Prey series books have experienced seemingly random bumps in readership. If you’ve loved one of these books, you will probably like all of them because John Sandford, the author of the Prey series, is one of the most consistent detective thriller writers in contemporary fiction.
In this article, you will discover all Sanford books in order of publication and categorized by series.
Aside from simplifying his body of work, the post dives deeper into John Sanford and sheds light on his top books. So let’s get started!
our best John Sandford Books at a glance:
- Rules of Prey
- Winter Prey
- Buried Prey
- Dark of the Moon
- Ocean Prey
- Bad Blood
- Chosen Prey
- Heat Lightning
- Secret Prey
John Sanford: The Genius Behind Prey Books
John Sanford is an American novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner, best known for the Lucas Davenport books. He was born John Roswell Camp to an immigrant family in 1944.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in American history, Sanford went on to become a journalist, a position he held for most of his early career.
Sanford wrote his first pair of novels in 1989 when he was still John Camp. Both were accepted for publication, but one book was too good for his actual name. The publisher asked him for a pseudonym that would complement Rules of Prey, and Camp came back with John Sanford.
When the book proved to be a hit, the other book (Fool’s Run), which was previously published under his birth name, was republished with credit given to John Sanford. And with that, one of the best writers of crime fiction found his identity in a traditional publication.
Sanford uses his skills as a journalist to research topics for his books. This allows him to build enough of a knowledge base for different settings, premises, plots, and characters. John Sanford is a classic American success story, having written three successful book series and winning a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.
John Sandford Books In Order Of Publication
Prey Series Books In Order
- Rules of Prey (1989)
- Shadow Prey (1990)
- Eyes of Prey (1991)
- Silent Prey (1992)
- Winter Prey (1993)
- Night Prey (1994)
- Mind Prey (1995)
- Sudden Prey (1996)
- Secret Prey (1998)
- Certain Prey (1999)
- Easy Prey (2000)
- Chosen Prey (2001)
- Mortal Prey (2002)
- Naked Prey (2003)
- Hidden Prey (2004)
- Broken Prey (2005)
- Invisible Prey (2007)
- Phantom Prey (2008)
- Wicked Prey (2009)
- Storm Prey (2010)
- Buried Prey (2011)
- Stolen Prey (2012)
- Silken Prey (2013)
- Field of Prey (2014)
- Gathering Prey (2015)
- Extreme Prey (2016)
- Golden Prey (2017)
- Twisted Prey (2018)
- Neon Prey (2019)
- Masked Prey (2020)
- Ocean Prey (2021)
- Righteous Prey (2022)
Kidd Series Books In Order
Virgil Flowers Series
- Dark of the Moon (2007)
- Heat Lightning (2008)
- Rough Country (2009)
- Bad Blood (2010)
- Shock Wave (2011)
- Mad River (2012)
- Storm Front (2013)
- Deadline (2014)
- Escape Clause (2016)
- Deep Freeze (2017)
- Holy Ghost (2018)
- Bloody Genius (2019)
Singular Menace Books In Order
Other John Sandford Books In Order
- The Night Crew (1997)
- Dead Watch (2006)
- Saturn Run(2015)
- The Investigator (2022)
- The Eye and the Heart (1988)
- Plastic Surgery (1989)
- Murder in the Rough (2006)
Best John Sanford Books
Rules of Prey introduces Lucas Davenport, who is an unorthodox detective with the Minneapolis police department. The book is a “catch me if you can” battle of wits with an intelligent and twisted serial killer terrorizing the Twin Cities. He seems to be one step ahead of the police at every point. But Davenport needs to be a step ahead just once to put the monster behind bars.
The masterful storytelling of Sanford cleverly peppers red herrings throughout the narrative. You might think that the protagonist is ahead, only to find the entire department scratching their heads because of the criminal’s competence.
While it might seem drawn out from the description, and it could be in the hands of a lesser author, Sanford navigates the story brilliantly with a head-spinning pace that makes this book a page-turner.
Partly because it is Davenport’s debut and partly because it is one of the most widely distributed John Sanford novels, this book takes its rightful place as #1 in the author’s top works.
