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.
About the Author
Hometown:St. Paul, Minnesota
Date of Birth:February 23, 1944
Place of Birth:Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Education:State University of Iowa, Iowa City: B.A., American History; M.A., Journalism
Read an Excerpt
Of the three unluckiest days in Barbara Allen’s life, the first was the day Clara Rinker was raped behind a St. Louis nudie bar called Zanadu, which was located west of the city in a dusty checkerboard of truck terminals, warehouses and light assembly plants. Zanadu, as its chrome-yellow I-70 billboard proclaimed, was E-Z On, E-Z Off. The same was not true of Clara Rinker, despite what Zanadu’s customers thought.
Rinker was sixteen when she was raped, a small athletic girl, a dancer, an Ozarks runaway. She had bottle-blond hair that showed darker roots, and a body that looked wonderful in V-necked, red-polka-dotted, thin cotton dresses from Kmart. A body that drew the attention of cowboys, truckers and other men who dreamt of Nashville.
Rinker had taken up nude dancing because she could. It was that, fuck for money or go hungry. The rape took place at two o’clock in the morning on an otherwise delightful April night, the kind of night when midwestern kids are allowed to stay out late and play war, when cicadas hum down from their elm-bark hideaways. Rinker had closed the bar that night; she was the last dancer up.
Four men were still drinking when she finished. Three were hound-faced long-distance truckers who had nowhere to go but the short beds in their various Kenworths, Freightliners and Peterbilts; and one was a Norwegian exotic-animal dealer drowning the sorrows of a recent mishap involving a box of boa constrictors and thirty-six thousand dollars’ worth of illegal tropical birds.
A fifth man, a slope-shouldered gorilla named Dale-Something, had walked out of the bar halfway through Rinker’s last grind. He left behind twelve dollars in crumpled ones and two small sweat rings where his forearms had been propped on the bar. Rinker had worked down the bar-top, stopping for ten seconds in front of each man for what the girls called a crack shot. Dale-Something had gotten the first shot, and he had stood up and walked out as soon as she moved to the next guy. When she was done, Rinker hopped off the end of the bar and headed for the back to get into her street clothes.
A few minutes later, the bartender, a University of Missouri wrestler named Rick, knocked on the dressing-room door and said, “Clara? Will you close up the back?”
“I’ll get it,” she said, pulling a fuzzy pink tube top over her head, shaking her ass to get it down. Rick respected the dancers’ privacy, which they appreciated; it was purely a psychological thing, since he worked behind the bar, and spent half his night looking up their . . .
Anyway, he respected their privacy.
When she was dressed, Rinker killed the lights in the dressing room, walked down to the ladies’ room, checked to make sure it was empty, which it always was, and then did the same for the men’s room, which was also empty, except for the ineradicable odor of beer-flavored urine. At the back door, she snapped out the hall lights, released the bolt on the lock and stepped outside into the soft evening air. She pulled the door shut, heard the bolt snap, rattled the door handle to make sure that it was locked and headed for her car.
A rusted-out Dodge pickup crouched on the lot, two-thirds of the way down to her car. A battered aluminum camper slumped on the back, with curtains tangled in the windows. Every once in a while, somebody would drink too much and would wind up sleeping in his car behind the place; so the truck was not exactly unprecedented. Still, Rinker got a bad vibe from it. She almost walked back around the building to see if she could catch Rick before he went out the front.
Almost. But that was too far and she was probably being silly and Rick was probably in a hurry and the truck was dark, nothing moving . . .
Dale-Something was sitting on the far side of it, hunkered down in the pea gravel, his back against the driver’s-side door. He’d been waiting for twenty minutes with decreasing patience, chewing breath mints, thinking about her. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of his mind, breath mints were a concession to gentility, as regarded women. He chewed them as a favor to her.
When he heard the back door closing, he levered his butt off the ground, peeked through a car window, saw her coming, alone. He waited, crouched behind the car: he was a big guy, much of his bigness in fat, but he took pride in his size anyway.
And he was quick: Rinker never had a chance.
When she stepped around the truck, keys rattling in her hand, he came out of the dark and hit her like an NFL tackle. The impact knocked her breath out; she lay beneath him, gasping, the gravel cutting her bare shoulders. He flipped her over, twisting her arms, clamping both of her skinny wrists in one hand and the back of her neck in the other.
And he said, his minty breath next to her ear, “You fuckin’ scream and I’ll break your fuckin’ neck.”
She didn’t fuckin’ scream because something like this had happened before, with her stepfather. She had screamed and he almost had broken her fuckin’ neck. Instead of screaming, Rinker struggled violently, thrashing, spitting, kicking, swinging, twisting, trying to get loose.
But Dale-Something’s hand was like a vise on her neck, and he dragged her to the camper, pulled open the door, pushed her inside, ripped her pants off and did what he was going to do in the flickering yellow illumination of the dome light.
When he was done, he threw her out the back of the truck, spit on her, said, “Fuckin’ bitch, you tell anybody about this, and I’ll fuckin’ kill ya.” That was most of what she remembered about it later: lying naked on the gravel, and getting spit on; that, and all the wiry hair on Dale’s fat wobbling butt.
