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Phantom Prey    by John Sandford order for
Phantom Prey
by John Sandford
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Wealthy widow Alyssa Austin is desperate to learn whether her daughter Frances is dead or alive. The initial investigation into her disappearance has turned cold. Desperate for closure, and acquainted with Weather Davenport through one of the fitness centres Alyssa owns, she implores Weather to ask her husband Lucas to look into the case. If anyone can turn up new clues or suspects, surely it will be the much-heralded BCI investigator.

There's not much going on with a surveillance case Lucas is working with a few old colleagues, and helping his boss organize security for an upcoming convention has turned into a massive tactical and political headache. Lucas figures he could use a minor distraction and agrees to unofficially review the case files. But any leads he finds quickly turn cold as well. His interest is piqued as his gut instinct tells him that something is way off about the case.

Alyssa offers him a short list of her daughter's acquaintances, all of whom Frances had surrounded herself with just before her disappearance. Alyssa had never liked her daughter's Goth friends, or their dark and depressing outlook on life. Lucas targets the first name on the list but the man is slashed to death hours before Lucas has a chance to question him. In short order three more names from Alyssa's list are killed in the same grisly manner and eyewitness accounts point to another Goth labeled the fairy. Now Lucas begins working the case hard, calling in various resources, and in no time at all the reason for Frances's disappearance takes on a completely new dimension.

While the writing, tone, pacing, characterizations and dialogue are as tight as ever, Sandford's latest plot doesn't deliver its customary dark and dirty punch, nor is the villain Davenport's usual prey. For more than half the book our dogged detective seems to be chasing his tail as one clue after another leads nowhere despite meticulous police work. But as loyal followers of the Prey series well know, Davenport never backs off until something shakes loose. It's when Lucas's frustration reaches a critical level that Sandford finally invites the reader into the killer's psyche, and it's at this point that the author once again proves his craftsmanship. The pacing, plot twists and revelations escalate dramatically and Phantom Prey barrels to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

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