws the reader. But you don’t get this kind of richness in the first draft.
Lucas Davenport, the dashing police detective and former software designer who made millions selling his computer program, is married to Weather Karkinnen, a doctor. They have an adopted daughter and an infant son of their own. A cocaine-snorting intern at the hospital enlists the help of three bikers to knock off the hospital pharmacy; he plans to sell the drugs to support his massive coke habit. Of course the plan goes to hell and he thinks Weather recognized him, so he plans to get her killed. Not bad for a plot, and as far as the plot goes it’s pretty good, but I never had the feeling Lucas was truly worried for his wife’s safety – or his family’s. In fact, the teenaged girl, Letty, and the baby don’t make an appearance in the first few scenes at Lucas’ home – which I found strange. Ditto on the guy trying to chase Weather down in her car. Why isn’t anyone worried about the obvious threat? It’s a plot slip that I think Sandford would have caught on a subsequent draft.
Lucas displays his trademark emotion [frustration or anger, rarely gentleness or compassion - after all, he is a cop] only once with respect to the danger to his wife. Otherwise, he and the other cops are pretty much stick figures. The two main crooks have more depth and are revealed in deeper ways than Lucas and Weather. These are small defects, but I think Sandford would have dealt with them had he spent more time revising. Which, of course, is something that rarely happens with “summer reading” books. But I think it was noted by his readers in the fact that this book only spent a few weeks on the New York Times best seller list. I have avoided reading any reviews of Storm Prey, but after I read the last book, Wicked Prey, I browsed the reviews on Amazon; many commented that it was disappointing or not up to the quality of earlier works. For this I don’t blame Sandford, but his publisher, for making their author crank out books like they were widgets, instead of respecting the work of a creative mind. Hey John – are you having fun?
If you haven’t read the Lucas Davenport novels, I suggest you start with the first and read serially. He is an evolving character and there are lots of dimensions to the back story – even though Sandford makes an occasional stab at refreshing the reader’s memory about different folks. Here are Sandford’s “Prey” novels in published order:

1. Rules of Prey (1989)
2. Shadow Prey (1990)
3. Eyes of Prey (1991)
4. Silent Prey (1992)
5. Winter Prey (1993)
6. Night Prey (1994)
7. Mind Prey (1995)
8. Sudden Prey (1996)
9. Secret Prey (1998)>
10. Certain Prey (1999)
11. Easy Prey (2000)
12. Chosen Prey (2001)
13. Mortal Prey (2002)
14. Naked Prey (2003)
15. Hidden Prey (2004)
16. Broken Prey (2005)
17. Invisible Prey (2007)
18. Phantom Prey (2008)
19. Wicked Prey (2009)
20. Storm Prey (2010)
21. Buried Prey (2011)

Sandford’s real name is John Camp, and he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper journalist for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. You can learn a lot more about the author and his work at johnsandford.org.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Phoenix Great review, really outstandin thanks for your contribution. I suppose writers, much like actors, just can't, or don't know when to, let a good thing go.

Jack Rochester Probably the publisher who can't let the good thing go = $$$.

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