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Rules of Prey
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At least three of you who regularly respond to this blog are fans of John Sandford, so on your "recommendations" I just finished reading his first Lucas Davenport novel, Rules of Prey. For those who aren't familiar with it, the book is about a police detective trying to track down a man who is stalking and killing women. My reaction was ambivalent.

Lucas is definitely an interesting character. How could I not take to a guy who has an uncapped chipped front tooth, just like I do, or who has a fascination with gaming, which I've dabbled in myself? The fact that he isn't an alcoholic misfit tormented by demons from his past is also a plus for me. On the other hand, do I really believe a police detective would be a gamer, let alone make money designing games, and that he'd also fatten his bank account by making killings at the race track? All these things are possible, and interesting (and yes, he approaches his detective work like a game, similar to war games or the horse racing) but I wonder about the current tendency to create characters by giving them improbable hobbies or side interests. Someone like Travis McGee (a favorite of mine) seemed more consistent and believable. John D. MacDonald didn't have Travis collecting buttons.

However, my biggest problem with Rules of Prey was that it focused on a serial killer. Granted, the maddog's murders were not depicted in an unusually graphic manner, but given the endless array of reading material available I'm not sure I want, or need, to spend large portions of a novel in the mind of a sadistic stalker of women.

Yes, the book was well written, the characters all vivid, the structure and pacing more or less perfect. The ending is tense and exciting. On the whole I enjoyed it, but I would have preferred the tension and excitement presented in a context without a serial killer.

Is that possible? Doesn't the suspense depend on the reader knowing what the maddog is capable of doing? Isn't demonstrating his capacity to kill repeatedly more effective than simply hinting that he might kill? Probably. It is certainly easier to create suspense that way. Although, older novels managed to generate a good amount of suspense and terror without overt violence. I can think off-hand of Ethel Lina White's Some Must Watch written in the thirties. The unknown, unglimpsed maniac imagined by the rather unhinged heroine to be menacing the house in which she is staying struck me as more frightening than the maddog. I suspect that most modern readers would not agree. And I admit, that Some Must Watch is a much different type of novel than Rules of Prey.

Despite my caveats I enjoyed the book and if nothing else it seems a brilliant example of how to construct a thriller.

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