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Back for his eighteenth appearance, Lucas Davenport of the Minnesota State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is not only on the job, but in top form.

The main story concerns Alyssa Austin, recently widowed when the airplane carrying her millionaire pilot husband Hunter crashed in Canada, comes home to discover the alarm system of her tony suburban home turned off, but no one in the house. Knowing the housekeeper Helen is gone for the day, Alyssa calls out for her daughter Frances who might be visiting. Alyssa searches the house and finds what turns out to be a small blood stain on the wallpape. The blood belongs to Frances and the police find that more blood has been wiped from the floors.

But there is no corpse.

A sub-plot concerns Lucas Davenport and colleague Del staking out the apartment of the wife of dope dealer, who apparently is immodest of often peels off her top with the shades up. The cops are trying to nab her currently absent drug kingpin husband.

Lucas Davenport is independently wealthy because he developed and sold a software company. He doesn't have to work, but he likes being a cop and solving the really tough cases, which just happens to be what the BCA does. In earlier stories, Sandford spent a lot of time developing Lucas Davenport. This time around, Davenport, married to surgeon Weather, with a young son and adopted teenage daughter is less introspective and more action oriented.

And there is plenty of action. As it turns out, the distraught mother, Alyssa Austin, owns several exclusive fitness centers, knows Weather and asks her to get her husband involved in the case. Reluctantly, Lucas gets involved - just in time for a series of gruesome murders of young Twin Cities "Goths". Frances, the missing daughter, was into the Goth scene.

Sandford is one of the best police procedural writers around today. He doesn't miss a beat in this one. Davenport is a cerebral cop who is constantly dogging a case, wondering how the leads and clues fit together. Almost as an aside, he tracks a money trail through the Goth community as one after another is murdered. Davenport himself comes in for a close call.

It's a taut thriller, with Davenport displaying more than the occasional flash of brilliant inspiration that brings him one step closer to solving the crimes.

The only unfortunate part of the plot is that Davenport relies upon a device he used to great effect in an earlier "Prey" novel, but it doesn't work so well here. Nope, I'm not going to spoil it for you. You'll know when you see it, even if you haven't read the prior Davenport novels.

It's a small thing that doesn't take any pleasure from the reading because John Sanford is simply one of the finest authors of police procedurals in the business. The nice thing about the "Prey" series is that if you start with one, you might be drawn to reading the others. Start with the first and work your way through all of them. They really are excellent reading.

Jerry
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VINE VOICEon May 19, 2008
John Sandford returns with another entertaining installment in the Lucas Davenport series. In PHANTOM PREY, Alyssa Austin returns home to her gigantic mansion. Something doesn't seem right. She fears there may be an intruder. In a few moments, she discovers some blood on the wall. She fears the worst, and it is confirmed that the blood belonged to her daughter, Frances.

The great Lucas Davenport is spending his days on a stakeout of the beautiful and pregnant Heather Toms. With binoculars, Lucas and friends get to watch her every move. They are watching her in hopes of her fugitive boyfriend showing up. Lucas gets called off the stakeout to do a favor for the governor, who is friends with Alyssa Austin. Mrs. Austin would like Lucas to look into her daughter's disappearance (no body had been found) because the police investigation is at a standstill.

So, Lucas begins investigating Frances Austin. Frances dabbled some in Goth circles, and Lucas pursues many clues in that area. More murders occur and a "fairy" is the likely suspect. The fairy is a waif like figure dressed in black with black hair and black make-up. Lucas can't figure out how the fairy ties in with Frances Austin or the other murders that start piling up.

Prey novels have always been known for their spectacularly evil villians and the ingenuity of Lucas and his pals in finding out who the killers are. To me, what sets Sandford apart from other authors is his ability to get into the minds of the killers and write the story from their point of view as well. He's created some truly evil villians. In Phantom Prey, the villian is a weak point. The reader doesn't get much of look the villians but Sandford makes up for it. While waiting for the plot to thicken and the evil of te villians to take over, the reader gets to follow Lucas as he investigates the crime and just lives his life, and that is a lot of fun.