Rinker didn’t call the cops, because that would have been the end of her job. And, knowing cops, they probably would have sent her home to her step-dad. So she told Zanadu’s owners about the rape. The brothers Ernie and Ron Battaglia were concerned about both Rinker and their bar license. A nudie joint didn’t need sex crimes in the parking lot.
“Jeez,” Ron said when Rinker told him about the rape. “That’s terrible, Clara. You hurt? You oughta get yourself looked at, you know?”
Ernie took a roll of bills from his pocket, peeled off two hundreds, thought about it for a couple of seconds, peeled off a third and tucked the three hundred dollars into her backup tube top. “Get yourself looked at, kid.”
She nodded and said, “You know, I don’t wanna go to the cops. But this asshole should pay for what he did.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Ernie offered.
“Let me take care of it,” Rinker said.
Ron put up an eyebrow. “What do you want to do?”
“Just get him down the basement for me. He said something about being a roofer, once. He works with his hands. I’ll get a goddamn baseball bat and bust one of his arms.”
Ron looked at Ernie, who looked at Rinker and said, “That sounds about right. Next time he comes in, huh?”
They didn’t do it the next time he came in, which was a week later, looking nervous and shifty-eyed, like he might not be welcomed. Rinker refused to work with Dale-Something at the bar, and when she cornered Ernie in the kitchen, he told her that, goddamnit, they were right in the middle of tax season and neither he nor Ron had the emotional energy for a major confrontation.
Rinker kept working on them, and the second time Dale-Something showed up, which was two days after tax day, the brothers were feeling nasty. They fed him drinks and complimentary peanuts and kept him talking until after closing. Rick the bartender hustled the second-to-the-last guy out, and left himself, not looking back; he knew something was up.
Then Ron came around the bar, and Ernie got Dale-Something looking the other way, and Ron nailed him with a wild, out-of-the-blue roundhouse right that knocked Dale off the barstool. Ron landed on him, rolled him, and Ernie raced around the bar and threw on a pro-wrestling death lock. Together, they dragged a barely resisting Dale-Something down the basement stairs.
The brothers had him on his feet and fully conscious by the time Rinker came down, carrying her aluminum baseball bat; or rather, T-ball bat, which had a better swing-weight for a small woman.
“I’m gonna sue you fuckers for every fuckin’ dime you got,” Dale-Something said, sputtering blood through his split lip. “My fuckin’ lawyer is doin’ the money-dance right now, you fucks . . .”
“Fuck you, you ain’t doing shit,” Ron said. “You raped this little girl.”
“What do you want, Clara?” Ernie asked. He was standing behind Dale with his arms under Dale’s armpits, his hands locked behind Dale’s neck. “You wanna arm or a leg?”
Rinker was standing directly in front of Dale-Something, who glowered at her: “I’m gonna . . .” he started.
Rinker interrupted: “Fuck legs,” she said. She whipped the bat up, and then straight back down on the crown of Dale-Something’s head.
The impact sounded like a fat man stepping on an English walnut. Ernie, startled, lost his death grip and Dale-Something slipped to the floor like a two-hundred-pound blob of Jell-O.
“Holy shit,” Ron said, and crossed himself.
Ernie prodded Dale-Something with the toe of his desert boot, and Dale blew a bubble of blood. “He ain’t dead,” Ernie said.
Rinker’s bat came up, and she hit Dale again, this time in the mastoid process behind the left ear. She hit him hard; her step-dad used to make her chop wood for the furnace, and her swing had some weight and snap behind it. “That ought to do it,” she said.
Ernie nodded and said, “Yup.” Then they all looked at each other in the light of the single bare bulb, and Ron said to Rinker, “Some heavy shit, Clara. How do you feel about this?”
Clara looked at Dale-Something’s body, the little ring of black blood around his fat lips, and said, “He was a piece of garbage.”
“You don’t feel nothin’?” Ernie asked.
“Nothin’.” Her lips were set in a thin, grim line.
After a minute, Ron looked up the narrow wooden stairs and said, “Gonna be a load ’n’ a half getting his ass outa the basement.”
“You got that right,” Ernie said, adding, philosophically, “I coulda told him there ain’t no free pussy.”
Dale-Something went into the Mississippi and his truck was parked across the river in Granite City, from which spot it disappeared in two days. Nobody ever asked about Dale, and Rinker went back to dancing. A few weeks later, Ernie asked her to sit with an older guy who came in for a beer. Rinker cocked her head and Ernie said, “No, it’s okay. You don’t have to do nothin’.”
So she got a longneck Bud and went to sit with the guy, who said he was Ernie’s aunt’s husband’s brother. He knew about Dale-Something. “You feeling bad about it yet?”
“Nope. I’m a little pissed that Ernie told you about it, though,” Rinker said, taking a hit on the Budweiser.
The older man smiled. He had very strong, white teeth to go with his black eyes and almost-feminine long lashes. Rinker had the sudden feeling that he might show a girl a pretty good time, although he must be over forty. “You ever shoot a gun?” he asked.
That’s how Rinker became a hit lady. She wasn’t spectacular, like the Jackal or one of those movie killers. She just took care of business, quietly and efficiently, using a variety of silenced pistols, mostly .22s. Careful, close-range killings became a trademark.
