Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tribute To A Great Writer

For the last few weeks while I'm on a deadline, I've been re-posting old blogs on the weekend. I'll return to that tomorrow, but for today I had to write this post.

Before I start, I will confess to a weird quirk of mine. When I find a series I like, I'm loyal to it. I will not read other series by the same author. This habit of mine drives my brother J crazy.

I read Robert Parker's Spenser series, but not his Sunny Randall or Jesse Stone books. I read Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books, but none of her other series. When I started reading LKH's Merry Gentry books, I walked away from Anita Blake (not a big sacrifice, I might add).

J and I argue about this at least twice a year. I have no explanation; it's just the way I roll. I'm monogamous . . . in a serial kind of way [grin].

I've been reading John Sandford's "Prey" books since the first one, Rules of Prey, came out in 1989. I read Sandford's "Prey" books, but not his Kidd series.

Sandford is the pseudonym for Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist John Camp.

The "Prey" books star Lucas Davenport, a detective with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Phantom Prey is Lucas' 18th outing so he's like an old friend by now. He used to be a Minneapolis cop, but when his chief of police got promoted to the director of the state cops, he went along with her. I've followed both Lucas' career and his sometimes turbulent love life with interest. Now he's happily married with a little boy and a teenage ward.

Sandford's mysteries are always competently crafted, but it's the little vignettes from the sub-plots that I love so much. I'm going to share two of my favorites from the latest book.

In Phantom Prey, Lucas is trying to track down the person who is killing Goths in Minneapolis. In his spare time, he's also running a stakeout. The "Twin Cities's largest-volume cocaine dealer," a guy named Siggy Toms has jumped bail, disappearing from the bed-and-bath department of a local Target store. The Minnesota cops were embarrassed and annoyed that they lost the guy so Lucas and his men have been running a loose surveillance of Toms' pregnant wife from an apartment across the street from hers using binoculars. They figure Toms will eventually show up to visit her.

Heather Toms is a very attractive "brown-haired girl, of the brown-eyed tribe, with a long supple back that showed every vertebrae down to the notch of her butt. She'd kept herself in shape."

One night, about eleven o'clock, Lucas is feeling restless. "He thought about calling Del. No chance he'd be asleep; the guy was like a bat."

Lucas does calls Del, one of his subordinates, and the two agree to meet at the stakeout apartment. They arrive, sip coffee and listen to Clarence Carter on the boom box.
. . . then Del took the glasses from Lucas's hand and looked across the street and said, "She's got her shirt on."

"Yup. Took it off last time, though."

"She still looking healthy?"

"Starting to bulk up with the new baby," Lucas said.

"Nipples still point up?"

"So far."

"Wonder if she knows whether it's a boy or a girl?"

"You could call and ask . . ."

The men talk about the serial killer case for a few minutes. Then comes my favorite part:
Across the street, Heather got up, stretched, loafed into the kitchen, got something out of a cupboard--black corn chips, Lucas thought, and a bottle of salsa. They watched her carefully fixing the snack. "Is salt okay at this point? In the pregnancy?" Del asked. "Those chips have got a lot of sodium."

In another of these small, beautifully painted vignettes, Lucas goes to talk to a female witness named Leigh Price. Here's Sandford's description in which he tells you a lot about the woman by a small comparison to his wife, Weather:
Price gave off a certain wavelength of fuck-me vibrations. Many women did that, Lucas believed, but they were only received by men who were tuned to the right wavelength, which was determined by birth or accident, perhaps, but not by choice.

Weather was one of them, and she broadcast on Lucas's frequency, and he'd begun picking them up before he could even see her face (she'd been wrapped in a parka when they met). Price broadcast on the same frequency; and she knew that Lucas was a receiver.

It's these great small details that keep me coming back to Sandford. I always figure out who the killer is or how the mystery will end long before the end, but I LOVE going along on the journey with Sandford.

Give him a try. You won't regret it.

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