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Book Reviews: "Mad River" and "Stolen Prey"

The following is a special provided by Elise Cooper for BlackFive readers.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking here or the Books category on the sidebar.

John Sandford latest books, Mad River, a Virgil Flowers novel, and Stolen Prey, a Lucas Davenport novel are must reads for his realistic plots and characters.  Mad River was just released and Stolen Prey came out in May, which means that Sandford is able to keep his fans happy twice a year. 

MadriverMad River’s plot explores three destitute teenagers who have no chance in life and go on a killing spree in the countryside of Minnesota.  Virgil Flowers, a BCA law enforcement officer is furiously engaged in pursuing these killers before someone else dies.  These killing sprees are reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde although it’s very likely that the killers, Betsy Welsh, Jimmy Sharp, and Tom McCall never heard of them. Sandford explained to BlackFive that he writes his books to entertain, but “I like to talk about some social issues.  In Mad River these three kids are not very bright, don’t have a very good education, and cannot hold a job, even at Walmart.  When the reader first meets them they are essentially homeless, living in a Pontiac with unrealistic dreams.” 

The reader will be able to compare these characters to what is happening today in America where a lot of uneducated people have no chance in life because they have no experience in technology.  Sandford directly commented, “These people used to have laboring jobs.  They were hard workers but found their jobs disappearing.  They are being displaced.  The easiest jobs to wipe out are the manual labor ones that are being taken away by machines and computers.”

Sandford is able to play with the reader’s emotions, even allowing some sympathy for these murderers by showing how things are not always black and white, good and bad.  He wanted to point out that these teenagers became evil because of circumstances. 

With both types of books, the “Prey books” and the “Flowers books” he crosses over with the main characters.  Both Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers make cameo appearances.  For Sandford that makes sense since Davenport is Virgil’s boss and they both work for the same agency, the BCA.  He decided to write the spin-off Flowers series once he had the Davenport character settle down, get married, with three children, while Flowers is a womanizer with a sense of humor.

StolenpreyThe plot of Stolen Prey, his book released in May, takes off after Lucas Davenport investigates a gruesome murder of a family: husband, wife, the two children, and the two dogs, all mutilated.  Through his investigation he is able to trace the murders to a drug cartel, a money-laundering operation, and a murderer from the Mexican police.  Because of Sandford’s superb writing skills he is able to portray the killings in a very realistic way, showing how the Cartel commits horrendous crimes.  Unfortunately, there is a side plot of Lucas getting mugged and robbed at an ATM machine, which distracts from the intense and riveting main plot.

Sandford noted that living in New Mexico and California, he sees drug trafficers as a big problem.  His social issue in Stolen Prey was to inform the reader, “… Many people are getting killed.  I wanted to point out that its not just happening in these states but in the Heartland as well.”

Is there a difference between the two books? According to Sandford the “Prey books” are darker, more violent, more serious, harder to write, and more complicated.  On the other hand the Flower books are lighter, less complicated, and he can display his sense of humor. He has both men working for the BCA, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, because it is a state agency that really exists and has jurisdiction anywhere in Minnesota. This enables him to use the setting as a road map to the state.  He also explained, “A small town that does not have a homicide cop will have the BCA put a case together since they have the manpower and forensic equipment. Having jurisdiction anywhere allows me to move out within the whole state.  It gives me flexibility for the setting.”

He also gave a heads up for his next book, which will be another one in the “Prey” series.  A rich, well-educated, pretty woman decides to run for the US Senate.  As the Democratic candidate she finds herself losing the election, in part due to her narcissistic personality.  Through her security people she uses a dirty trick, planting child pornography on her Republican opponent’s computer.  When the perpetrator tries to blackmail her she shoots him and the cover-up begins. 

Both these books, Stolen Prey and Mad River, have elaborate twists and turns.  He builds the tension that comes to a climax in the final chapter.  Once again Sandford has written books with innovative and fast-paced plots, complex characters, and commentary that is insightful and realistic.