Rinker had never thought of herself as stupid, just as someone who hadn’t yet had her chance. When the money from the killings started coming in, she knew that she didn’t know how to handle it. So she went to the Intercontinental College of Business in the mornings, and took courses in bookkeeping and small business. When she was twenty, getting a little old for dancing nude, she got a job with the Mafia guy, working in a liquor warehouse. And when she was twenty-four, and knew a bit about the business, she bought a bar of her own in downtown Wichita, Kansas, and renamed it the Rink.
The bar did well. Still, a few times a year, Rinker’d go out of town with a gun and come back with a bundle of money. Some she spent, but most she hid, under a variety of names, in a variety of places. One thing her step-dad had taught her well: sooner or later, however comfortable you might be at the moment, you were gonna have to run.
Carmel was long, sleek and expensive, like a new Jaguar.
She had a small head, with a tidy nose, thin pale lips, a square chin and a small pointed tongue. She was a Swede, way back, and blondone of the whippet Swedes with small breasts, narrow hips, and a long waist in between. She had the eyes of a bird of prey, a raptor. Carmel was a defense attorney in Minneapolis, one of the top two or three. Most years, she made comfortably more than a million dollars.
Carmel lived in a fabulously cool high-rise apartment in downtown Minneapolis, all blond-wood floors and white walls with black-and-white photos by Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus and Minor White, but nobody as gauche and come-lately as Robert Mapplethorpe. Amid all the black-and-white, there were perfect touches of bloody-murder-red in the furniture and carpets. Even her car, a Jaguar XK8, had a custom bloody-murder-red paint job.
On the second of the three unluckiest days in Barbara Allen’s life, Carmel Loan decided that she was truly, genuinely and forever in love with Hale Allen, Barbara Allen’s husband.
Hale Allen, a property and real estate attorney, was the definitive heartthrob. He had near-black hair that fell naturally over his forehead in little ringlets, warm brown eyes, a square chin with a dimple, wide shoulders, big hands and narrow hips. He was a perfect size forty-two, a little over six feet tall, with one slightly chipped front tooth. The knot of his tie was always askew, and women were always fixing it. Putting their hands on him. He had an easy jock-way with the women, chatting them up, playing with them.
Hale Allen liked women; and not just for sex. He liked to talk with them, shop with them, drink with them, jog with themall without losing some essential lupine manliness. He had given Carmel reason to believe that he found her not unattractive. Whenever Carmel saw him, something deep inside her got plucked.
Despite his looks and easy manner with women, Hale Allen was not the sharpest knife in the dishwasher. He was content with boilerplate law, the arranging of routine contracts, and made nowhere near as much money as Carmel. That made little difference to a woman who’d found true love. Stupidity could be overlooked, Carmel thought, if a woman felt a genuine physical passion for a man. Besides, Hale would look very good standing next to the stone fireplace at her annual Christmas party, a scotch in hand, and perhaps a cheerful bloody-murder-red bow tie; she’d do the talking.
Unfortunately, Hale appeared to be permanently tied to his wife, Barbara.
By her money, Carmel thought. Barbara had a lot of it, through her family. And though Hale’s cerebral filament might not burn as brightly as others, he knew fifty million bucks when he saw them. He knew where that sixteen-hundred-dollar black cashmere Giorgio Armani sport coat came from.
Allen’s tie to his wifeor to her money, anywayleft few acceptable options for a woman of Carmel’s qualities.
She wouldn’t hang around and yearn, or get weepy and depressed, or drunk enough to throw herself at him. She’d do something.
Like kill the wife.
Five years earlier, Carmel had gone to court and had shredded the evidentiary procedures followed by a young St. Paul cop after a routine traffic stop had turned into a major drug bust.
Her client, Rolando (Rolo) D’Aquila, had walked on the drug charge, though the cops had taken ten kilos of cocaine from under the spare tire of his coffee-brown Continental. The cops had wound up keeping the car under the forfeiture law, but Rolo didn’t care about that. What he cared about was that he’d done exactly five hours in jail, which was the time it took for Carmel to organize the one point three million dollars in bail money.
And later, when they walked away from the courthouse after the acquittal, Rolo told her that if she ever needed a really serious favorreally seriousto come see him. Because of previous conversations, they both knew what he was talking about. “I owe you,” he said. She didn’t say no, because she never said no.
She said, “See ya.”
On a warm, rainy day in late May, Carmel drove her second caran anonymous blue-black Volvo station wagon registered in her mother’s second-marriage nameto a ramshackle house in St. Paul’s Frogtown, eased to the curb, and looked out the passenger-side window.
The wooden-frame house was slowly settling into its overgrown lawn. Rainwater seeped over the edges of its leaf-clogged gutters, and peeling green paint showed patches of the previous color, a chalky blue. None of the windows or doors was quite level with the world, square with the house, or aligned with each other. Most of the windows showed glass; a few had black screens.
Carmel got a small travel umbrella from the backseat, pushed the car door open with her feet, popped the umbrella, and hurried up the sidewalk to the house. The inner door was open: she knocked twice on the screen door, which rattled in its frame, and she heard Rolo from the back: “Come on in, Carmel. I’m in the kitchen.”
The interior of the house was a match for the exterior. The carpets were twenty years old, with paths worn through the thin pile. The walls were a dingy yellow, the furniture a crappy collection of plastic-veneered plywood, chipped along the edges of the tabletops and down the legs. There were no pictures on the walls, no decoration of any kind. Nailheads poked from picture-hanging spots, where previous tenants had tried a little harder. Everything smelled like nicotine and tar.
