Certain Prey — Behind the Scenes

The TV Movie

There was a TV movie made from this book in 2011, starring Mark Harmon as Lucas Davenport. This page isn't about that at all — I'm mostly going to talk about Carmel and Clara. I'm giving the TV movie a page of its own. Click here to go to it.

Carmel and Clara

Most Prey books have a similar structure, with regard to villains. In the typical thriller-style Prey book, the villains, while prominent, only get a few chapters dedicated them. The primary focus is on Lucas and the investigation. Even the one with the most villain development before this, Eyes of Prey, the bad guy takes up less than a third of the book. For the one that have mystery elements, there's even less of the villain. For at least one book, they're not in the book at all until the very end [1].
This is not most Prey books.
The villains — Carmel Loan and Clara Rinker — almost take over the book. Some reviewers felt that the had taken over. That this wasn't a book so much about a crime and its gradual unravelling, but about two sociopaths forming a brief, but ultimately doomed, friendship. Doomed not because they have a big moral separation [2], or because of some other interpersonal drama [2], but because at least one of them will be dead by the end.
To that, I say... yeah, it's true. They basically took over the novel. They have more time on the page than Lucas does. Their friendship, while chilling, feels also quite natural.
Clara kills for a living. She's an amoral sociopath who escaped from a horrific situation growing up almost by sheer strength of character. She grows up at a far-too-early age, becomes a killer in her teens, and has no particular remorse about what she does [4]. Business is business, and all that.
Carmel is a lawyer, and she's the real villain here.
I usually work under the assumption that less than half of all lawyers are greedy, needy, narcissistic, amoral, sociopathic, psychopathic monsters [5]. I'll even go so far as to say that fewer than 1 in 4 are murderers [6].
Carmel is a greedy, needy, narcissistic, sociopathic, psychopathic monster.
Greedy and needy? Certainly. She has a decent amount of material wealth, and flaunts it. At the same time, she lusts after things that would be, to normal people, unattainable. In this book, what she lusts after is Hale Allen, and the fact that she's married is just an inconvenience. A matter to be handled in a pragmatic, direct manner.
Narcissistic goes hand-in-hand with that. She is the most important person in her life by far, and her primary, secondary, tertiary wants or needs are more important than any issues anyone else might have [7].
Sociopathic? Yes. It's stated several times in the books that she views morals as more of a social contrivance than anything else. She has no beliefs, and her seeming good behavior is just because she doesn't want to face the consequences if she should do what she really wants to.
As for the psychopathic monster part, that doesn't emerge until after she kills D'Aquilo. But the potential was there the whole time. She was probably always a psychopath, with no outlet for it.
So of course she and Clara click. They have some things in common — mostly their view of how the world works — but they have some differences. Clara kills because it's business. It pays the bills. Carmel never killed before, but once she does, she enjoys it.
And all through the story, it's Carmel and Clara that are pushing things. Most of the time, Lucas is simply reacting to events, while Carmel and Clara are responding to the world.
The strange, doomed relationship between Carmel and Clara took over the book. And the fans loved it. It wasn't supposed to happen, it wasn't planned, there was no particular drive to make it end up the way it did. But it did, and it became a huge fan favorite. Because of Carmel and Clara.

The Border of Chaos

I've talked about Chaos Plots before, where one event happens, and that triggers something that nobody else saw coming, and before you know it, nobody has any idea of what's going on, and they certainly can't control it.
If a plan resolves itself, well, it's done. If everything goes into chaos, that's also an outcome. Not one you really want, but it is an outcome. But what happens here, for Carmel and Clara, is more like a nightmare that won't end. Instead of the situation flipping to either solved or chaos, it hovers just at the edge of it and won't leave. For every problem that they solve, another pops up. But that problem can be solved. And they solve that one, and another pops up. It's a whole series of frustrating problems, like playing a deranged game of whack-a-mole. And, just like a nightmare, they can't get free. They can't just leave, because that would be the end for them. They've got to stay with it, stick it out, until the situation comes to an end one way or the other.
It eventually does, of course — it has to end, because the book has to end sometime — but it feels like it takes forever to get there, from Carmel and Clara's point of view.
This kind of thing can be a godsend for writers, because if you can keep the momentum going, if you can keep coming up with another plausible problem to get in the way, you can chain your audience along practically forever. But you can't do it in every book, or even most books, because it is almost physically exhausting to read scenes like this. There's no good place to stop, because there's constant tension. No good place to put the book down, no time to even come up for air. And yes, it is possible to wear an audience down from that.

