Golden Prey

GOLDEN PREY. By John Sandford. Putnam. 392 pages. $29.

John Sandford must be channeling the late Elmore Leonard. That’s the best explanation this reviewer can come up with for the snapping pace of his latest detective novel.

Sandford is among the finer writers in the genre. His style has been methodical: Lay out the plot with all its twists and turns, build suspense, then explode to the ending.

But much like Elmore’s classics — with their whipsaw dialogue, reversals and violence — "Golden Prey" shreds almost from the moment it begins:

“ ‘You know a place crookeder than Dallas?’

" ‘Sure. There are places in this world where you can pay the cops to kill people for you.’ ”

The violence is gruesomely matter-of-fact, and the baddies keep getting badder:

“He was striding toward the counting table when a young girl, maybe six years old, bolted toward the back of the building from where she’d been sitting on the floor with a golden-haired Barbie doll. She knew she wouldn’t make it, though, stopped, turned, and said, ‘You killed Grandpa.’

" ‘Sorry, kid,’ Poole said and shot her in the head.”

Poole isn’t the lone miscreant in this tale. Chasing him is a for-hire torturess who takes apart people piece by piece with drills, saws and nail drivers to get them to talk, then finishes them off the same way, for fun.

And chasing after all of them is Sandford’s inveterate hero, Lucas Davenport. Even he is out on the edge. Sanford’s Davenport stories have tended to focus on Minnesota and its Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan hub, where Davenport worked as a police investigator. Now he’s a U.S. Marshal scrambling across the South and Southwest, as unfamiliar with the customs as he is with the terrain.

The jarring ride, as you might expect, gets as hair-raising as Dora Box’s (you’ll find out) cross-country escape from police in a pickup truck loaded down with household items and stolen money.

The whole trip comes to a brakes-to-the-floor screeching stop with one sly little twisting slide that will leave you — believe it or not — grinning.

Climb on in.

Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.