The kitchen was improbably bright. There were no shades or curtains on the two windows that flanked the kitchen table, and only two chairs, one tucked tight to the table, another pulled out. Rolo, looking smaller than he had five years before, was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt that said, enigmatically, Jesus. He had both hands in the kitchen sink.
“Just cleaning up for the occasion,” he said.
He wasn’t embarrassed at being caught at house-cleaning, and a thought flicked through Carmel’s lawyer-head: He should be embarrassed.
“Sit down,” he said, nodding at the pulled-out chair. “I got some coffee going.”
“I’m sort of in a rush,” she started.
“You don’t have time for coffee with Rolando?” He was flicking water off his hands, and he ripped a paper towel off a roll that sat on the kitchen counter, wiped his hands dry, and tossed the balled-up towel toward a wastebasket in the corner. It hit the wall and ricocheted into the basket. “Two,” he said.
She glanced at her watch, and reversed herself on the coffee. “Sure, I’ve got a few minutes.”
“I’ve come a long way down, huh?”
She glanced once around the kitchen, shrugged and said, “You’ll be back.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I got my nose pretty deep in the shit.”
“So take a program.”
“Yeah, a program,” he said, and laughed. “Twelve steps to Jesus.” Then, apologetically, “I only got caffeinated.”
“Only kind I drink,” she said. And then, “So you made the call.” Not a question.
Rolo was pouring coffee into two yellow ceramic mugs, the kind Carmel associated with lake resorts in the North Woods. “Yes. And she’s still working, and she’ll take the job.”
“She? It’s a woman?”
“Yeah. I was surprised myself. I never asked, you know, I only knew who to call. But when I asked, my friend said, ‘She.’ ”
“She’s gotta be good,” Carmel said.
“She’s good. She has a reputation. Never misses. Very efficient, very fast. Always from very close range, so there’s no mistake.” Rolo put a mug of coffee in front of her, and she turned it with her fingertips, and picked it up.
“That’s what I need,” she said, and took a sip. Good coffee, very hot.
“You’re sure about this?” Rolo said. He leaned back against the kitchen counter, and gestured with his coffee mug. “Once I tell them ‘Yes,’ it’ll be hard to stop. This woman, the way she moves, nobody knows where she is, or what name she’s using. If you say, ‘Yes,’ she kills Barbara Allen.”
Carmel frowned at the sound of Barbara Allen’s name. She hadn’t really thought of the process as murder. She had considered it more abstractly, as the solution to an otherwise intractable problem. Of course, she had known it would be murder, she just hadn’t contemplated the fact. “I’m sure,” she said.
“You’ve got the money?”
“At the house. I brought your ten.”
She put the mug down, dug in her purse, pulled out a thin deck of currency and laid it on the table. Rolo picked it up, riffled it expertly with a thumb. “I’ll tell you this,” he said. “When they come and ask for it, pay every penny. Every penny. Don’t argue, just pay. If you don’t, they won’t try to collect. They’ll make an example out of you.”
“I know how it works,” Carmel said, with an edge of impatience. “They’ll get it. And nobody’ll be able to trace it, because I’ve had it stashed. It’s absolutely clean.”
Rolo shrugged: “Then if you say ‘Yes,’ I’ll call them tonight. And they’ll kill Barbara Allen.”
This time, she didn’t flinch when Rolo spoke the name. Carmel stood up: “Yes,” she said. “Do it.”
Rinker came to town three weeks later. She had driven her own car from Wichita, then rented two different-colored, different-make cars from Hertz and Avis, under two different names, using authentic Missouri driver’s licenses and perfectly good, paid-up credit cards.
She stalked Barbara Allen for a week, and finally decided to kill her on the interior steps of a downtown parking garage. In the week that Rinker trailed her, Allen had used the garage four times, and all four times had used the stairs to get to the skyway level. Once in the skyway, she’d gone straight to an office with the name “Star of the North Charities” on the door. When Rinker knew that Allen was not at Star of the North, she’d called and asked for her.
“I’m sorry, she’s not here.”
“Do you expect her?”
“She’s usually here for an hour or two in the morning, just before lunch.”
“Thanks, I’ll try again tomorrow.”
On the last of the three unluckiest days of her life, she got out of bed, showered, and ate a light breakfast of Raisin Bran and strawberrieswith Hale for a husband, it paid to watch her figure. As the housekeeper cleared away the breakfast dishes, Allen turned on the television to check the Dow Jones opening numbers, sat at her desk and reviewed proposed charitable allocations from the Star of the North Charities trust, then, at nine-thirty, gathered her papers, pushed them into a tan Coach briefcase, and headed downtown.
Rinker, in a red Jeep Cherokee, followed her until she was sure that Allen was heading downtown, then passed her and hurried ahead. Allen was a slow, careful driver, but traffic and traffic lights were unpredictable, and Rinker wanted to be at least five minutes ahead of her by the time they got downtown.
Rinker had picked out another parking garage, also on the skyway system, a little less than a two-minute fast walk from the killing ground. She wheeled into the garage, parked, walked to her own car, which she’d parked in the garage earlier that morning, and climbed into the backseat. She glanced up and down the ramp, saw one man leaving, heading toward the doors. She reached down, grabbed the carpeting behind the passenger seat and popped open a shallow steel box, which held two Remington .22 semi-automatic pistols, silencers already attached, on a bed of foam peanuts.