Sandford also throws out a lot for fans to enjoy, such as references to Kidd and his marriage, Virgil Flowers, and Davenport's contempt for fools her are new age and use Tarot cards.

Bottom line, Sandford fans will enjoy this book. If you're new to Sanford, start at the beginning. The first books in the Prey series are just as good as the last.
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on May 6, 2008
There is one case that Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Chief Lucas Davenport likes very much; watching the home of Heather Toms whose husband Sigites "Siggy" is on the run from the police for drug dealing. Siggy fled after making bail, but Lucas believes he will return for his wife and their child, as he loves both of them very much. Heather keeps her shades open giving the surveillance cops a peep show when she strips and breastfeeds.

Davenport leaves this scene when his wife Weather is asked by her friend Alyssa Austin to have him look into the case of her missing and presumed dead daughter Frances. Alyssa came home one day, found the alarm off, Frances gone, and blood splattered all over the house. Frances was into the Goth scene; her friend Fairy egged on by Loren kills three people who the pair believes are connected to Frances' death. As Lucas investigates, he finds this is one of the most bizarre cases of his career as people are not quite as they first seem and those he thinks might have a grudge with Frances prove innocent.

Putting aside the obvious issue that Lucas is not earning chief pay as the boss needs to take care of resources (funding, people, equipment and supplies, etc) while strategically planning instead of field work, fans will enjoy his latest police procedural. The protagonist is shot at and overworked with a load of paper waiting at the office, but none of that prevents him from working both cases. Neither inquiry intersects as each is separate as they run parallel subplots. PHANTOM PREY is a riveting work in which readers will need to know who the killer is and if Siggy will come home.

Harriet Klausner
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on June 17, 2008
It's been a while since John Sandford wrote a novel that wasn't mediocre. He seems, quite frankly, to be in a rut. Recent novels, including those in the Prey series and others like Dark of the Moon, are becoming so predictable and formulaic that they feel like they are being churned out on an assembly line.

There's nothing groundbreaking to this novel and in fact, it feels a little lazy. The Goth angle feels like it's been thrown into the mix without much of an indication that Sandford made an effort to research Goth culture. That said; it's not a terrible novel. It's just unremarkable. Phantom Prey is unlikely to win Sandford any new fans but it will probably satisfy most (marginally at least).

The biggest problem with this novel is how formulaic it is, following the Sandford playbook to the letter. I'm getting tired of novels where the killer decides that the cop `is getting too close' and they need to kill him off before he stumbles on the truth. This rarely happens in real life. It's a tired idea that gets used too often in crime fiction, often as a way to resolve the mystery (why solve a crime when you can wait for the killer to come after you?) Inevitably these attempts to kill off our hero are doomed to fail. There are actually two attempts on Lucas' life in this novel. There was one attempt on Flowers' life in Dark of the Moon, and one attempt on Lucas' life in Invisible Prey.

I have another beef with the Prey series that is bound to be unpopular but I think it needs to be said. Sandford has made Davenport's life so contented that he's not very interesting anymore. His volatile temper has been tamed, his womanizing ways have been replaced with a monogamous loving relationship, the depression that plagued him in the past is no longer an issue, the conflict he once had with his superiors isn't a problem anymore because he landed his dream job with a great boss and loyal employees who are all eccentric, but dedicated cops. There's nothing really wrong with any of this (who am I to begrudge Lucas a little happiness) but I found the character more interesting when he had demons to wrestle and his character was seriously flawed.

The bottom line: As with Dark of the Moon, whether or not you choose to read this novel should be directly related to how many novels you read in a year. If you read a lot of novels (a few a week for example) - while Phantom Prey is nothing special, it's probably better than most of what's out there,so you may as well read it. If, on the other hand, you only read a few novels a year, you can do better. I can even offer suggestions.

