Killer Secrets

The manipulative champion of justice Lucas Davenport is back in John Sandford’s Buried Prey, and it’s only a matter of time before he wins you over to his side, despite his unethical ways

By Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Fri 31 Aug 2012, 9:12 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 12:34 AM

It’s hard to plough on with a book when you’re developing a grudging dislike for its main character before you’ve even reached second base. Buried Prey — John Sandford’s 2011 offering from the Prey series — is not former Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport’s first foray into homicide work, having first 
appeared in Rules of Prey in 1989 (and 
continued in the business of justice for 
victims almost every year since). But 
despite a poor first impression, Sandford ensures grudging dislike soon turns (just as reluctantly) into admiration for his leading Bureau of Criminal Apprehension officer, if not for his unconventional means.

Davenport is not your average play-
by-the-book cop. Okay, scratch that: he doesn’t play by the book at all. In a way, that’s what will get your goat at the start: the single-minded, almost obsessive, 
pursuit of justice is all well and good — but does the end justify (all) the means? 
The charismatic 50-year-old has long 
displayed his affinity for manipulation and open disregard of protocol, but discerning readers will probably still react with horror and outrage that a police officer would withhold critical information during a 
homicide investigation (involving minors) just so he can get a leg up the ladder.

In Buried Prey, Davenport is dealing with a case that had been declared closed 25 years ago. He was only a patrol officer at 
the time, looking to break into plainclothes (detective work). When two young girls go missing in the biggest crime to hit their small town in a while, he latches on and doesn’t let go — though not so much for the parents’ sake as for his own. Circumstantial evidence points to a poor, homeless bum (Terry Scrape) and despite serious misgivings, Davenport does nothing as his 
then-chief of police Quentin Daniel goes on what is essentially a witch hunt for Scrape, who soon gets killed in a shoot-out.

The case was closed and might have stayed that way if the bodies had not been discovered buried under the cement of a block being torn down to make way for new housing developments. Soon, it is 
apparent the killer is still out there — and the base for the rest of the thriller is set.

The book is divided into two main parts — a flashback during which Davenport 
relives how the case developed (and fell apart) all those years ago, plus how he let his desire for personal gain let an innocent man take the blame. The second part 
returns readers to the ‘here and now’ when he takes on the mantle of the case once more. The investigation is well out of his jurisdiction but for Davenport, it’s become a matter of personal redemption and 
second chance.

Sandford spins his tale well, with strong characterisations and not a stone left unturned. Davenport is no leader and prefers to work alone, but also relies on three reliable colleagues (Del, Shrake and Jenkins) who’ve also come up through the ranks with him since his small-town days. For three-fourths of the book, the narrative is Davenport’s but Sandford oddly also dedicates a few pages to two other characters (Marcy, the chief of police, and the killer) so readers can see their perspectives as well. It interrupts the flow of an otherwise meticulously-detailed investigative account but also succeeds in drawing the reader’s sympathy or revulsion towards said characters, as the author intended.

Buried Prey is an exploration of the 
nastier realities of police forces everywhere — what happens when ambition takes 
precedence over all else, the importance of putting up a show for the public (even if it means pinning the blame on the wrong 
guy) and the dirty tricks that need sometimes be employed to take down a perp.

While the book doesn’t get off to a 
very enticing start, suffice it to say that Sandford does know his trade and a little perseverance does pay.

More news from