Rinker was wearing a loose shift, with a homemade elastic girdle beneath it. She pushed the .22s into the wide pockets of the shift, through another slit cut through the insides of the pockets, and into the girdle. The .22s were held tight against her body, but she could get them out in a half-second. With the guns tucked away, Rinker hopped out of the car and headed for the skyway.
Barbara Allen, a sturdy, German blonde with short, expensively cut hair, a dab of lipstick, a crisp white cotton blouse, a navy skirt and matching navy low-heels, went into the stairwell of the Sixth Street parking garage at 9:58 a.m. Halfway down, she met a small woman coming up, a redhead. As she passed her, looking down, the other woman smiled, and Allen, who knew about such things, looked at the top of her head and thought, Wig.
That was the last thing she thought on the unluckiest day of her life.
Rinker, climbing the stairs, had mistimed it. She knew the lower ramp was clear, and wanted to take Allen low. But Allen came down the narrow steps slowly, and Rinker, now in plain sight, didn’t feel she should stop and wait for her. So she continued climbing. Allen smiled and nodded at her as they passed, and as they passed, Rinker pulled the right-hand .22, pivoted, and fired it into the back of Allen’s head from a range of two inches. Allen’s hair puffed out, as though somebody had blown on it, and she started to fall.
The silencers were good. The loudest noise in the stairwell was the cycling of the pistol’s action. Rinker got off a second shot before Allen fell too far, then stepped down to the sprawled body and fired five more shots into Allen’s temple.
As she stepped away from the body, ready to head down the stairs, a cop came through the door in the stairwell above them. He was in uniform, a heavy guy carrying a manila folder.
Rinker had thought about this possibility, a surprise from a cop, though she’d never experienced anything like it. Still, she’d rehearsed it in her mind.
“Hey,” the cop said. He put up a hand, and Rinker shot him.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Certain Prey
“Intensely cinematic...slickly compelling.”—The Seattle Times
“Brilliantly swift…sinks a meat hook under the reader's jaw on page one and never lets up.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Clever plotting, sure pacing...rich in authentic detail.” —Publishers Weekly
“Keep[s] readers up way past bedtime—and keep[s] them awake even after the last page is reached.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Suspense to the end...intelligent and fascinating.” —Naples Daily News
On Friday, May 14th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed John Sandford to discuss CERTAIN PREY.
Moderator: Welcome, John Sandford! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this afternoon to chat about your new book, CERTAIN PREY. How are you doing today?
John Sandford: All right.
Bobbi from San Mateo: I have read all your books and just love the Prey books. They are thrillers of the best sort --psych thrillers. I would like to know how you come up with the plots and the twists in the Prey books. How do you decide on the type of plot Detective Davenport will be in? I have not read the new one but am looking forward to doing so.
John Sandford: I was a newspaper reporter for more than 20 years, and the basis for most of the things that I write, I have actually seen. I take an actual event, but I don't use it in a straightforward way; rather, I blend it with other things I have seen and give it a fictional twist and change it in ways that appeal to me, and they eventually come out as the fictional product. So it is almost like engineering in that I take all these small parts that I have accumulated over 20 years of newspaper reporting, then I build them together into a new story, but most of the parts are things that I have seen or witnessed.
Dambach from New Hampshire: How have you been able to keep the Prey novels "fresh," given the quantity you've produced over the last ten years -- and how have you prevented burnout? What does your daily, weekly writing regimen consist of? Thanks.
John Sandford: The problem of keeping the novels fresh is one of my biggest problems. I may come up with many different story ideas over a year, and most of them get rejected as I try to work slowly toward the idea that will become the next novel. Most of the differences in the novels are in character, in the person of the villain, although other characters, like Davenport, change through time. I can't completely explain how you keep something fresh, but I can tell you that it is one of the major struggles that I go through. As for the writing, I find that the only way I can do it is to get on a pretty hard schedule -- and I do it every day -- so I work from an office building in downtown St. Paul in a regular office suite, and I show up in the late evening, usually at eight o'clock, and typically work till 1 or 2am. By keeping myself on a schedule, in an office setting rather than in my home, I push myself into a work mode where I have no alternative but to work; there is no place to go and fool around. If you look at a typical newspaper column, it will have 750 words in it top to bottom; those guys are producing 750 to a thousand words a day five days a week. If you can do that, you can write a novel the length of my novel in about seven months, so that is what it comes down to. In addition to the creativity, you actually have to work very hard, and that involves four or five hours a day, six of seven days a week for six or seven months.
Gerald from New York: Your heroes, Lucas Davenport and Kidd, have very distinct voices. What do you do to "get into" each character's voice? Also, you've mentioned wanting to do another Kidd book someday. How close are you to writing it? Thank you.
