Golden Prey
By John Sandford. (Putnam, 392 pages, $29.)

 

John Sandford’s “Prey” capers always move briskly, but in this case, the plot does so literally. The nucleus of “Golden Prey” is a cross-country chase involving crooks, cops, drug cartel goons, more cops — feds, state troopers, city police and even border patrol agents — more cartel goons and, not to be left out, the girlfriend of one of the crooks. If Hollywood ever makes a movie based on this, the gasoline budget alone is going to be astronomical.

Taking a mere six pages to set the scene and introduce the players, Sandford kicks the story into motion. A couple of heavily armed crooks charge into a drug cartel “bank” in Mississippi. In the process of grabbing all the money and killing everyone in sight, they shoot a 6-year-old girl. Up in Minnesota, Lucas Davenport, just settling into his appointment as a U.S. marshal, is tabbed by his bosses in Washington to lead the team tracking down the child-killers. Meanwhile, the cartel launches its own manhunt in hopes of getting its money back. With the two crews on the trail of the same bad guys, it isn’t long before they cross paths. Bullets fly, reinforcements are called in by both sides, and pretty soon everyone is chasing everyone else.

Sandford’s characterization of Davenport becomes increasingly cursory in each progressive book. His effort here doesn’t even qualify as one-dimensional; it’s more like two-thirds of a dimension. But perhaps we can cut him some slack — when you’re on book No. 27, it can be hard to find new ways to say the same old things about your protagonist. Plus, he’s too busy keeping this story on the road to waste time on chitchat.

Sanford will sign books at 7 p.m. April 26 at Barnes & Noble Har Mar Mall, Roseville; at noon April 27 at Barnes & Noble, Galleria, Edina, and at 7 p.m. April 27 at Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls.

JEFF STRICKLER

 

The Evening Road
By Laird Hunt. (Little, Brown & Co., 278 pages, $26.)

We shouldn’t expect anything ordinary from Laird Hunt, a creative writing instructor in the Ph.D. program at the University of Denver whose previous books have been called “enthralling,” “dazzling,” “beguiling” and “brilliant.” All these words fit Hunt’s latest work, “The Evening Road,” a simply told tale of two women who embark one sultry summer day on a surreal outing on the back roads of rural 1930s Indiana.

One is white, one is black (although the agrarian terms Hunt uses as racial descriptors are quite elegant). One is heading toward a horror, one away from it. Along their separate paths they encounter Jim Crow-era prejudice, threatening Klansmen, drunken antics and character-changing revelations. The dialogue is a colloquial tour de force, no matter who is speaking.

Inspired by a notorious 1930 lynching in Indiana, “The Evening Road” is a creative parable of racial turbulence, taking us on a surreal outing with these two strong women who, despite their stark differences, are headed for the same haven of light on a dark and frightening night.

Almost defying a genre, Hunt’s story is an enticing mix of mystery, historical fiction and fantasy, all wrapped up in a writing style that immerses you in another time. The road in evening is transformed into Some Other Place, where hope and goodness collide with hate and fear. The author makes no secret at drawing parallels with racial discord and injustice in America today. In an interview he quotes Faulkner’s familiar words: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The book is at once disturbing, highly imaginative and evocative, a tale that is likely to occupy your thoughts well after you close the cover.

GINNY GREENE