Sunday, April 7, 2019

U. S. Marshal Lucas Davenport Tries to Unravel an Attempted Assassination

I confess that I'm having more trouble than I would have expected warming up to the idea of U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport. When I first heard John Sandford explain his rationale for moving Davenport out of Minnesota and freeing him up to move about the country taking on interesting cases, it sounded like an appealing idea. And apparently, for many readers, the approach is working. But not so much for me, at least not yet.

While Davenport is still much the same character, I find that once he's unmoored from his traditional surroundings and especially from his usual supporting cast, the stories just aren't working as well for me. As in the previous book, Sandford has given Lucas a pair of new sidekicks, marshal Rae Givens and her partner Bob. But the idea of Bob and Rae, and of naming a female marshal Rae Givens seems too cute by half, and the two are a pale shade of Shrake and Jenkins, and the rest of the cast that previously surrounded Davenport.

In an earlier book, Davenport saved the bacon, political and otherwise, of a United States Senator named Porter Smalls. As this book opens, someone attempts to kill Smalls but winds up killing instead a woman he was riding with, leaving Smalls relatively unhurt. Smalls demands that Davenport be assigned to the investigation, hoping that he can track down whoever was behind the attempt before they try again.

Both Lucas and Smalls have a pretty good idea who might have been attempting to kill Smalls, another U. S. Senator named Taryn Grant. The both believe that she is psychotic and Lucas is convinced that Grant was responsible for at least three earlier murders. But he couldn't prove his suspicions and so she remains untouched in the Senate.

The book thus becomes something of a cat and mouse game between Lucas and other federal officers and Grant and a handful of other evil-doers. Grant and her pals determine early on that Lucas needs to be removed from the investigation one way or another, and so the battle will quickly become personal.

I don't mean to suggest that this is a bad book. I enjoyed reading it, but to my mind it's not nearly on a par with the best books in this long-running series. A particular problem I had in this case was the character of Taryn Grant. Through the years, Sandford has excelled at creating excellent villains, and the success of the books in this series has largely depended on Sandford creating a worthy antagonist for Davenport. I really had trouble, though, buying into Grant who seemed more a cartoon villain than a credible character. She's certainly no Clara Rinker who remains, in my book at least, the gold standard of Sanford villains.

I understand that Sandford decided that it might be time after more than twenty-five books to take this series in a different direction, but the last two books haven't felt to me like real Lucas Davenport novels. Maybe I will ultimately get with the new program, but I'm sorry to say that I'm just not there yet.

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