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What should we do with the criminally insane? The people who have done such evil that they will never be allowed to leave a secure hospital of jail? There is an argument that we should execute them, why spend money on people who are going to spend all their life in jail and cost us huge amounts of money? This is not the UK way as we have decided that imprisonment is a better form of punishment that separates us from the killers. However, what if these killers managed to influence another? Somehow they got word out to the world and an impressionable mind heard all. Who would be to blame in this instance? The locked up maniac, the new killer, or the lapse security? Someone in authority would lose their jog over this. John Sandford's 'Broken Prey' looks at an investigation under these circumstances were catching the killer is as important as not allowing the blame to fall on your department.
The first body is that of a young woman. Weeks later the second is of a man. The two killings are linked with a similar MO; both have been tortured in the same terrible manner. It appears that the killer is mimicking the style of three madmen locked up in a secure hospital, but with no means of communication how can these three 'Gods down the Hall' influence anyone? Maverick cop Jack Davenport is given the case to work; with his experience of serial murderers and handling the media he is deemed the best man for the job. His diplomatic skills are going to be tested to the max when the papers hear about prisoners influencing a serial murderer. Can Davenport discover who the murderer is before they strike again? If he fails it could mean his job.
The 'Prey' series of novels have been going on for a while now and they are surprisingly similar in format. Each book follows Davenport in one chapter, then the killer in the next. This is a technique that Sandford has honed to perfection over the years and 'Broken Prey' is a prime example of this. Through the book you flit from killer to cop and back again. As the book progresses the net starts to encroach on the killer and the two separate stories merge into one. This is a technique that works perfectly as a form of enhancing the drama and action. You get to know how the police work, but also why the killer is compelled to act. Unlike the majority of the series 'Broken' doesn't tell us who the killer is immediately, instead this is revealed towards the end. This further enhances the tension in the book and makes it one of the best in the series so far.
Like with all the books in the 'Prey' series it is the character and narrative that make them work. Jack Davenport is one of my favourite crime fighters in fiction. He is incredibly cheesy, but I love him all the same! Davenport is a cop who has earned a small fortune in his own business, but still wants to work in law enforcement. His easy charm makes him an ideal buffer between any investigation and the press, both print and TV. However, what makes him even better is the hard edge that drives through him. This is shown perfectly in 'Broken' by his actions in the final third were chaos breaks loose. The last 100 pages of this book are a fine example of action fiction.
Once more Sandford has also captured the perfect blend of humour and the macabre. The case itself is a gruesome one with detailed descriptions of the dead. However, the investigation itself is a lot lighter as the police deal with their harrowing job with their own form of hangman's humour. The sarcastic comments and well meaning niggles between the cops are a joy to read and release the tension throughout the book.
There is no getting around the fact that this is not the most complex fiction. However, as a thriller it is designed to entertain more than educate. In sections the book is a little grim, but this only enhances the fantastic final set piece as Davenport goes around dishing out the sort of justice that fans have come to love. If you have read the likes of Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch books, Lee Childs' Reacher books or Roberts Crais' Elvis Cole books, and enjoyed them, then the 'Prey' novels should suit you perfectly. I think that new readers to the series could read this as a standalone as it works as a contained book. However, this would be a shame as there are plenty of other top class thrillers in the same series to work through. For fans of the Prey books 'Broken Prey' achieves the same high standard of thrills as previous titles - a great action crime novel.
Author: John Sandford
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