Roger Hainsworth reviews the remarkable new thriller from #1 New York Times–bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize–winner, John Sandford.
John Sandford’s latest thriller is not his best (famous for brilliantly realised villains, this one is under-done) but you cannot put Gathering Prey down. Senior police investigator, Senior Detective Lucas Davenport, is led into the case by his adopted daughter, Letty, now at California’s Stanford University. She has been studying a modern and yet very old social phenomenon, the Travellers, who are borderline indigent but far from ‘street people’ or even hobos. While glad of odd handouts and occasional odd jobs, or busking in shopping malls, they are well equipped with strong walking boots and their identifying backpacks. These usually contain minimal camping gear and spare clothes. They are always on the move and only tell other travellers where they are heading. If any disappeared who would miss them? This anonymous, vagrant life style would make them perfect victims for any serial killer – and especially a Charles Manson copycat with a murder-for-fun cult following. And wouldn’t you know – there is one. Travellers have been disappearing. Letty learns all this from a Traveller, Skye in San Francisco. Skye suspects a villainous creature called Pilate and his sinister male and female companions. Her busking companion, Henry, refuses to believe Skye’s warnings because Pilate, although himself a Traveller, has promised to use his supposed influence to get him into television. While Skye is as bright as two buttons Henry is thicker than a brick. After Letty returns to Minneapolis she hears from Skye. Poor dumb Henry has been crucified and slashed to death by the gang as they travelled through South Dakota and Skye has learned she is next. Letty gets Skye to Minneapolis and ropes in her father. Then Skye takes off to a Juggalo Gathering in Wisconsin (see Google for Juggalo – I had to!) and the book becomes a weird ‘road movie’ as Skye then Letty then Lucas on his own follow an increasingly bloody trail from Minnesota through Wisconsin to ‘the UP’ (Upper Peninsula, the top half of Michigan). Even Pilate’s hideous gang are disconcerted to find a region where night is like being in a coal mine without a lamp. There are no lights. The inhabitants seem to be trees. However, as in Wisconsin there are small towns full of rich characters, especially the local cops. The way they tackle the Pilate gang with efficient and courageous resolution under Davenport’s temporary leadership is the exciting core of the book. Begin this book late and you will still be reading at 2am.