Silent Prey

John Sandford on Silent Prey

When people talk to me about their favorite Davenport books, those most often mentioned are the two that featured the insane pathologist Dr. Michael Becker and the two that featured the assassin Clara Rinker.
They are very different kinds of books.
Clara Rinker had quite a few redeeming qualities; she was physically attractive and fairly upbeat, a woman who actually worked out of a core of hope, though she was also a cold-blooded killer.
Becker, the villain from Silent Prey and Eyes of Prey, had no redeeming qualities at all. The Becker books are as close as I've come to writing horror stories; and looking back, I remember in the early 90s that I went through a period of reading lots of Stephen King. Some of that — if you'll excuse the phrase — must have bled into the Prey books.

Creating a monster is an interesting exercise for a writer. There's a tendency to become too expansive, to create an unbelievable comic-book evil genius, a guy who is planning to take over the world. That's a pretty easy thing to do — you simply pick all the bad traits you can think of (he's smart, he's bad, he smells like boiled cabbage, listens to Wagner and eats small children) and pile them up. Unfortunately, people really don't believe in Lex Luthor any more; he may amuse them on a movie screen, but he doesn't really chill them in their bones.
It's much more difficult to create a guy like Becker, who is thoroughly evil, and yet still has human vulnerabilities: it's those vulnerabilities that will give the character life, and remind the reader (Sandford says, smiling to himself) of the guy next door, who is always standing around with those wicked-looking hedge-clippers in his hands.

A key element of a horror/thriller/mystery story, in my opinion, is perceived proximity, which is a fancy way of saying that the reader must feel that the killer is nearby — behind the curtain, under the bed, in the closet, across the street. When the Grimms were collecting their fairy tales, the monsters weren't great hordes of Mongols sweeping across the European plain, but rather the witch back in the woods — just back there a little way, on the other side of that dark copse of oak — or the troll under the bridge, or the stranger passing through the village.
In the 21st century, it works the same way. Although we have great evils, as we saw on 9/11, I believe people become more engaged with things that happen close by. There are enough examples of close-by evil — the BTK (Bind-Torture-Kill) killer in Kansas, or Son of Sam, or the Zodiac killer — that fictional monsters of this type have a certain reality to Americans, and a certain grip on the dark imagination.
That's what I was going after in Silent Prey.

If you're standing around reading this new introduction, but haven't yet read the book, well, I don't want to give anything away, but at some point you may want to ask, "Sandford, where in the hell did you get that idea?"
You'll know it when you see it. And to answer the question, I saw an Alexander Calder mobile while I was working on the end of the novel; it was a graceful thing, delicate red elements floating around on the ends of thin black lines. I looked at it for a while and then thought, "You know, I think I can use that..."

— John Sandford, September 30, 2008