John Sandford’s latest prey novel has an explosive plot

“Extreme Prey” by John Sandford (Putnam, 406 pages, $29). Unabridged audiobook version (Penguin Audio, 9 compact discs, 11 1/2 hours, $40).

John Sandford’s latest offering in his blockbuster “Prey” series of thriller novels is “Extreme Prey.” In 1989, he published the first one, “Rules of Prey” and now 25 books later Sandford, who is 72, is offering few indications that he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

The author’s protagonist in these tightly paced page turners is Lucas Davenport. In the previous books, Davenport conducted special investigations for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in Minnesota. Lucas has now left the BCA. It is August, and he is working on his summer home in Wisconsin.

The Minnesota governor, Elmer Henderson, a liberal Democrat and presidential candidate, is campaigning in Iowa in advance of the Iowa caucuses. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination is a woman, Secretary Michaela Bowden. She’ll remind some readers of Hillary Clinton. Lucas receives a perplexing phone call from one of Henderson’s aides.

Henderson wants Lucas to come to Iowa immediately. No reason is given. Lucas tries to beg off. After all, he’s no longer a cop. He agrees to come down and is soon immersed in an investigation. Apparently some people despise Secretary Bowden. They dislike her enough to want to kill her.

Lucas must identify who these potential assassins are to try to stop them before they can execute their plans. Readers learn right away who is plotting a lethal attack on the leading Democratic candidate. They are an unusual pair, a mother and one of her sons.

Marlys Purdy and her son Cole live in a little house in rural Iowa. During the 1980’s farm crisis the Purdys lost their farm. Marlys in a member of a shadowy group that doesn’t like the way things are going in America.

To Marlys, “the system was rotten. The Administration was rotten, the Congress was rotten, the banks were rotten, the oil companies were rotten, the media were liars and thieves. Michaela Bowden was their instrument, mixed right in there with them. Something had to be done to save America.”

Her son Cole is a military veteran. “Cole had been to Iraq twice with the National Guard.” He has been damaged by his experiences there: “he wasn’t entirely sure about how okay he really was. Hadn’t been able to sleep since he got back, and that was nine years now; and he’d had a bell-like ringing in his ears since the first explosion, sometimes so loud that he thought it would drive him crazy.”

The Purdys grow produce to sell at farm markets. Marlys peddles her hand-stitched quilts. And she is consumed by a murderous rage. Sandford explains that “the Purdys weren’t rich, but they did all right, not counting the possibly inherited tendency to psychosis”.

Cole, an expert marksman, will do whatever his mother wishes. Secretary Bowden cannot accept that some people would want to do her harm. It is up to Lucas Davenport to derail a truly diabolical plot. “Extreme Prey” reaches a stunning flash point at the Iowa State Fair. This reviewer listened to the superb audiobook version read by Richard Ferrone.

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