Book Report: Rules of Prey by John Sandford (1989, 1990)

This is the first in what has become a 20 year series of novels. In it, Lucas Davenport hunts down a serial killer who varies his methods and his targets to confound the police but cannot help leaving notes with the rules to which he adheres in killing. The series starts right out with the tropes that become tropes as the series progresses, including as much time spent handling the media as detecting and with the soap opera loves of Lucas. I guess Sandford had a series in mind all along. After all, he did start right out with a psuedonym for it.

The books all have a very contemporary feel to them: Davenport uses all the latest technology and whatnot, and if you read the latest books, you recognize they’re current day. So it startled me a bit to read a book from the great before, where Davenport and everyone exchange notebook notes to synchronize them every morning, people need to use pay phones, and Davenport makes wall charts with paper notes. You don’t think a thing of it when Perry Mason books or Ed McBain’s detectives type up reports because most of their books came from that great Before, but when you read someone who has crossed that gap and you read his latest works first, the transition can be remarkable. Reparagraphable, even.

As with many of the Davenport series, the end seems unsatisfying and a bit contrived. Davenport sets the killer up and vigilantes him, but Davenport remembers to execute his carefully crafted execution in a state of emergency, when he’s flown in his Porsche from one twin city to the next while a crime is in progress. It’s very pat and very novelesque, as though Sandford plotted the ending before getting the book to that point, and even though it didn’t seem to fit congruously, he was going to use it anyway.

Strangely enough, as he says on his Web site, the original ending was even worse.

A decent book. Still available in paperback. I actually borrowed this from the library because I’ve run short of things to read around here (meaning that the number has dropped under 3000). I’ll look to find this if I can at a book fair to flesh out my collection.

Books mentioned in this review: