Friday, December 30, 2011

It Was a Dark and (Very) Stormy Night...

The first of Elmore Leonard's famous ten rules for writing is, "Never open a book with weather." In Winter Prey, the fifth book in John Sandford's excellent Prey series, the author ignores the rule and opens the book with a blistering winter storm. Indeed, the severe weather that permeates the novel virtually becomes a character in and of itself, to the point that the reader might well want to be sitting in front of a blazing fire with a snifter of fine Brandy close at hand.

The book finds Sandford's protagonist, Lucas Davenport, separated from the Minneapolis PD and virtually hiding out in his Wisconsin cabin. Then a family is brutally murdered and their house is torched in a neighboring county. The small town sheriff knows that he is in way over his head and appeals to Davenport for help. Lucas is growing restless and agrees to take the lead in the investigation after he is sworn in as a deputy.

From the opening scene, the book takes off like a shot. The antagonist, "The Iceman," has a secret that he is determined to keep, no matter how many bodies might fall in the process and regardless of how many innocent people may be hurt. And the bodies do keep falling as the Iceman becomes increasingly desperate. Davenport is initially stumped and what precious little evidence there is points him in a puzzling direction. Happily, though, in the course of the investigation, Lucas meets a local doctor, Weather Karkinnen. "Is that Weather, like 'Stormy Weather'?" Lucas asks. "'Exactly,' the doctor said." Little does Lucas know...

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that there are a number of nasty characters in addition to the Iceman in this small town and some pretty nasty secrets as well. Lucas will naturally do his best to sort it out, but it turns out that this tiny town may hold more of a threat to Davenport than any he ever faced in the Big City.

This is another very compelling entry in this series, compete with the plot twists, engaging characters and black humor that Sandford's fans have come to expect. A great read for any cold winter night, but keep the Brandy close at hand; it's very cold out there.

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