If you're looking for the best in the series, I recommend Eyes of Prey and Rules of Prey. Phantom Prey is probably the weakest.
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Sandford takes a detour in Phantom Prey, our favorite Twin Cities detective, Lucas Davenport, uniquely challenged by a case that delves into the counter culture for clues to a young woman's disappearance, possibly her violent death. When Alyssa Austin returns home late one night, she experiences an eerie sensation. Something is amiss in her upscale home- either there is an intruder or some other menace, so unsettling that Mrs. Austin carries a loaded handgun while she searches the darkened rooms. No one is there after all, but blood-spatter on the wallpaper, almost invisible against the design, suggests recent violence. Since there is no body, Austin can only speculate on the fate of her daughter, Frances. When the police investigation yields little information, Austin turns to her friend, Weather Davenport, hoping Weather's husband, Detective Davenport can find some answers for her.

With little to go on, Davenport begins one of his most frustrating investigations, tracking the daughter's latest activities and her flirtation with the Goth community. Contrary to the social status of the wealthy Austin family, the Goths represent the opposite of the success and privilege that defines Frances' world, at least on the surface. Unwilling to believe her daughter is dead, the widow Austin, CEO of a fitness empire, provides Lucas with a list of names, a slender thread to her daughter's rebellious affiliations. Armed with only this short list, Davenport's job becomes more critical when certain individuals, all Goths, are savagely murdered, an unfamiliar "fairy" (attractive female Goth) appearing shortly before each of the deliberate killings. Determined to untangle this knotted web of dark intentions, Lucas is somewhat diverted by another investigation, the long term surveillance of an attractive young woman married to a career criminal of particular interest to the police.

While Davenport applies himself enthusiastically to the surveillance case, he also pursues the enigmatic society of Goths, most of whom tend to surface after hours at particular clubs, arrayed in black clothing, a stark contrast to the usual club familiars. Wherever he goes, Davenport just misses the tantalizing fairy, the unknown element in a mystery that includes theft, murder and the bizarre activities of a behind-the-scenes player. Juxtaposing the two cases, Lucas methodically traces Frances' acquaintances, sensing a terrible pattern that yields shocking consequences. As always, Davenport is a man of many talents, although this particular plot doesn't deliver the punch of the earlier "Prey" series. But after eighteen mysteries, Sanford can be forgiven going out on a limb in search of new material. Some unusual twists surface, albeit without much meat left on the bone for real fans. Luan Gaines/2008.
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on May 11, 2008
Phantom Prey, the 18th novel in Sanford's "Prey" series, marks the return of Lucas Davenport, a state investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This action-packed yarn of a serial killer roaming loose in the Twin Cities is one of author's best.

When a wealthy widow, Alyssa Austin, returns home and finds blood splattered on the wall, she fears the worst, for her college-age daughter, Frances, is missing. Davenport's wife, Weather, one of Alyssa's friends, persuades him to help find the missing girl.

Four murders occur and the chief suspect is a mysterious, elusive "fairy Goth," a diminutive but athletic young woman who apparently has joined the Goths--people who walk around in dark clothes and have a morbid fascination with darkness and death.

The serial killer is both highly intelligent and a "certified" schizophrenic--a deadly combination. Other than Davenport himself, Sanford has never before created a more fascinating, albeit chilling, character.

The novel contains a lot of foul language, and a sub-plot featuring a low-life hood named Siggy and his paramour Heather gives Sanford an opportunity to indulge in prurient voyeurism.

The good news is that Phantom Prey, featuring snappy dialogue, memorable characters, humorous repartee and bloody carnage, is a page-turner. Our literary crapshooter has rolled a seven instead of snake eyes.
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on March 16, 2016
This novel begins with Alyssen Austin entering her house. She felt that something was wrong, a cold whisper of evil. The house was dark, except for lights which were triggered by photocells at dusk. The hairs on her forearms and the back of her neck stood upright.

