Book Review: Ocean Prey by John Sandford
By Doreen SheridanApril 13, 2021
Ocean Prey by John Sandford is the 31st book in the Prey series, where fan-favorite heroes Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers join forces on a deadly maritime case.
The first official Lucas Davenport/Virgil Flowers crossover novel finds our two heroes only too happy to escape the Minnesota cold for the Florida heat—even if it is due to the need to solve a federal crime. Lucas is the one called in first when three members of the Coast Guard are gunned down while intercepting a suspicious boat. An off-duty Guardsman noticed that the boat had suddenly stopped in open water to pick up a wetsuited diver, so he reported the incident and kept a wary eye on the boat from a distance, never imagining that the responding officers would be gunned down before his very eyes.
Given that the case involves the murder of federal officers on the job, the FBI has first crack at it. Unfortunately, their investigations hit a brick wall, and U.S. Marshal Lucas Davenport is called in by his patrons in the Senate, who have their own interests in the case. With his trusty associate, Bob Matees, he flies down to Fort Lauderdale to join the interagency task force and do what the marshals do best: shake some trees and show some muscle in pursuit of their targets.
Almost immediately, their investigations bear fruit, and Lucas makes sure to involve the rest of the task force in their efforts, to Bob’s dismay.
Bob started tapping on his phone but said, “Like sucks and then you die, so you better take the credit where you can. You know the feds. When it comes to credit, they’re always the first in line. Look what happened with that 1919 guy you killed. I never even saw your name in the newspapers.”
“There’s still newspapers?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah. Nobody knows I was involved but a bunch of U.S. senators,” Lucas said. “Who would you rather have on your side? Some bureaucrat halfway up the ranks of the FBI? Or a U.S. senator who sits on the Finance Committee and can fund a new machine gun for you?”
While Lucas and Bob are pleased that things are going well, they’ve been doing this job for long enough to start worrying that things are going perhaps a little too well. When circumstances subsequently go stunningly awry, Lucas realizes that he has to come at this case from a very different angle, one that will force him to take a backseat and hand the reins over to Virgil as well as to U.S. Marshal Rae Givens, the other member of Lucas’s preferred team. Virgil and Rae have to go deep undercover in order to infiltrate the gang behind the killings—in Virgil’s case, literally deep, as he’s expected to be able to scuba dive to the ocean floor as part of the skillset the gang needs. But Virgil has never really worked with Rae before, and there are some things he needs to clarify with her first.
“I’ve shot three people,” Rae said. “Only when I thought they were going to shoot me or another marshal. I’m not looking for personal revenge. I’m happy to get them into court.”
Virgil nodded: “That’s what I do. Get them into court. Lucas doesn’t always do that. He does it most of the time, but if the guy is bad enough, or the woman, for that matter, he’ll flat-out kill them.”
“I know that. That’s not me, so don’t sweat it.”
“Good. I don’t want to climb on the boat and find myself standing in a pool of blood.” After a moment, he added, “Especially if it’s your blood. If you gotta pull a trigger, do it.”
The contrast between Lucas and Virgil is beautifully depicted, all the more starkly for having them both feature in the same book. While Lucas is a hard-edged investigator who isn’t above taking the law into his own hands, Virgil shies away from lethal force, leaning into his own affable nature and intensely un-cop-like demeanor to solve crimes. Both, however, have their own wicked senses of humor as well as their senses of camaraderie and a determination to see justice done.
One of the nicest things about this novel, as with most of John Sandford’s work, is that you can enjoy the book without ever having read another of the many novels that precede them in the series. I strongly recommend, however, that you check out some of those predecessors, as they’re all consistently smart and suspenseful, giving readers insight into the inner workings of federal law enforcement yet never taking themselves so seriously as to be devoid of humor. Mr. Sandford writes consistently exciting books that stay true to his characters while ceaselessly entertaining readers old and new.