Certain Prey (Lucas Davenport) by John Sandford

KK Conley Review

JS Certain Prey

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Clara Rinker is the most likeable of Sandford’s villains. She’s a professional hit-woman, but she’s not unfeeling, except when she’s on the job. I found myself wanting her to escape.

She forms an unlikely friendship with her client, and the two focus on taking Davenport down. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are a lot more Davenport books, so that doesn’t happen. But the chase is intense and the ending satisfying.

In 2011 a TV movie was made of this book. I don’t particularly recommend it unless you just want to spend an hour and twenty-three minutes watching Mark Harmon. There are a lot worse ways you could spend that time.

This is my favorite of all the Prey novels.

Booklist Online Review

Sandford’s Prey novels continue to attract widespread critical and popular acclaim. This tenth in the series won’t change the pattern. Trying to avoid facing his empty personal life, enigmatic Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Lucas Davenport is jolted out of the doldrums by the handiwork of professional hitwoman Clara Rinker, in town to do what she does best. Adding to his problems is glamorous defense attorney Carmel Loan, a clever and intimidating lawyer. When Davenport suspects an alliance between the two women, he soon faces two deadly enemies. Sandford keeps the level of suspense dizzyingly high as he shifts viewpoints between the women and Davenport, but what sets this story apart is his examination of the odd friendship between cold-blooded killers Clara and Carmel. Also stellar is his ability to show Clara’s human side–to the point where readers may (guiltily) find themselves rooting for her. (Reviewed April 15, 1999)— Jenny McLarin © Booklist Online

Amazon Description

“One of [the] best” (Orlando Sentinel) Lucas Davenport Novels—now with a New Introduction by the Author.

Clara Rinker is twenty-eight, beautiful, charmingly southern—and the best hit woman in the business. She just goes about her business, collects her money, and goes home. Her latest hit sounds simple: a defense attorney wants a rival eliminated. No problem—until a witness survives. Clara usually knows how to deal with loose ends: cut them off, one by one, until they’re all gone. This time, there’s one loose end that’s hard to shake.

Lucas Davenport has no idea of the toll this case is about to take on him. Clara knows his weak spots. She knows how to penetrate them, and how to use them. And when a woman like Clara has the advantage, no one is safe.

4.3 Stars out of 5, 400+ reviews


4.2 stars of 5.0, 11,000+ ratings

John Sandford’s Description

Clara Rinker is a southerner, trim, pleasant, attractive — and the best hit woman in the business. She isn’t showy, not like one of those movie killers; she just goes quietly about her business, collects her money, and goes home.
It’s when she’s hired for a job in Minnesota that things become complicated for her. A defense attorney wants a rival eliminated, and that’s fine. But then a witness survives, the attorney starts acting weird, this big cop Davenport gets on her case, and loose ends begin popping up faster than a sweater unraveling. Clara hates loose ends, and knows of only one way to deal with them: You start cutting them off, one after another, until they’re all gone.
Lucas thinks the case is worrisome enough, but he has no idea of the toll it is about to take on him. For of the many criminals he has hunted during his life, none has been as efficient or as ferociously intelligent as the one who is about to start hunting him — and none knows so well what his weak spots are… and how to penetrate them.

John Sandford on Certain Prey

In terms of plot and storytelling, thriller novels are the most flexible of all of the genre types. In thrillers, the main characters can be heroes or antiheroes, male or female, might live or die, might win or lose, can be of any race or nationality. The novels can be funny or bleak (or both at the same time — see Carl Hiaasen) and be written either for adults or children.
There’s a bestselling thriller hero who is a quadriplegic; any number of main characters are also criminals; there have been gay main characters, and a few who are children. At least one thriller novel, written by a bestselling author, was done in verse.
My main character in the Lucas Davenport Prey novels is right down the slot of that vast well-washed majority: he is athletic, white, straight, and survives.
In devising Davenport as a character, I was seriously interested in writing books that would sell well, and consciously chose what you might call that majoritarian slot. At the same time, as a thriller fan, I always liked books that strayed from the clich#233;d story line, and I wanted to write that kind of book.
So: While Davenport survives, he doesn’t always win — and he’s been defeated at least twice by women. He’s not exactly a hero, but rather a hybrid hero/antihero, who occasionally does some fairly nasty things — illegal things — to get his way.
Another thing I always found annoying as a thriller fan was the monstrous villain who is so smart, so powerful, so evil, that he/she is about to take over the world, only to be thwarted at the last minute (as the ticking bomb counts down to 1) by the hero. My problem is, I just don’t believe any of that, and I would like to write books that are somewhat believable.
(An aside: I never liked the Austin Powers movies, because I don’t care for Mike Myers as an actor. But I love the scene in the first Powers movie where Dr. Evil has captured Powers, and Evils’ son [(Scott Evil — one of the greatest villain names of all time)] keeps urging Dr. Evil to kill Powers right here, right now. Take a gun and shoot him… because if that’s not done, Powers will certainly escape. Of course, it’s not done, because Dr. Evil has to kill Powers in the most painful, monstrous way possible. Of course, Powers escapes.)
All of which brings me to this book: Certain Prey.
Clara Rinker, the professional mob assassin of Certain Prey, is possibly my most successful experiment in the more-inflected villain. I won’t tell you how the story works out, but judging from what fans have told me over the years, Rinker is one of their sentimental favorites. She didn’t want to be evil, she didn’t have to be — but she was terribly sexually abused as a child and as a teenager, and as a result, she grew up to be a sociopath, an intelligent, charming killer. She doesn’t like killing, she doesn’t get a thrill from it, she simply does it because she can, and it pays well.
She doesn’t hold a high position in the mob, but rather invests her earnings in a bar in Wichita, Kansas… and even goes to business school to learn how to run things. She’s not mysterious at all, she’s pretty much what you see — an attractive, thirtyish woman doing well in the world, who, in other circumstances, might have been a successful real-estate saleswoman. She is, in other words, a figure in gray, and in many way, admirable. She not only survived a brutal childhood, she went on to thrive in her own awful way.
And in many ways, she’s not unlike Davenport. They might have been friends, if they hadn’t wound up on opposite sides of the law.
In genre novels, one of the hardest things to do is to come up with a villain who is both interesting and credible. I occasionally go with the “monster” mode; but even then, I try to keep them close to home: the small-town hardware store owner who has been killing women in his basement; the school board that votes to murder the local newspaper reporter.
Rinker is one of those people. You’ll probably find that you like her, even as she takes the electric drill and… well, never mind.
A final comment. I sometimes reread my own novels, just to try to remember where I’ve been. Certain Prey pulls me in, after almost fifteen years.
Clara Rinker is something else.