She looked to her right. The arming panel on the security system was steady, so the security panel had been disarmed. The house was empty, and the security should be armed.

She went out to her car and lifted out her ladysmith .38 and went through the house with her gun held in front of her. She thought that maybe her daughter, Frances might be in the house, and called her name. No response.

The hair on her arms was up again. Halfway through the house she knew she was alone, yet continued her search. She soon noticed dark streaks on the wallpaper at the edge of a hallway. She stepped over and touched them, and felt tackiness under her finger, pulled her hand back and found a spot of crimson.

She backed into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and dialed 911. The operator told her the police were on the way.

The police entered with guns drawn, looked at the blood and called for a crime scene crew. Blood tests determined that the blood was France's blood.

A weird start to a John Sandford Prey novel. But things will get weirder. And they do.

What's weirdest of all, though, are the two typo's in the first 6% of the novel, and then missing and added words throughout. In "Secret Prey", Mr. Sandford announced, and then apologized to readers before the beginning, of a typo he had found that the editor had refused to edit out.

In this novel, not a word from Mr. Sandford. Weird indeed.

"Phantom Prey" could have been an interesting novel, and in a few cases, still is. There are intrigues, ghosts, murders and attempted murders, insanity and suicide.

Unfortunately, there are far too many detrimental factors, in addition to the typo's etc. Previously mentioned.

The worst of these is a completely unrelated story that involves the search for, and apprehension of a drug dealer by Lucas Davenport and his team that goes on, and on, and is inserted into the main story at times, many, many times that completely disrupt the main story and distract the reader (another weird factor about this novel).

Other detrimental factors include very many extended descriptions of mundane activities and events that require very much skimming before content is again found.

Without these detrimental factors, "Phantom Prey" would have been an interesting novel to read. With them, it is barely readable.
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on January 19, 2013
I have been a fan of Sandford from the start, and I am always delighted to see a writer become successful, it's a talent I greatly admire, and am an avid reader. Some of Sandford's books are not just outstanding in the gendre, but as contemporary literature. Phantom Prey was NOT written by Sandford. I'm sure he's a busy guy, and I know a lot of successful writers have a staff of people working for them, but there is no way in God's green earth that Sandford wrote this. Obviously it's his characters, but the style, prose, and intelligence is not there. By 50 pages into it, it was painfully obvious that this was written by someone else. No fess up, John, who wrote this? Jr. College creative writing class?
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on May 18, 2008
Such a disappointment. I have read all of John Sandford's novels and can only remember one other book that was so unfulfilling. His stories are usually so interesting and such good reads.

This book had such a different 'feel' to it. I certainly hope John Sandford is not going the way of James Patterson who has subordinates do the actual writing of the books for him. This book was actually OK for about the first half. It was slow and did not really hold my interest as I had hoped, but it was OK. Then it took such a downward turn as the killer and associates were described in detail. It turned into such a silly and nonsensical story after that.

I can deal with a clinker/klunker book by John Sandford every once in a while. I sure hope this is the last novel of such poor, uneven quality for a long time. I look forward to his next good book....
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on May 10, 2008
I have read all of the Sandford/Davenport novels and I have only been disappointed once--that was with "Easy Prey." (Too complicated with all the characters he put in the plot gave me a headache) Now I was disappointed again with Sandford's "Phantom Prey."
I read Sandford because he is humorous, crafty, and quirky and the characters throughout the books have grown on me and I have learned to care about them--especially if you read the Davenport series in order, up to the marriage of Weather and Davenport, the baby Sam and the ward, Letty.
This plot was boring-not the usual substance that Sandford offers his fans.
The book to me wasn't based on the "Goth" sub-society, but about a schizophrenic character that likes to kill and a sub plot that has to do with a pregnant flasher that throughout the entire book is waiting for her drug running boyfriend to travel from Miami to Minnesota to see her and the baby.
I have to admit though that some of the book just made me laugh my head off-I will give it 3 stars for the entertainment quality.
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