John Sandford: When I am trying to get into a specific voice, I have to imagine myself talking for the character or having the character talk to me, and then I just try to listen and see if he sounds like himself. Sometimes this involves reading what I have just written aloud. The problem of voice is critical because it is one of the things that distinguishes your characters from each other in the book, and you therefore must have a tight grasp of your character's personality before he starts to speak. So if you were to think of yourself as a New Yorker talking to a guy from Iowa, you would imagine the rhythms and words of his speech would be different from a man from Brooklyn. What you have to do is get close enough to your character that you can hear those things as they naturally come out. As for the Kidd book, a number of people have asked me if there will ever be another one; it is almost the most common question I get asked. My son, who is a computer guy, kept bugging me about this until I finally told him that if he would block out the story and help me with the plot twists, then I would write another Kidd novel. He is doing that and we are about 30,000 words into the novel, which is about one-third of the way. We will now have to set it aside while I work on a Prey novel, then we will pick it up next spring and finish it, and we hope to publish it in autumn of the year 2000, assuming that our computers still work...
JWC901@aol.com from New Jersey: What to you is the key of writing effective suspenseful fiction?
John Sandford: Actually there is no single key, but two of the more important ones are motion and detail. The opening paragraph of the book should have substantial movement that begins to carry the reader away. You should not open, in my opinion, with static description or background. You should open with action and keep it going. The second key is detail -- in which you represent some particular aspect of the world in very sharp relief. If you go to a bar and write down the things you see in the smallest detail that you can imagine -- if you write down the kinds of liquor bottles behind the bar and what they look like and what the bar looks like and what the stools look like and what is on the floor, you will surprise yourself with the vividness of the writing. If you simply imagine a bar without looking at one, the writing will be stale. So the very best writing seems to me to come from immediate experience. I was fortunate enough to come from a newspaper background where I experienced or encountered many of the types of scenes that occur in my genre. I know that cops laugh at crime scenes and tell jokes. I know that some criminals are very personable and that some of them look like clerks. I know what the inside of a police station looks like, and during the course of writing one of my novels, I try to experience all of those things over again. Where my novels most often fall into routine or colorlessness are those places where I haven't recently seen what I am talking about -- where I am just making it up and that is it.
Ventura from Dade County, FL: How much Lucas Davenport do we see in John Sandford, or shall I say John Camp? And vice versa...
John Sandford: Not very much. I was on a radio show in the Twin Cities -- the host is a friend of mine who I play golf with -- and he told his listeners that when you look at me walking down the golf course, wearing a fishing hat, you would not believe the things that I think of. In a way, I am like some of my criminal characters who are just ordinary people with one large, monstrous anomaly. I am just a guy with a 16 handicap in golf who has the monstrous anomaly that he writes crime fiction.
Ray and Dolores from Wheeling, IL: I would like to say that I (Ray) have read every one of the Prey books -- the last four out loud to my wife, Dolores, who is visually handicapped. We are big fans! Are you going to be doing any tours for CERTAIN PREY that would include the Chicago area?
John Sandford: I was in Chicago on Wednesday. Sorry I missed you...
Jerri from Minneapolis: I'm curious if you have any training in computer programming and/or software design, as that's how you have Lucas Davenport earning his fortune.
John Sandford: The short answer is no. However, the newspaper business began converting to computers in the middle 1970s. My first editing job involved working with a remarkably unpleasant computer that crashed constantly and had to be rebooted with paper tape. I was given a class in working with this computer, the easy mechanical parts. Later on I was sent to a seminar in political polling methods, where I was trained to work with the SPSS stats package and computers that were programmed with punch cards. In the late 1970s I started working with the earliest Radio Shack computers for writing...and I learned some BASIC programming. So I don't have a formal knowledge of computers, but they have been in my life for 25 years, and I have some understanding of the way they work. The rest of it is faked.
Judy Khoo from Singapore: Hi, Mr. Sandford. I have been following all your Prey books and always look forward to the next one. Can you please let me know when CERTAIN PREY will hit the Asia market?
John Sandford: Most of the Asian distribution, including Singapore, is done through the English publisher, Hodder-Headline. The book has been published and should reach Singapore fairly quickly. Or you could buy the book at barnesandnoble.com.
Byron from Hollywood, FL: What is it about The Miami Herald that spawns so many bestselling novelists? Are you still in touch with authors like Edna Buchanan?
John Sandford: The thing about the Herald was it was in such an exciting city -- it was called the Casablanca of America -- that it seemed to attract writers who were caught up in the excitement of the city itself. There are all kinds of great writers in Florida now, not just at the Herald. But of course if you are trying to start a writing career, a place like the Herald is a good place to go. Carl Hiaasen still works there. Edna works there sometimes; Dave Barry is about to publish a novel. John Katzenbach has worked out of the Herald; I don't know if James Hall ever worked for the Herald, but he fits right in there. And over on the other coast, Randy Wayne White is almost the natural successor to John D. MacDonald. I should mention that Randy, one of my favorite authors, has also produced one of my favorite nonfiction titles, BATFISHING IN THE RAINFOREST. Florida has a good bunch of people -- produced, I think, by the excitements and the tensions of the state and the attractions that has for writers.
Jeff from Maryland: Do you feel you are reaching the limits of the Lucas Davenport character as far as character development?
John Sandford: I think Davenport may have a few more surprises left. I have contracted for three more books, and I already have a pretty good idea of what the three are about. Whether I could do more after that, I don't yet know. I would like to end the series before he becomes stale. Although I will say, that Robert Parker has been writing the Spenser series for a lot longer than I have been writing the Davenport series, and Parker hasn't gotten stale at all. If I could emulate Parker, I may have another half a dozen in me.
