Monday, March 20, 2017

Rules of Prey by John Sandford: A review

Rules of Prey was the first in what has become a very long-running series featuring Minneapolis police detective Lucas Davenport. It was first published in 1989.

The series was recently recommended to me by someone very familiar with my addiction to reading mystery series. Recommendations by this person usually work out well for me so I decided to give it a try.

In the beginning, I had my doubts about this particular suggestion. Lucas Davenport seemed like a bit of a jerk, and I wasn't at all sure I could warm up to him. Plus, the story involved a torturer/rapist/serial murderer of women - not really what I prefer to read about. But as I kept reading, gradually, I became rather engrossed by the plot and interested to see how the writer was going to bring it all together. By the end, I still thought Lucas Davenport was a jerk and I was bothered by some of the writing, but, on the whole, the story overcame those objections.

The serial killer is known as the maddog (one word) and he has the Twin Cities in a state of suspense, wondering where he will strike next. Each of his kills follows a distinctive method, and, after a while, it emerges that each of his victims is a particular type - dark hair, same body type, etc. He is careful to leave no clues and no possibility of DNA at the scenes of the murders, but, with each body, he leaves a note, a note that lists one of his "rules." For example: "Never have a motive"; "Never carry a weapon after it has been used"; "Never follow a discernible pattern." He seems quite mad but intelligent.

(Parenthetically, this was one of the writer's tics that really started to annoy me. He reminded us at every instance of our meeting his maddog that he was intelligent. Moreover, he lays it on pretty thick about Lucas Davenport's intelligence at every opportunity. AND, he assures us that, although Davenport sleeps around quite a bit, he's really only interested in "intelligent" women! In fact, intelligent seems to be one of Sandford's favorite words. Maybe he needs a thesaurus.) 

Anyway, enter Lucas Davenport. He's independently wealthy, thanks to the fact that he designs very successful games in his spare time. He wears expensive Italian suits and drives a Porsche. He's a former hockey player who loves Emily Dickinson's poetry. He's a gambler and he's willing to bend the rules if it will help him achieve his idea of justice. He has killed five men in the line of duty as a cop.

While the rest of the police force follows a plan in trying to track down the serial killer, Davenport is special. He's given the leniency to follow his own rules as long as they bring results, and nobody seems to ask any embarrassing questions about just how he achieves his aims.

This book is adeptly plotted and, once it gets going, it moves along at fast pace. My only real criticisms of it are the aforementioned writer's tics, plus the unrelieved dark and violent nature of the story. I don't know if all the books in the series are like this, but if they are, I probably won't last long in reading them. But I'm prepared to give it another chance. First books in a series are not always indicative of what is to come. This one I would give three-and-a-half stars. Oh, what the heck - I'll be generous and give it four. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

8 comments:

  1. It sounds like a four star rating despite your objections. I have stopped reading murder mysteries because they are, in general, so brutal.

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    1. I prefer the ones that focus on the investigation process rather than on the crime itself. I'm not into reading about sadistic killers.

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  2. I love mysteries, too, Dorothy. My taste is less 'dark' though -- don't think I'll read this one. I'm currently reading the latest Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. P. x

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    1. I've enjoyed Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, too. I'm currently caught up and waiting for the next one!

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  3. Your review had me smirking and even laughing out loud. I understand and agree that it is tricky trying out a new author/series in mysteries. I am probably even harder to please than you.

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    1. Sandford actually is a pretty good writer except for being in love with the word "intelligent," so I'm sure I'll try the series again at some point.

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  4. I've read quite a few of Sandford's books and do enjoy them. Davenport doesn't seem so much of a jerk as you get to know him. Sandford also has written several featuring Virgil Flowers, Lucas' sidekick. One of these books revolved around a very sick plot involving incest, and I had to stop reading them for awhile. But I finally picked up a later novel about Flowers that I did enjoy.

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    1. I suspected that this first novel in the series represented Sandford finding his way with his character. I would expect him to be on surer footing in later novels. Virgil Flowers? He wasn't in this one. I guess he shows up later.

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