In John Sandford's 19th Prey novel, tough, cagey, brutal, wealthy, womanizing Minnesota cop Lucas Davenport is now a family guy, faithful husband, loving daddy, the whole package. Del, the undercover ace who looks like a bum, is about to become a daddy himself. Lily, the New York cop Mrs. Davenport refers to as Bucket Seat, is just a voice on the phone. That bleepin' Flowers is out of town, fishing.
And the Republicans are in town for their convention — talk about thrills!
All of which raises the question: When does a thriller series become a soap opera?
It's not that the plotting is less expert, the prose less dry or witty, the scene less interesting than before. It's just that, well, we've been there.
One villain is a creep from an earlier novel, and he's pitted against Davenport's tough, smart, teenage ward, who's left over from a different earlier novel, with the blond TV babe from yet another Prey novel as the tough teen's TV-news mentor. Wicked Prey's other plot line is ingenious; I'd never have thought of political bagmen as potential crime victims.
It's not that I didn't take pleasure in Wicked Prey, or enjoy, as usual, spending time with these characters and their gifted creator. It's just that I would have had about the same good time re-reading one of the earlier Preys.
And it's not that Sandford is in a rut. There's a third Virgil Flowers novel coming in September, he has written two excellent stand-alone novels, and I would be delighted to see a fifth Kidd novel someday, Kidd being a painter, computer whiz and semicrook who also lives in the Cities, though his path seldom crosses Davenport's.
Maybe Kidd's burglar girlfriend can have surgery done by Davenport's doctor wife, while Kidd hacks into the state's mainframe to discover that the governor has been slipping around with Davenport's lifelong buddy the nun. I'm just saying, you know?
David L. Beck is a writer and editor in St. Petersburg.