For 27 of the past 29 years, John Sandford has published a new adventure of his maverick hero, Lucas Davenport.
“For the same guy, that’s a lot of books,” Sandford, the pen name of former Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter John Roswell Camp, said in a phone interview from his home in New Mexico.
“You get 27 of them, and they kind of seem the same,” he continued. “The whole key to the thing is to find a villain doing something interesting and intense, to attract Davenport’s attention.”
That’s been the case with the latest book, “Golden Prey,” which hits bookshelves on Tuesday.
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Sandford has changed the course of the former renegade Minneapolis cop turned state bureau investigator who is, as of this novel, working as a U.S. marshal.
“Those changes give me more of a geographical range in places I can go to,” Sandford said. “I don’t know how it’s going to work out in the long run yet, but I’ve done my research for it.”
The Iowa native will make his first trip to Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita for a book signing and author talk next weekend.
The 73-year-old author not only gives lives to the adventures of Lucas Davenport – all in books with the word “Prey” in the title – but he has notched nine books (the 10th, “Deep Freeze,” is out in October) with Davenport’s former supporting character, Virgil Flowers.
“The problem is keeping it fresh,” Sandford said. “The book that I’m working now, I started out to write a straightforward thriller, a Virgil Flowers book, and a couple of weeks ago, I converted it into a mystery. It was beginning to sound like too many other Flowers books.
“It’s always tough writing these,” he added.
Sandford said he changed the focus of the newest “Prey” book a bit to make it more of a “chase” than his previous Davenport novels.
“I was sort of interested in the idea … that people could be followed or surveilled so much that somebody always knows where you’re at, what you’re doing and where you’re going – what stores you’re in and what you’re buying,” he said. “It’s all kind of strange.”
A former reporter for the Miami Herald and St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, Sandford said his journalism background was essential to create the scenarios that Lucas Davenport faces.
“What that work did for me was put all these scenes in my head. I saw a lot of dead bodies. I’ve seen a lot of emergency rooms,” Sandford said. “All those scenes stay in your head. I don’t know how I could write these books without having seen it. There’s just some level of bull … that you can’t make up.”
The advantage that Sandford has over reporter Camp, he said, is that “you’re making it up.”
“One thing newspaper writers don’t get to do that mystery writers do is sit and think,” he said. “If you’re a newspaper reporter and do investigations, you have to think things out, but it’s all in a factual context.
“You get to sit down with a yellow pad and think about how things are going to go,” he added.
His journalism career also gave him insight into criminals.
“I have this view of police work which mostly involves people who are stupid – the criminals. They’re not masterminds,” he said. “You want your villain to be smart, at least smart enough to avoid Davenport for most of it.”
Sandford said he knows many former journalism colleagues who have tried to follow his route and write a novel, but they have never gotten past the third chapter.
“They react by writing the first chapter,” he said. “But they never sit down and think about it.”
Sandford said he doesn’t see an end in sight for either Davenport or Flowers and won’t do what some of his colleagues have done and have others write them and put his name on the cover. Nor does he have arrangements to keep his characters alive under another author.
A widower who has remarried, Sandford said his writing has been rejuvenated after his marriage several years ago to another former crime reporter.
“She’s kind of given me new life. She’s got so many ideas and so much background in the same kind of stuff,” said Sandford, who has written three young adult books with his second wife, Michelle Cook, in the “Singular Menace” series.
“It’s inspiring having somebody around who’s familiar with cop work,” he said.
What: Book signing and author talk
When: 5 p.m. April 29
Where: Watermark Books & Cafe, 4701 E. Douglas