Pros: A thrilling, graphic murder mystery
Cons: Graphic/sexual content might be too much for some
Charlie Pope is in the midst of a spree. So far, he’s raped and murdered a woman and a man, their mutilated bodies posed—displayed in thoughtful positions for the finding. The authorities have DNA evidence linking Charlie to both slayings, but they cannot locate him; Charlie Pope has cut off his court-ordered ankle bracelet and vanished. However, through calls to an investigative reporter, Charlie has vowed to keep raping and killing until the cops catch him, and it’s up to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Lucas Davenport to find Charlie before he strikes again. Such is the premise of author John Sandford’s 2005 novel Broken Prey.
Davenport and his buddy, a Minneapolis cop named Sloan, face a difficult task. For one thing, after learning all they can about Pope, they conclude that Charlie is the equivalent of a village idiot—an oaf who can barely feed himself. He’s simply not someone who can organize and pull off a series of elaborately staged rape/murders. Despite all the DNA evidence to the contrary, Lucas and Sloan realize that there has to be a second person involved, possibly a behind-the-scenes man or woman planning and running the operation.
Lucas and Sloan have very few leads. Charlie makes his plans known via phone calls to investigative reporter Ruffe Ignace, but their only other help is a series of disturbing interviews with “The Big Three”—a trio of major, psychotic sex killers doing time in the maximum security hospital where Pope was once institutionalized.
It is a chilling chase, and Sandford adds to the intensity with a couple of unforeseen plot twists that pop up just when things might start to get redundant. Even though it borrows from Silence of the Lambs (Davenport’s hospital interviews) and Son of Sam (Charlie’s phone calls to Ignace are reminiscent of David Berkowitz’ letters to the media,) Broken Prey is an exciting, thrilling read.
It helps that Sandford’s characters are up to task. Lucas Davenport is a detective with a few quirks. He is quite wealthy for a cop (his wife is a surgeon, and he's a former software company owner) and drives a Porsche. He also enjoys sleeping late, whereas most police officers seem to rise early when on a case. Davenport is well dressed—there’s no off the rack shopping for Lucas—and handsome in a rugged, threatening sort of way. He’s also a bit of a bully—he’s not above verbally intimidating witnesses. And for a detective at the head of a crucial manhunt, Davenport spends a humorously inordinate amount of time compiling a list of his Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era to download onto his new iPod.
Sloan, on the other hand, is a burnout with an odd sense of humor that he uses to lighten up crime scenes and tense moments—he gets the best lines and has a few “just kidding” moments that inspire double takes. He’s also planning to quit and buy a bar as soon as they bust Pope—Sloan is, basically, the quintessential by the numbers buddy necessary to propel this sort of fictional police partnership.
The only real problem, character-wise, is Davenport’s wife, Weather. She herself is not a problem—Weather is not a weak character—she is after all, an intelligent doctor. The issue with Weather Davenport is that she seems to exist here merely as a sounding board for Lucas to update over the phone in order to move the story forward. Sandford even shuffles her off to London to keep her out of the way. As a brilliant reconstructive surgeon, she could certainly add to the story, perhaps through ideas regarding the mutilated bodies. Instead, she’s relegated to bit-player status and honestly, brings nothing to the narrative.
Broken Prey isn’t for everyone. There are some graphic descriptions that might disturb some folks, as well as many sexual situations (not to mention a few instances of foul language by the protagonists, which certain people might find offensive.) All in all, however, Broken Prey is an entertaining read, full of enough plot twists to satisfy most thriller fans.
Pope laughed. “I got her.”
Ignace didn’t make the connection for a second, and again said, “What?”
“I got her. The next one.”
Ignace started taking notes. “Who?”
“Carlita Peterson. I been watching her for three weeks. Got her in my car and I’m leaving right now, taking her up the thirty-five right into the deep woods. Know where’s this old empty cabin up there, you can camp out.”
“Ah, Jesus, man, you gotta stop. You gotta stop…”
“I ain’t gonna stop, Roo-Fay.”
And if that sounds like your thing, then maybe Broken Prey is for you.