The second-best book in John Sandford’s bibliography is also a Lucas Davenport title. In the fifth installment of the Davenport series, the protagonist has found a formidable foe in the Iceman, a serial killer who bloodies his crime scenes to the point of leaving no tangible clues.
With jump-scare elements alongside stalker horror, this book touches on multiple points of thrill, suspense, and immersion. Winter Prey continues the Prey naming convention and follows the career of Davenport, who has been ascending through the ranks and in social status with each case.
That is why, before reading Winter Prey, you should read previous Lucas Davenport novels. You can read this as a stand-alone title as well because it starts with a crime and ends with Davenport’s triumph, making a cohesive story that does its job independently.
The chilling horror elements come not just from the setting (snowy Wisconsin) but also because the killer seems to know Davenport more deeply than the reader. He can predict every move of the protagonist before the reader does.
If you’ve read previous books in this series, the effect is far more chilling. But if you read Winter Prey directly, you don’t know Davenport enough to realize how smart and ahead of him the Iceman is.
Twenty-one chapters in, you would think that Davenport might be predictable or that John Sanford might be out of ways to incorporate the word “prey” into book titles.
The 21st installment in the Lucas Davenport series has the protagonist revisiting an old case as what used to be a case of missing girls back when Davenport was young turns up to be a case of murdered girls all these years later.
The story unfolds with the surfacing of two dead bodies wrapped in plastic. They were found during a demolition operation. As soon as the bodies are ID’d, Davenport realizes who the victims are. The girls had disappeared in 1985, and Davenport’s superiors had given up on the case.
The opening setup in Buried Prey allows Davenport to right the wrongs of his past and take this case to its conclusion. In the process, he finds that there was a lot of deception involved in the case back in the 80s.
This book is so far into the Davenport series that it isn’t written to tie in with all the previous books in any plot-significant way. Still, it is advisable to read Rules of Prey before reading Buried Prey, just so you get a better sense of Davenport as a character.
While the top-most spots in John Sanford’s recommended bibliography are occupied entirely by Lucas Davenport novels, other series also find their way in. In the fourth spot is the first book in the Virgil Flowers series, a short but interesting series of crime thrillers.
Dark of the Moon follows Virgil, who has been working for three years on promised hard cases, but Lucas Davenport never gave him anything as hard as the case at hand: the death of a man whom everyone wanted to kill.
If you liked the Knives Out movie, you will enjoy this read, as it is a whodunnit that follows a detective clearly out of his depth. Fortunately, by the time the book reaches its conclusion, Flowers has made strides and eventually solves the case.
And it is not what it seems like! This book is a great read for anyone who hasn’t read Sanford books before because it marks the start of a relatively short series.
Ocean Prey, as the name would have you expect by now, is yet another Lucas Davenport novel. In this installment (#31), Davenport’s career progression is quite good; now he is with the US Marshals Service. He is brought in as a big gun in a case where the FBI’s case is stalled out.
The intensity of this story keeps rising with each page turn, and Davenport teams up with Virgil Flowers. Seeing the two work together is quite satisfying.
The fundamentally deductive nature of Davenport, alongside Virgil’s naturally criminal mind, allows the two to solve this case, but not without a fair bit of head-scratching and thrilling twists.
While Davenport and Flowers have interacted before and even worked together, technically, this is the first proper crossover where the two combine their specialties to further the investigation.
Ocean Prey begins with a man surfacing in the middle of the ocean without his boat. He is “rescued” by a customized boat with suspiciously excessive horsepower. When coast guards approach the boat, all three of them are killed.
Being on federal territory, the crime is under the jurisdiction of the FBI. When the FBI, US Marshals, and two high-profile detectives are involved, you know that the story is interesting. Sanford deserves credit for making Davenport the main character, despite Virgil Flowers getting his flowers in the book by solving pivotal puzzles.
Virgil Flowers comes up a third time in Sanford’s top books, this time as the main character. Bad Blood is the fourth book in the Virgil Flowers series and the second Virgil Flowers book on this list. It follows a criminally minded detective as he unravels a multi-generational conspiracy.
Virgil Flowers is brought in after a series of events that hint at something more sinister lurking under the surface. Firstly, a boy hits a farmer over the head with a metal object and waits for him to die. Only when he is sure that the man is dead does he call the police.
