John Sandford’s Certain Prey Starring Mark Harmon Hits the High Notes

Lucas Davenport in Carmel Loan’s closet
Lucas has a thing for Carmel’s shoes…they’re .22 caliber!
When I first heard that USA Network was making a movie of Certain Prey, the tenth of John Sandford’s Prey novels, with Mark Harmon taking the role of Lucas Davenport, I wasn’t’t sure what to think.  Sure, I love Harmon as Gibbs. And even as Ted Bundy. But Lucas Davenport?  And could any TV movie match the picture in my heads of Lucas? Of Sherrill? Of Carmel and Clara? Of Minneapolis itself?

Well, last night I got my questions answered. Here are my thoughts as I watched the movie.  I hope you’ll share yours in the comments!

I love how this movie starts with the break-in into Carmel’s apartment and Davenport in a stocking mask. Right up front even those of us who haven’t read any of the books get a sense of Davenport’s less-than-cop-like behavior.

Harmon said when we interviewed him that the film would be stylistic and “noir”-esque, and that fits with the voice-over, though I hope they don’t continue it too long.  I’m not a fan of voice-overs, though I do know that sometimes, like prologues in thrillers, they’re necessary.

Huh. Hale and Carmel had an affair in the past. Don’t remember that from the book, but it might have happened. It makes her obsession with him a little easier to understand. And Hale’s not as good looking as I would have imagined.

Carmel Loan
Carmel Loan—sanity is over-rated
Now, if you read the book, you’ll know that Carmel is bug-fuck crazy. But that doesn’t show up right away.  Big difference in the movie—we’re only 13 minutes in and she’s drilling through Rolo’s kneecaps.

Also interesting: In the book, it’s Carmel who reaches out to Clara, making vacation plans, etc.

Hale’s desperation seems a bit overdone.  Confusion, I get. Desperation, not so much.  Sure, he’s feeling pressure from Carmel, but that level of panic over what she might do to him seems a bit out of line. And then he’s so easily appeased when Lucas offers to send someone to watch them at the restaurant.

Oooh, Sherrill is blackmailing Lucas.  I like it. Lots more tension between them here than I recall from the book. Her good, meaty lines give them a hook for possible future movies, too.

I know we don’t do mini-series on TV anymore (it seems that when I was younger, everything was a mini-series, or at least two, two-hour movies of the week) but this movie would really benefit from being longer. I like it, but I wonder whether I’d appreciate it as much if I didn’t already know the story.  It’s pretty choppy.  

Sherrill on Lucas’s plan to frame Carmel: “You ever done one of these where everything went like you planned?”  Lucas: “Nope.”

The final scene between Lucas and Carmel in the street I must admit I liked better in the book because it showed more of Carmel completely losing it, but I do understand that it might not have made as good television.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie.  As I said, I wish it oculd have been longer, as there were loose ends and unexplained moments that could have been addressed in longer form (like a theatrical release where you don’t have to leave all the time for ads), but I thought it did the job admirably.  If they make another, I’ll be watching that, too.

How about you?

Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 3 dogs who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill.  She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains an online store at TorchSongs GlassWorks.  She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.


  1. Carmen Pinzon

    I haven’t read the books, but as a movie I enjoyed it. I thought the actress playing Carmelle did a good job of going crazy. The object of her obsession could have been more appealing, imo. As for Harmon, I like him in whatever he does. I’d definitely watch another one.

  2. Clare 2e

    I liked that they had a lot of wry dialog, some lines I recalled directly from the book–I enjoyed it and didn’t expect it. I was expecting Hale to be more movie-star handsome, too, and I think if I didn’t understand his relationship with the secretary already, the murder-suicide plot to involve her might have been confusing. I guess they added the previous legal conference quickie to make Carmel’s obsession with him more about her own vanity, perhaps more explicable than having been obsessed with the guy from afar for 2 years and never having mentioned it to anyone. Because for having loved him, she’s pretty quick to off him.

    Still, I liked the generally dry tone and procedural quality and the interplay between all the cops. I thought the actress playing Marcy Sherill was terrific, and I’d watch another one, too!

    It WAS Carmel who pushed the friendship in the book, and there was no menage mentioned, but, I liked how a lot was unsaid in this strange friendship and thought that worked. Feeb Malone had gray hair in the book.

  3. William Simon

    I give it a 7.5. Harmon would have worked better as Lucas maybe back in his ‘Charlie Grace’ days (a series that went onto the’Never Miss’ from the first episode.

    I thought it was highly compressed, and a lot of the good stuff got lost. A mini-series, maybe not, but a ‘novel for television’ over 13 weeks or so (like LEVERAGE or THE WALKING DEAD) might make better sense.

    Still and all, it was light years above the earlier MIND PREY with Eriq LaSalle as Lucas. It was far darker, too dark, with none of the humor in the books.

  4. TakeAim

    I am such a huge fan of Mark Harmon that I will like anything he’s in. But I’m a bit disappointed in “Certain Prey.” I read some of the books in the series, years ago. But my dismay isn’t based on the familiar “the-books-are-so-much-better” phrase. Overall, I feel that everyone tried too hard. Things were too forced, especially in the over-the-top depiction of Carmel. She became cartoonish. With Lucas, I felt that Jethro Gibbs simply moved to Minneapolis. It could be that I watch too many reruns of “NCIS,” but I was looking forward to Mr. Harmon in a different role. Perhaps Lucas and Jethro are just too similar in the first place? My favorite scene? Mr. Harmon trying to dance. Emphasis on “trying.” Despite my disappointment, I’d certainly watch another “Prey” movie.

  5. Terrie Farley Moran

    @TakeAim, the dance scene was very endearing, especially since we knew who she was and Davenport didn’t. I like Mark Harmon enough that I would probably at least DVR another Prey movie and eventually watch it. On another post I said that I’m not crazy about the Prey books. Now I remember why. I detest Davenport’s attitude toward women. (Not perp women, but the women in his life.) People keep telling me he has changed in the later books now that he is married but I left the series long before that happened, and this movie predates it as well. The reason Davenport kept reminding us of Gibbs is that they basically have the same dark wardrobe, altho’ Davenport does wear a tie now and then. Would it kill Mark Harmon to shed the black raincoat for a beige one in just one role, any role? And does his wardrobe person not like white shirts, or light blue shirts? The dark wardrobe doesn’t add to the “noir” feel they were going for, it just makes Davenport look like Gibbs.

  6. Clare 2e

    One interior that was particularly odd to me was Carmel Loan’s law office, in which the area behind her desk was either glowingly non-existent or the back wall of an Apple store (Macs being prominently placed throughout).

  7. Lynn Ristau

    I thought the movie felt flat, though it might have been because I watched alot of the NCIS marathon right before hand and had Gibbs and company in my mind. I had the advantage that I’d read quite a few of the books so I knew who some of the characters were (I haven’t read the last four or five so I’m not as familiar with the characters as I once was) but if you hadn’t read the books I could see how easily people could be confused by them all. My mother watched at her house and gave up towards the end because she couldn’t keep them all straight. I also live in the Midwest and know the Twin Cities so the scenery didn’t do it for me. If they make more movies, especially the one that takes place near my hometown or the one set in Duluth, I’ll try to keep an open mind but it still won’t look right to me. Terrie mentioned Davenport’s attitude towards women earlier and I admit I’ve had a hard time with that and Sandford’s violence toward women in his books. I’ve discussed that with two other Twin Cities based mystery writers and one was particularly offended by it. That said, I didn’t enjoy the books as much after Davenport got married. Guess I just can’t be pleased!

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