“Winter Prey” by John Sandford

Sandford, John. Winter Prey (1993)  
Berkley, 343 pages, $5.99 paperback  
ISBN 0 425 14123 3

Lucas Davenport is spending the coldest winter anyone can remember in his cabin in northern Wisconsin. When a multiple murder occurs in a nearby small town, the local sheriff realizes he’s in over his head and calls in Davenport, the famous former Minneapolis cop, to help apprehend the killer known as the Iceman. The investigation quickly escalates to include the murder of a teenage boy a few months earlier and the possible existence of a local child pornography ring. When another teenager is murdered, Davenport realizes that anyone he has talked to in his investigation is in danger. 

Creating a dark, sinister, menacing atmosphere is one of John Sandford’s strong points. In this novel the personification of a brutal northern winter contributes to the menacing suspense:

the forest pressed in: the pine and spruce tiptoed closer, to bend over the house with an unbearable weight. The arbor vitae would paw at the windows, the bare birch branches would scratch at the eaves. All together they sounded like the maundering approach of something wicked, a beast with claws and fangs that rattled on the clapboard siding, searching for a grip. A beast that might pry the house apart. . . . (p. 3)

And Lucas Davenport fits right in with this bleak landscape:  “The place might have been snatched from a frozen suburb of hell.  He felt at home” (p. 15).

Another of John Sandford’s strong points particularly evident in this novel is the use of interesting characters to keep a series from becoming stale. In this book we meet Shelley Carr, the sheriff, a charismatic Catholic who never says anything stronger than gol darn; he’s genuinely disturbed by what’s happening in his town, and he knows that the child pornography ring will tear the town apart more than the murders will.  There’s also Gene Climpt, a middle-aged deputy whose young daughter died years earlier when she fell into a bathtub full of scalding water; Climpt’s wife killed herself while he was at the funeral home making arrangements for his daughter’s services.  Climpt goes into a deep depression at the end of the book when the police have to shoot a teenaged girl who has tried to kill Lucas. Finally, there’s Father Phil Bergen, the alcoholic Catholic priest. These well-drawn characters keep the extended “Prey” series fresh.

And in this book Davenport’s love life takes a new turn, perhaps for the better, in his relationship with Wisconsin doctor Weather Karkinnen:

He’d always been attracted to smart women, but few of his affairs had gone anywhere. He had a daughter with a woman he’d never loved, though he’d liked her a lot. She was a reporter, and they’d been held together by a common addiction to pressure and movement. He’d loved another woman, or might have, who was consumed by her career as a cop. Weather fit the mold of the cop. She was serious, and tough, but seemed to have an intact sense of humor. (p. 155)

During the pursuit of the Iceman Lucas is shot in the throat and Weather saves his life.  The book ends with him recovering in the hospital and looking forward to the future of his relationship with Weather.

© 1997 by Mary Daniels Brown

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