Janet from Coon Rapids, MN: I am a big fan of all of your Prey books. Do you ever plan on starting a new series?
John Sandford: I have always wanted to own a golf course. I even have the name for the golf course --Rattlesnake. I have this vague idea that I could perhaps end the Davenport series in some upbeat way and then come back with a novel called RATTLESNAKE that is set on a golf course, which involves a crime and in which Davenport is a major character but not the major character. I would then continue with the series of Rattlesnake novels built around a kind of repertory company of golf course characters involved in solving various crimes. It sounds goofy, but I suspect it would be a lot of fun. People at my golf course have suggested the opening scene of the first book, where a guy blasts out of the sand trap and when he looks down to where his ball was, he sees a nose sticking out of the sand. It turns out he has found the dead body of the golf pro, who had disappeared a couple of days earlier, and that is all I have on that one.
Sue from Irvine, CA: What did you think of the Prey movie NBC recently aired? Did you have much input into it?
John Sandford: I had no input into it, although the movie input into my checking account. The movie was okay, but I thought it was terribly bleak -- much more bleak than I had anticipated. I think any kind of story needs some relief, and I am not sure that the movie had enough of that.
Vicky from Seattle, WA: I grew up in Minnesota, so I can see clearly the areas that Lucas goes to. When you use the name of an actual business in the Cities, do you have to get permission?
John Sandford: No. I usually try to avoid using any real businesses in a major way in a story. But if I use them almost in a news sense -- that is, as part of a scene, I just feel free to go ahead and do that.
Rosa Gozzer from New York: Mr. Sandford, regarding Lucas Davenport: Where did you come up with a character like that? Is he a character that reminds you of someone, or is it someone you know or knew? I just have to tell you that I simply adore Lucas. Thanks for your time, and kudos to you, Mr. Sandford, for being such a great writer. You are one of my favorites!
John Sandford: Lucas -- although he seems almost like a friend that I haven't bumped into for a while -- is actually something of an engineering project. I took what I know about a lot of cops, then I blended that with my ideas that I got from fictional characters and added a little touch of a movie star or two and came up with the final character. To keep him interesting I had to give him a lot of interests so that he has an insight into a lot of different aspects to life. Because I was also interested in attracting women readers I wanted somebody who would be attractive to women, not in the usual sense of attractive, but in the sense that they would find him engaging.
Mary from New York: Will you be signing CERTAIN PREY in the New York area?
John Sandford: Yes, I will. Starting Sunday and on Monday, but I don't have my schedule with me right now and can't tell you where exactly I will be. However, if you put John Sandford into a search engine like Alta Vista, you should kick up a web page that somewhere in the address has the word "Rehov" -- that is a web page put up by my son and should have the full schedule on it.
Rebecca from Friendsville, TN: You must picture your characters from your book. Did the television adaptation of the Prey book fit your idea of how they should look?
John Sandford: What Rebecca may be asking about is the main character in MIND PREY, who was played by Eriq LaSalle, who is black, while Davenport is portrayed in the novels as a white guy. One of the reasons Eriq was chosen for the part was that he combined the sense of intelligence with the capacity and perhaps even attraction for violence. That is Davenport. Eriq was just fine in the Davenport role, although I think the movie had some problems in other areas. As for the minor characters in the movie, they were not exactly as I would have seen them as I described them in my novel. But you aren't going to get that in any movie. I do think the police chief was an excellent choice, and Sloan was also right on target.
Moderator: Do you have any books you've been saving up to read this summer?
John Sandford: I don't save books. I read them right away. Robert Parker has an excellent book out. I am reading HOME TOWN by Tracy Kidder. Robert Crais has a book that I am waiting for. And Patricia Cornwell I understand is due out in the middle of July. So that is what I am reading now and looking forward to.
Ray and Dolores from Wheeling, IL: We have followed the life of Lucas over the years, and of course he is getting older. Do you plan to continue the Prey series into the twilight years of Lucas, or do you have in mind a point at which you would stop, or no plans whatsoever at this time?
John Sandford: I am aging at the rate of three months per real year. That is what I have in my head. When I finish with the series, Lucas will still be in his middle to late 40s, and although I am not sure, I believe I will probably have him achieve some kind of domestic success and happiness -- diapers and all that. But that is a way to go yet.
Lynn from St. Catharines, Ontario: Financial considerations aside, from what kind of writing to you derive the most personal satisfaction?
John Sandford: I have done journalism, I have written two nonfiction books and about 13 novels, and I enjoy them all. But the one thing that I would never want to give up would be the writing of fiction, and crime fiction or thriller fiction or adventure fiction -- or whatever you want to call it -- is my genre. I read a lot of history, but I am not competent to write it. Outside of history, I am a fan of other writers in my genre, and I really enjoy writing in it and reading it. So all considerations aside and even if I weren't making money at it, I would continue writing this kind of fiction.
Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, John Sandford. You have been an excellent guest, and we wish you the best of luck with CERTAIN PREY. Before you go, do you have any closing comments for your online audience?
John Sandford: I would recommend that everybody stop buying Star Wars books and start buying this one.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoy the Prey series and working my way through them and this one was as great as the first nine. Exciting series...on to the next!!!!
I had watched the movie and then decided to read the book. The book was excellent and thoroughly enjoyed reading.
