I am constantly amazed that one of my favourite authors is relatively unknown in the UK. I am not talking about an up and coming star with a couple of titles behind them – I refer to the prolific crime writer John Sandford (pen name of Pulitzer Prize winner John Camp).
In the early 1990’s I got a weekend job in my local bookshop. The rep from Harper Collins visited one day and suggested that we take a few titles from John Sandford’s Prey series. At this stage there were 4 books in total – Rules of Prey, Shadow Prey, Eyes of Prey and Silent Prey. Using my much loved staff discount I took home Rules of Prey to try out. One week later I owned Shadow, Eyes and Silent too!
The Prey novels feature Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport. Lucas is smart, charismatic and successful. He also has rugged good looks (scarred from playing ice hockey) that seems to ensure he attracts plenty of attention from the ladies in his life. He is a very likeable hero and the character has been well developed over the years.
Since 1989 Sandford has produced a Prey novel virtually every year. Field of Prey was released in May 2014 and is the 24th book in the series. For over 20 years John Sandford has provided me with hours of reading pleasure. Davenport has moved from investigative Detective to a more political role where he oversees his investigations and Sandford uses the supporting cast to do a lot of the more unpleasant leg-work.
Over the years the reader has seen Lucas become a father, get married and suffer the loss of close friends. Buying into the stories is an emotional rollercoaster at times. It is an added bonus when one or two of the more memorable adversaries crop up in more than one story – my particular favourite was the professional killer Clara Rinker (she debuts in Certain Prey).
Such was the success of the Davenport Prey novels that Sandford was able to take a minor supporting character and create an equally brilliant spin off series. Virgil Flowers (generally referred to by his colleagues as that F***ing Flowers) is also an unconventional investigator – many times married, a writer and thinker with an aversion to his own handgun. Virgil offers a different approach to crime fighting in Minneapolis and tends to be based in the more rural regions (Lucas works out of the Twin Cities in the heart of the State). Virgil will next appear in Deadline (October 2014) and this will be Sandford’s 8th Virgil Flowers book.
So with 24 Prey novels and 8 more books with Virgil we have a prolific writer with over 30 novels in the back catalogue why is there so little love for John Sandford in the UK? His dust jacket recommendation (front and centre) is a quote from a certain Mr Stephen King who believes that Sandford is a great summer holiday read.
Are shops and libraries too hung up on certain recognised names? I checked my local library and have scanned the shelves of Edinburgh bookshops. 12 books in total in my local library (including some duplicates) but not a single Sandford in Waterstones Edinburgh store today. Check for James Paterson and the shelves are jammed, same for John Grisham and Michael Connolly. I love Michael Connolly’s work and am pleased he is well represented but Sandford’s work is on a par (with less exposure).
A few years ago I visited a beautiful bookshop in Vermont, USA. I took the opportunity to check out the Sandford books. Pleasingly the shelves were full of Davenport novels – it is just a UK issue which is a real shame as these are books that everyone should have a chance to enjoy.
One final observation. HARPER COLLINS – The fifth book is called Winter Prey. In 1993 why the Hell did you feel you had to rename it The Iceman? It is now the only book in my Prey collection that does not have PREY in the title – do you know what this has done for my OCD over the last 20 years?
Read Sandford – you will thank me.