The murderer was intelligent. He was a member of the bar. He derived rules based on professional examination of actual cases: Never kill anyone you know. Never have a motive. Never follow a discernible pattern. Never carry a weapon after it has been used. Beware of leaving physical evidence. There were more. He built them into a challenge. He was mad, of course . . .
John Sanford, Rules of Prey (from the book description on his website.)
I’ve been looking for a good thriller to read, and my best friend JM Prescott recommended the first book in a psychological thriller series by John Sanford, Rules of Prey. My overall impression is good. Rules of Prey sets a good pace for action, switching perspectives between the hero and the villain, and building up to an exciting ending. The only downside to the story was that I found the hero, Lucas Davenport, very difficult to relate to, which is an odd thing for someone like me. I like logic problems and psychology. The psychology of being in the villain’s head was well done, not terribly graphic or gratuitous, just enough to convey the horror of what he was about to inflict. I think the problem for me was the way the “games” were developed in the story. As the reader, I knew there was a game afoot since that and the players are established in the first two chapters. What I found disconcerting was while you knew the rules the villain played by, there were no rules for Lucas, and when he created them, he broke them in the next chapter. Maybe this is what is supposed to make the character interesting: that a man who creates games for fun and makes the rules succinct and proper, breaks rules in the remainder of his life: personally and professionally. Perhaps the tagline “plays by his own rules” is appropriate for Davenport. Its not my favorite characteristic in a hero, but it does make for an entertaining and sometimes shocking read in a psychological thriller.
In some ways, even though this takes place in the 1980s, I found a lot of ties to a television series I’ve become a recent fan of, HBO’s The Wire. The same themes are present in the Rules of Prey book and The Wire: politics, police, technology, and reporters. The heros even have that similar “plays by his own rules” trait, neither Lucas Davenport and Jimmy McNulty will stop to make the arrest, even going so far as to mess with the media. Even though Wired was a difficult series to get into, it was well worth it. Once I got past the style and language of the series, I couldn’t stop. I’ve made it through one season, and will keep going.
Likewise I think I might consider reading the next in the series once my exams are finished and I get through the other books on my reading list. I suspect that its a series that will get better over time, now that there’s no back story for the characters required.