Roach: Finding a safe haven from politics

Author John Sandford's books hold up over time
Roach: Finding a safe haven from politics

When the world becomes too much–when you can no longer tolerate the political acrimony, the maddening thrum of social media or the Brewers’ record–it becomes time to take haven.

Since my earliest days, that haven has been found inside a book. It began in fifth grade when I proudly finished a thick “big person” book titled “Kon-Tiki.”

That book, and all the others that have followed, taught me that a great book has the power to transport you to a different place and time. It allows you to become someone else, somewhere else.

No matter if it’s on paper or an e-reader, an engrossing read allows you to walk away from your life and retreat to another reality. If it’s a truly great read, you can lose self-awareness for hours at a time in ways no drug can match.

Since 1989, one of my most consistently entertaining escapes has been thanks to the work of a former Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper guy from the Twin Cities named John Camp.

He is better known by his nom de plume, John Sandford.

In 1989 Sandford created a character who is a tough, cunning, well-dressed, Porsche-driving and consistently ruthless Minneapolis detective named Lucas Davenport.

He’s also a self-made millionaire who hangs with a friend who is a nun.

If I were able to become a fictional character, it would not be Superman, Batman or Iron Man. It would be Lucas Davenport, Minnesota’s answer to James Bond.

Davenport has been on the job since 1989, the year he
debuted in Sandford’s novel “Rules of Prey.” Since then, Sandford and Davenport have provided readers with consistently tremendous refuge in the form of the Prey series, some 26 books in all.

It is engaging escapist fare. Pulp fiction at its best.

First, there is a strong sense of seasons and place, all the more appealing because the Twin Cities aren’t far removed from the Madison experience. Davenport even drinks Leinie’s.

Secondly, Sandford’s plotting envelopes you in a smart intricacy. He often reveals the villain in the opening pages, thus allowing the reader to descend quickly into the mind of a malefactor who is always a loathsome, serial-killing cretin. In fact, if the Twin Cities actually had as many serial killers as Sandford has been able to conjure up in his 26 books, there wouldn’t be any survivors in all of Minnesota.

But Sandford’s villains make the series. Davenport is a winning hero, but he shines all the brighter given the evil that Sandford creates in lurid detail.

Sandford also likes strong women who are made all the sexier for their talent and smarts, rather than submissiveness. It doesn’t hurt that most of the women are seen through the eyes of Davenport, a man who, by his own admission, loves women. Sometimes too much for his own good.

The other addictive aspect of the Davenport books is the dialogue. Sandford creates characters and conversation that capture the gallows humor of many occupations. The lines can be alternately withering and hysterical, often in the same scene.

And there is violence. Lots of violence.

And that is the secret of Sandford’s success, and the escape he has created for his readers. Each Prey book offers the hope of justice delivered, promptly and with extreme prejudice. In the real world we would abhor Davenport’s actions, but as fiction it is comforting to occupy a world where the criminal gets exactly what he or she deserves.

Every time.

Recently, I decided to go back and read all 26 of the Prey books. They hold up wonderfully. It’s fascinating to re-examine why this author and character offered me such welcome escape.

But I found myself wondering what drove me to reread stories from over 25 years ago. What haven was I seeking by immersing myself in revisiting 26 entire books through this summer and early fall?

And then I turned on the TV.

The answer appeared in an instant.

It’s election season.