Eyes of Prey

John Sandford on Eyes of Prey

Eyes of Prey was the third of the Lucas Davenport series, and, in my opinion, a genuinely nasty book. The first book, Rules of Prey, caught some thriller-fan attention because it was tough — a bad killer, and a bad cop chasing him. Even the Wall Street Journal liked it.
Then, in the second book, Shadow Prey, the bad guys got softer. In fact, the bad guys weren't all that bad, really, but got killed anyway, which meant there was some moral ambiguity floating around in the punch bowl.
The doctor ordered a little more starkness in the third novel, and I got it with a couple of killers named Carlo Druze and Dr. Michael Bekker. Druze, though, was just a killer. Bekker was a raving blinkin' maniac, and he's the one that women seem to like.
When I'm on tour, talking to readers, it's always a woman who asks, with a pretence of hesitation and shyness, "How did you come up with Bekker in Eyes of Prey?" When I push them on the question, they'll never admit that they liked him; but they seem to like him.
Or maybe they like the chilly thrill of a guy who cuts up his victims' eyes, and makes little butterflies of their eyelids...

The other question the women ask is, "How did you ever think of that?" as if they suspected me of doing experiments out in the woodshop. Really, I tell them, it's most a case of fiction-engineering.
In one of his commentaries on horror-novel writing, Stephen King suggests that sometimes, if you can't get down a sophisticated shock, or a writerly piece of horror, but still, you need something... well, maybe you just gotta go for the gross-out.
So picture the benighted thriller writer, trying to come up with a third book that might break onto the hardcover bestseller list. You know the goddamn women out there want blood, sex, and gore, the more the better. So you're sitting around in the office, feet on the desk, throwing wadded-up pieces of paper at a waste-basket, and you're thinking, all right, kills a woman, kills a woman. Let's see, can't cut her throat, did that in the first novel; she can't be crippled, did that in the first novel. No violent rape, did that in the second one... cut her nose off?
No, not her nose. It's gotta be tragic, but a nose, handled just a little wrong, could be seen as slightly comical. A finger? Well, finger amputation could be ugly, but it's not really horrible, is it? Lots of people lose fingers and lead normal lives. And even good guys cut off people's fingers — see Denzel Washington's character in Man on Fire.
Ears? Too Van Gogh. Maybe even too artsy, somehow — didn't one of the Getty kids get an ear cut off? Getty, as in art museum?
How about gouging out the eyes?
Okay, that's bad. But why would he do it? What would be his motivation? (Throw some more paper balls in the waste basket.)
And how would he keep the eyes for trophies? In jars? That's icky. They'd be floating around in there like pickled eggs in a redneck bar; so maybe not eyes. Maybe pull out fingernails? No, no, no. Leave that for the Gestapo novels.
Back to eyes.
How about... how about if he cut off their eyelids so they'd have to see themselves die, couldn't close their eyes? Then he'd have the eyelids left over, maybe Davenport could find an eyelid under a couch...
Wait a minute! What if he used the eyelids as trophies? You know, strung them up somehow? Hung them from the ceiling, so they'd be floating around like little butterflies...
[Sound of frantic typing.]

Well, it was probably something like that, but after however many thriller novels I've written, I can't really remember the details that clearly. I can tell you that the second book I ever wrote was called Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut, and was non-fiction. (The first one was also non-fiction, called The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle.)
To write the surgery book, I followed a brilliant plastic surgeon from the University of Minnesota through a few dozen operations. He got me turned on to medical writing, so I also did some stuff on emergency surgeons and on a burn clinic, watching even more procedures. And I got involved in an unpleasant little newspaper controversy with some medical examiners, which may have been why Bekker wound up as a pathologist.
One of the things I noticed in all of this was the simultaneous delicacy and brutality of the scalpel. Of how much people can hurt, and the ways they hurt, and how sometimes they have to get hurt even more, so they'll get better in the long run.
All of that built into Bekker's character, and all the conflicts that he suffers, and the way in which he is wrenched away from the paths of righteousness and onto the dark side.
Although — tell the truth — that sounds a little too precious. If you prefer, I went for the gross-out: Bekker was a whacko, and he came like that, right out of the can. My only regret is that he wasn't from Texas.
But, I did that in the first novel.

— John Sandford, August 10, 2006