No Romance

It's one of the author's axioms that a book has to have a romance in it. Usually it's a new romance, sometimes it's an old one, but it always has to be fresh somehow.
In this book, Lucas is separated from Weather. The affair between him and Sherrill — I don't know if that's quite the right word as neither of them were seeing anyone else — has run its course, and there don't seem to be any particular prospects. And, for his part, it doesn't bother Lucas too much. He's made his peace with the situation. He does have a brief fling with one of the FBI agents towards the end of the book, but there's absolutely no feeling that it might lead to anything deeper. Lucas is very solidly between relationships.
The romance, such as it is, is between Carmel and Clara. You see them meet, in a strictly businesslike capacity, some of the awkward exchanges as they become friends. When Clara opens up to Carmel a few times, it's got the same hesitance you get in flirtation, when neither party is sure exactly what signals are being sent or received, or if they're genuine. They're not lesbians — Carmel is interested in men, and Clara doesn't seem to be interested in romance at all — but their interaction renders a Lucas-based romance unnecessary.
And that's just the way it works sometimes. And that's fine.

Another mistake?

If you've been reading all of the Behind the Scenes pages, you've probably noticed that I talk a lot about the mistakes in the books [8]. The flaws. The weird catastrophes that screw things up. I'm not doing it because I'm harping on them, or saying that the author's incompetent, or anything like that. I'm doing it because these mistakes — all of them — are illustrative of things that happen when you're writing. If you write, you will encounter all of these.
There are probably a dozen typos left in a book when it's printed. Those are pretty constant, and they'll get weeded out over time. That's not just for the Prey series. That's for any book.
Then there are the mutations, the typos that turn something into something else, but in a way that makes it a catastrophe. Turning 270 degrees into 370 in Winter Prey. Turning "as" into "ass" or vice versa. Those can screw up the flow of the book.
You have brain glitches — the mild ones where you exchange one word for another, as in the shotgun error in Mind Prey, or the larger ones like the Kresge / McDonald name substitution in Secret Prey.
If you are a writer, they will happen to you, guaranteed.
The one I'm going to be talking about here is the continuity error. It's when the author arranges something in a book that's either not possible (but happens anyway) or when what happens is later retroactively made impossible by new information.
Sometimes it's minor. People's hair colors might change from page to page, or we might learn that someone gets a phone call from their kids, only to learn later that they don't have any [09]. In this case, it's the torture and killing of Rolando D'Aquila by Clara and Carmel.
When he is captured by the two women, he is taken to his house, taken to the bedroom, where they chain him, spreadeagled, to his bed. At this point, he knows he's probably not going to get out of things alive.
When the police find his body, some time later, they discover that he's badly scratched his own hand, so badly that he's scraped a huge amount of skin off. This is eventually a clue that leads Lucas to suspect Carmel.
The problem is: it's impossible. If you're tied spreadeagled, your hands are nowhere near each other. D'Aquila wouldn't have been able to do it when he was tied up, and we know he didn't do it before then. So how is this possible?
The answer is that it's not. The author wrote the scene one way, and introduced a clue that broke that scene the way it was written. He was probably thinking he'd had D'Aquila tied up with his hands behind his back, in which case the scratched-hands clue is possible.
It's also possible — likely, even — that the author wrote the torture scene one way, and then later edited it to something that flowed better, and forgot to change the clue that came out of it. That's the case with a lot of the continuity errors.
It would have been easy to rewrite the scene to make it work, but the author didn't know the mistake was there, and so he didn't. And honestly, it's hard to spot: while it's obvious if you know it's there, this error has probably gotten me the fewest complaints of any of the major errors.
But the truth is, if you are a writer, this will happen to you, and it will be embarrassing. Just know that you're not alone. It happens to every writer.

Footnotes

1. That would be Easy Prey, and it had a lot of fans crying "Foul!" about it.

2. Although it becomes clear when Carmel tortures D'Aquila and Clara — the killer — can't watch, that they do have some differences.

3. Although I suppose that you could consider multiple first-degree murders to be drama of a sort.

4. And unlike Carmel, she has limits. She's unwilling to kill kids, for instance. Carmel has no such problem.

5. From a strictly legal perspective, this is technically correct: fewer than half of all lawyers fit into this category. Far fewer, but hey, technically correct.

6. Again, technically correct, in the same way that New York and Los Angeles are literally dozens of miles apart. Several hundred dozens of miles, but it's still true.

7. The next narcissistic sociopathic villain, really, is Taryn Grant. She's a politician, and some people might rank that as even worse than a lawyer.

8. And if you haven't been, go read them.

9. That's a specific error that happens in Dark of the Moon. I personally think it can be explained with a huge backstory that I'll talk about on the Behind the Scenes page for that book.