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Naked Prey    by John Sandford order for
Naked Prey
by John Sandford
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Small rural towns often hide a myriad of secrets. Such a town is Broderick, Minnesota, suddenly cast into the media spotlight when two locals, a white woman and a black man, are found lynched out in the middle of nowhere. Minnesota's new governor is shocked by the crime and knows that if it's not handled properly the murders could besmirch his state and his career. That the crime may have racial implications is another glaring factor. The governor wastes no time in calling in Lucas Davenport, newly installed head of the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Together with long-time partner, Del Capslock, Lucas flies into Broderick with orders from the governor to put this case to bed quickly and quietly.

The only credible witness to the crime is Letty West, a precocious and very worldly-wise twelve-year-old who's been taking care of herself and her alcoholic mother for as long as she can remember. Letty adds to their hardscrabble lifestyle by running trap lines for muskrat and raccoon. She was out checking her traps when she literally ran into the frozen bodies twisting in the frigid northern Minnesota wind. Lucas and Del expertly help Letty sift through every detail of what she saw or thought she'd seen, and eventually uncover three separate crimes: a stolen car ring, prescription drug smuggling and child kidnappers. But what's the common thread? Lucas has always had the uncanny ability to identify and tie together loose threads, but this time he just can't find a common link. With the governor breathing down his neck and the killer boldly beginning to eliminate not only suspects, but witnesses too, Lucas is faced with one of his toughest challenges yet.

In Naked Prey, John Sandford continues to take his familiar and often quirky set of characters down new and interesting paths. Letty West turns out to be the most satisfying surprise from the moment one of the town deputies says to Lucas that he and the girl have the 'same eyes'. From then on Letty succeeds in stealing scene after scene from series star Davenport. By the end of the story there's no mistaking that the tough-talking, gun-toting pre-teen has made a considerable impact on the equally tough Davenport and that she'll be back. But in what capacity is anyone's guess, given Sandford's propensity for springing one plot surprise after another. Naked Prey is simply John Sandford at his finest.

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