Neon Prey

By John Sandford. (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 390 pages, $29.)

This is prominently billed as "a Lucas Davenport novel," which is only partly true. It rightfully should be billed as "a Lucas Davenport, Rae Givens and Bob Matees novel." As John Sandford fans know, Minnesota-based U.S. marshal Lucas often calls in fellow marshals Rae and Bob to help him, with their presence increasing in each of the past few books. This time, they rise from featured supporting players to true co-stars, arriving at the crime scene before Lucas and staying until the last bullets have flown.

They're an entertaining trio, firing snide wisecracks at each other when they're not shooting at bad guys. And that humor is vital in a book that is more gruesome than Sandford's typical offering. Yes, lots of people get shot — his standard modus operandi — but this time he also throws in rapes and cannibalism.

The marshals are in pursuit of a serial killer, chasing him from New Orleans to Los Angeles and, eventually, Las Vegas (thus the title's neon reference). Along the way, he joins up with his brother's burglary ring. But the collaboration that really makes the story work is that of Lucas with Rae and Bob. Let's hope that Sandford keeps them as an ensemble cast.

Events: 7 p.m. April 24, Once Upon a Crime, Mpls.; 7 p.m. April 25, Barnes & Noble, Edina; 7 p.m. April 26, Barnes & Noble Roseville.


Early Riser By Jasper Fforde. (Viking, 402 pages, $28.)

Jasper Fforde, the witty Welsh wordsmith behind the bestselling and delightful Thursday Next "literary detective" series, is back — with a weird one (even for him!). Fforde's latest, "Early Riser" is set in an alternate universe much like our own, except that humans hibernate each year to avoid the brutal winters.

Like Fforde's earlier novels, "Early Riser" plunges the reader into a wacky reality that takes awhile to figure out, pulled along by charismatic characters, a humming plot and plenty of funny lines.

It gets a little grim, with zombielike "nightwalkers" that never quite wake up from the annual monthslong sleep, but becomes hard to put down once our hero, newbie Winter Consul Charlie Worthing, one of the few trying to stay awake and "overwinter," starts dreaming the viral dream that's going around in Sector Twelve.

I found "Early Riser" much more fun to read once the snowdrifts on our own sidewalk started shrinking — initially, all the grim weather talk ("you're not part of the Winter until the Winter's taken a part of you") cut a little too close to home.