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There are two camps in which crime novels can sit Columbo or Poirot. I dont mean that all crime fiction must either have a man with a glass eye or a funny moustache. I mean that the author either lets the reader know who the murderer is from the start or makes the reader wait for the conclusion. The decision whether to reveal the killer at the beginning or end of a book completely changes the dynamic. I argue that a book that waits is often a mystery, whilst the early bird is often a thriller. John Sandfords top selling books follow the pattern of revealing the killer at the beginning and following Lucas Davenport and his team as they track them down. However, for Secret Prey Sandford has decided to combine both Poirot and Columbo (Colrot if you like) by creating a murder mystery that turns into a thriller and it is excellently done.
On the first day of the deer hunting season a Chairman of a leading bank is shot dead. It soon become evident that this was no mere hunting accident and that someone has murdered the man. Could it be one of the four ruthless executives that have come along for the trip? They all have something to gain from his death and they are all very ambitious. Lucas Davenport, maverick head cop, must use all of his detective skills to uncover a ruthless killer who will do anything to promote their own agenda.
I really enjoyed the switch in pace of this novel compared to the other Prey novels that I have read. As a rule they move along at breakneck speed as some sort of criminal goes on a rampage of crime. Sandford has decided to take a far more traditional and Agatha Christie-esque take in this novel and set up the first 2/3 as a classic murder mystery. The crime takes place and all the clues and suspects are at Davenports disposal from the very beginning. Sandford allows the reader the opportunity to try and uncover who they think did it before a great reveal towards the end.
It is with this reveal that Sandford takes this novel from adequate mystery to classic crime fiction. In one foul swoop the mystery is gone and Davenport is on another manhunt against time. It is these action packed pay offs that Sandford is renowned for and adding one to a great mystery just increases the quality. It does highlight the gung-ho nature of the other books in the series and perhaps later novels will suffer from poor comparisons to this.
With a great story that flows at the perfect pace Secret Prey would still fail if the characters were not up to standard. Thankfully Sandford manages to continue his excellent writing and in particular makes Davenport a character that you really want to read about. Through the Prey series we have seen Davenport grow from being a young hothead into being a leader that will still make harsh decisions, but only after great thought. For any new reader to the series you will soon come to appreciate Davenports intelligence and effortless cool.
The other characters that really stand out in this Prey novel are the different suspects. Each of the main four suspects has a fully realised character with reason to want the victim dead. By creating four very different and well developed people Sandford engages the reader in the mystery as you really hope that your favourite did not do it.
I would advise anyone new to these books to start at the beginning and build up to this novel as it will increase your appreciation of the differences found within. Secret Prey is my favourite book in the series so far as it manages to effortlessly marry great mystery and thrills together. If you read the likes of Robert Crais, Harlan Cobhen or Michael Connelly, then this author should be added to your list of people to read immediately a classic.
Author: John Sandford
Price: amazon uk - £5.59
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The company chairman lay dead in the woods, his orange hunting jacket punctured by a bullet at close range. Around him stood the four executives with whom he had been hunting, each with a reason not to be sorry about the man's death. A classic murder mystery, it would seem: the kind where the detective gathers everyone together at the end and solves the case. But Lucas Davenport knows it's not going to be that easy. There are currents running through this group, hints and whispers of something much greater than the murder of a single man. Some time soon, unless he could stop it , there would be other deaths - and Davenport can't help but wonder if maybe the final death might be his own.