Being an independent news reporter must be a harrowing job which constantly keeps you on edge. The difference between a scoop and a missed opportunity could be how long it takes you to drive to a location or the quality of a source. Night time in a big city must be even worse as you listen to the emergency channels waiting for something to happen then racing there before the police arrive and chase you off. In these gloomy hours you get to see the worst that people have to offer, the drunks, the hunters and the stupid all out late at night. You could stumble across a person standing on a ledge waiting to jump; do you try and save them or take some footage that is guaranteed to sell? The job is going to take its toll on you, hardening you to life's miseries. You are going to meet a lot of strange people out there, make sure you know who you are dealing with as the wrong word to the wrong person might just make you the next night's story.
With her loyal cameraman beside her Amy is a freelance journalist who cruises the streets of LA during the night in the hopes of filming a story that she can sell to the networks. Tonight is her luckiest night ever when she stumbles across not one, but two, stories. Firstly, a group of animal rights protesters have let all the animals out of the University science labs and Amy is on hand to catch the footage. On the way back they come across someone about to jump from a building and they film the resulting tragedy. Amy is not bothered by the death of a young man and sees it as nothing more than a way to make money. However, when one of her crew is murdered and the father of the dead man turns up she starts to become aware of a dark presence. Someone has taken a shine to Amy and not in a good way; can she use her investigative skills to find the stalker before they turn into a killer?
Over the years I have read a lot of John Sandford books, but they have all been part of the excellent 'Prey' series. This is a set of books that follow maverick cop Jack Davenport as he hunts down serial killers. They have a brilliant structure were one chapter follows Davenport as he is on the hunt, the next the killer. In this way the two sides of the story draw nearer and nearer as Davenport gets closer to his prey. I love these books but unfortunately have read nearly all of the published volumes. Therefore, I decided to branch out to Sandford's other novels and started with 'The Night Crew'. I was amazed to see how many elements of the 'Prey' series made it into the book.
'Crew' follows the investigation of Amy for the most part, but like in the 'Prey' books some of the chapters are interspersed with that of the stalker. At its best this book has a real sense of the two threads overlapping. The stalker will end their chapter with them pouncing only for the next chapter to be a few minutes before as our hero slowly walks into the trap - tense! The story itself is also pretty strong with enough twists and turns to keep you vested into who the stalker is and why they are obsessed by Amy.
With such strong correlations between the 'Prey' series and 'Crew' I feel that comparing them closely is inevitable. On its own 'Crew' would be a unique style of book with some tense moments, but compared to the 'Prey' books it feels like a poor cousin. With similar structure and story it is not these elements to blame for its mediocrity, which instead lies in the realm of characters. Once again there are similarities; both Davenport and Amy are strong characters who get stuck in no matter who they upset. However, whilst this is appealing with a police officer trying to seek justice no matter the odds, it is less so with an obnoxious news reporter. What right does Amy have to stamp on people's civil liberties? Her motivations are not always as pure as those of Davenport and for that reason you cannot get to like her.
With a flawed central character 'The Night Crew' never manages to rise to the levels of the 'Prey' books. There is a good story and some intense moments, but they are all wrapped up with a slightly annoying central protagonist. If you place Davenport in the exact same story you would like it more as he is charismatic and his urge for justice feels real. As a standalone book 'The Night Crew' is reasonable, but when compared to the best work of John Sandford is feels distinctly average.
Author: John Sandford
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