Penguin Audio, October 2023, $ 40
by John Sandford
read by Robert Petkoff
Penguin Audio, 11 hours, unabridged $40
Book 33 in John Sandford’s Prey series finds his heroes, Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, again dueting, this time assisting local law and the FBI on the hunt for the murderer of a St. Paul, Minnesota, judge and his two young sons. The combination of hard-charging, wealthy (from the sale of a tech device) Davenport and the much more laid-back Flowers is as appealing as always, and their bro repartee has its usual witty potency. In their previous investigation, Righteous Prey (2022), Lucas suffered a bullet wound to his leg from which he is now recovering. When the two lawmen first meet here, Virgil takes one look at the immaculately dressed Lucas, leaning on a cane with a horn handle, and says, “I knew you must have a fashion cane somewhere.... Is there a sword in this one?”
Adding to the novel’s appeal is Virgil's struggle with his secondary career as a budding crime novelist, which includes advice for other would-be fictioneers. Perusing a Mick Herron Slough House novel, he decides the book he’s writing needs better scene settings and characterization. He’d written nonfiction before, but novels were different. “His mother had a sewing machine that had a built-in zigzag stitch, which he thought of as a metaphor for fiction-writing. It wasn’t done in a straight line. You constantly went back and forth. If something needed to be changed, enhanced, made-up, twisted, go back and do it. It’s fiction.”
The author, a bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize-winner under his real name John Roswell Camp, has an unerringly engaging style, but he might have paid more attention to Virgil’s advice. After 32 Preys, his plot here, though intriguing, is a bit thinner than usual. There are a few good twists linking two separate killers and two separate crimes, but the villains themselves aren’t on a par with past protagonists. And the two sleuths’ progress is a bit more haphazard than in the past.
Not particularly helpful, reader Robert Petkoff, though a capable performer with a well-modulated, often-effective delivery, isn’t quite the match for the material as was the series’ previous narrator Robert Ferrone. Ferrone’s hoarser voice added a depth to the prose, while his timing burnished both the furious pace and the funny moments of Preys past.
Dick Lochte burst onto the crime-writing scene with Sleeping Dog and has continued to take the genre by storm ever since, becoming a Los Angeles Times bestselling author of 10 books of crime fiction and earning the highest honors a writer can attain in the mystery genre.