I have a rule of thumb for watching television - no doctors, no lawyers, no cops. It's different with books. I was given a copy of "Certain Prey," and decided to give it a shot. There's a lot to like in this book - the protagonist, Lucas Davenport, is a well-regarded cop. Attractive, but not too attractive; smart, but not too smart; determined, but willing to take time off to go fishing. There's a streak of independence that befits his status as a deputy chief, but he's not a Dirty Harry flouter of the rules. You can't help but like Davenport and his fellow cops. I also liked the assassin, Clara Rinker, he and the FBI are chasing. She's not a stock character - for one thing, she's a woman. On one hand, she's reacting to a traumatic past; on the other, she's a shrewd businesswoman, doing very well what she does best. The plot revolves around Rinker being hired to kill the wife of Minneapolis attorney Hale Allen. Why? Seems the woman who hired Rinker, high-powered Minneapolis attorney Carmen Loan, is fatally infatuated with Allen and hopes, with his wife out of the way, to become the second Mrs. Allen. The character of Carmen Loan is clearly the weakest element of the book - a highly intelligent, successful, ruthless nutjob in the mode of "Fatal Attraction"'s Alex Forrest. She has better taste in clothes than in men, attracted to Allen for the shallowest reasons and willing to engage in many more murders to cover her tracks. By contrast, Clara Rinker, while generally dispassionate about her job (though she will not murder a child witness), is generally clear-headed and highly professional. Her loneliness as a free-lance executioner with mob ties, causes her to bond with Carmen as a BFF, and that throws a serious kink into her business model. This book really is a procedural - how and why do Rinker and Loan plan their murders and subsequent actions to deflect the police and FBI away from them; and do how the cops, led by Davenport, track them down. In the end, Carmen follows her lunatic plans right down the line; Clara Rinker, not so much, and that's another good thing about "Certain Prey." I wonder whether the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce has a love/hate relationship with John Sandford. He brings attention to the city and shines a glowing light on its law enforcement professionals. He also avoids the "Fargo" cliches about Minnesotans (yes, I loved the movie). But he also amps up the murder rate in Minneapolis beyond what would seem believable. If you can suspend reality on that, and if you can swallow Carmen Loan as a character, this is a book to enjoy. I did.
Moves quickly, and fun until the end - which retreats into cliche a bit.
As a teenager, Clara Rinker ran away from home and an abusive stepfather. While working as a dancer in a strip club, Clara is raped but plots her vengeance and kills the man who assaulted her. This begins a long career for Clara as a hired killer. Carmel Loan is a successful defense attorney in Minneapolis, a woman who is used to getting what she wants. And she wants Hale Allen, but standing in her way is Allen¿s wife. Through a third-party, Carmel hires Clara to kill Allen¿s wife, at which point, Lucas Davenport steps into the picture. Before Clara can enjoy her new relationship with Allen, the liaison she used to contact Clara tries to blackmail Carmel, so Carmel hires Clara personally to take care of this matter. From this point, things begin to unravel, which requires Clara and Carmel to team up and commit more murders. All the while, Davenport and his crew are one step behind the two killers, with no evidence to tie either one to any of the murders.This is the tenth book in the Prey series by John Sandford, which remains as fresh at this point as at the beginning. Lucas Davenport is an engaging character, an intelligent and intense investigator who enjoys his career chasing killers. Although there is no actual mystery to figure out here, which marks this as more of a thriller, the chase by Davenport and several strong secondary characters is fine-tuned and all the more enjoyable to follow.
I bought 4 Prey books and read them in order, but they weren't directly following each other. This one is book 10 in the series. It's the one with the lawyer who hires someone to kill her beloved's wife, so they can get together. She finds the eminently professional Clara Rinken who does everything right. But when Carmel is blackmailed by her contact, she recontacts Clara and from there things get sticky...Lucas is up to his old tricks and plays his usual mind games. I liked this one. Clara is a terrific character, so good in fact, that Sandford uses her again in a later book...
As usual an action packed look into the world of Lucas Davenport.Murders abound thanks to hitwoman Clara Rinker,who has proven to be Lucas' one that got away.A semi-cliffhanger ending but I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of Miss Rinker.
Oh well, that didn¿t last long, but I think Marcy and Lucas are far from over. What an interesting story line this time around, but there was not much mention of his daughter. I hope Sandford doesn¿t pull the old soap opera trick and have her appear in the next book as a seventeen year old. Again, this had a great flow to it and a rocking ending. We know Rinker will be back someday. She won't be able to resist.
This is my first book by John Sandford and I loved it. I decided to read it because I saw that a movie was coming out on USA and I wanted to read it before I watched the movie. I just hope the movie is just as good as the book.Lucas Davenport is a detective in Minnesota and is after a murderer. You follow Detective Davenport as he tries to unravel not just one murder but 3 murders that look like they were committed by a professional. Lucas also has it in for a lawyer, Carmel Loan. The twists and turns that this story takes kept me reading until my eyes were closing due to lack of sleep.Need a little excitement in your reading than I suggest you give Certain Prey a try.
Great read, Sandford classic
Enjoy this series though some are better than others. This one was my favorite thus far. Consistent action, doesn't drag in spots like some of the others have. Plus two interesting villians. One of whom is quite likeable!