The sheriff is suspicious of the account and calls in Virgil Flowers. With his gift of understanding and reading people, Flowers breaks down the boy, and he seems to imply that there is something else at play.
That night, the boy commits suicide, or so it seems. On the surface, it looks remorse-driven, but Virgil knows better. Following his gut, he starts looking further and finds out that there is a multi-family and multi-generational conspiracy that explains what happened. More importantly, it shakes Flowers to his core.
One of the earlier Davenport mysteries, Chosen Prey, comes later in the top Sandford book list. The story revolves around a pervert-turned-serial-killer who likes to take pictures of nude women and turn them into highly sexual drawings.
When he takes things further and is met with resistance, he ends up murdering his victim. In the process, he finds that he enjoys the process in a somewhat sexual way. So he does it again. And again.
Since this is an earlier installment, Davenport is the Deputy Chief and has a few issues rattling around in his head. Questions regarding the significance of his work and his future are occupying his mind, so he decides to take on a “straightforward” assignment, deciding to close this case himself.
But as he starts pursuing the criminal, he realizes that he isn’t just a novice serial killer but a highly motivated and conscientious criminal who is learning with each crime and becoming increasingly sophisticated. This book is a must-read if you’re a Davenport fan. It works as a stand-alone novel and requires no knowledge of the Prey series.
Heat Lighting is the second installment in the Virgil Flowers series. However, it ranks lower than some of the subsequent adventures of the eccentric detective. In this story, Flowers is summoned by Davenport after a body is found with two shots to the back of the head and a lemon in its mouth.
The point of interest is that another body was found under similar circumstances earlier. Virgil recognizes a pattern and says that the method of disposal isn’t just a serial killer’s signature but a warning.
There is a list, says Virgil, and he takes it upon himself to uncover the truth before more people are killed. The pacing of this story is Sanford at his best, as each breakthrough brings more questions.
As Virgil finds the common thread between all the victims, he realizes that what connects them all also connects to many more people. He has multiple trails to follow, and all of them are traps as well.
This is a Virgil Flowers story first, and Davenport’s appearance seems to be to boost sales since Lucas is a far better-known character. Flowers shines on his own in this book, showing courage, perspective, and deduction skills in the process.
The ninth installment in the Prey Series might seem like a story from decades ago because Davenport isn’t too far in his career when it takes place. It is still a great story that deserves a spot on the top 10 list of Sandford books.
Secret Prey starts with the murder of a company chairman. The circumstances invoke a classic murder mystery. The man was shot at close range, and the only other people around him were senior company executives who all had a reason to kill him. And to make things even harder to solve, they all have murder weapons because the incident happened while hunting.
Which hunting gun killed the chairman? Well, the more important questions are: who will be killed next? And will the final target be Davenport himself?
Returning to a young Davenport in his third showing is Eyes of Prey, the final recommendation in the top 10 Sandford books. This seems to be Sandford’s experiment with psychological thriller fiction.
Two murder cases take a toll on Lucas Davenport’s mental health, and two killers are fully capable of targeting him. Davenport has to make sense of it all, not just for the readers but also for his own sanity.
John Sanford FAQs
Is John Sanford Still Writing?
John Sanford, the novelist, is still writing. He is not to be confused with John B. Sanford, who passed away at the age of 98, leaving behind three unpublished novels.
John Sanford, who is the author of the Prey series, is alive and professionally writing fiction.
Is The Virgil Flowers Series Over?
While the Virgil Flowers series seems to have a satisfactory conclusion, the author has left room for Flowers to appear in his novels. John Sanford hasn’t retired Virgil Flowers, so the character might even appear in his next solo adventure.
Is John Sanford Married?
Sanford has been married to Michele Cook since 2013. His previous marriage (with Susan Lee Jones) ended in 2007.
When Did John Sanford Start Writing Prey?
John Sanford started writing Prey in 1988 and finished it in 1989, the same year it was published.
Who Is Lucas Davenport Based On?
Sanford hasn’t disclosed his inspiration for Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers. These characters draw from a broader range of inspirations that wouldn’t be easy to pinpoint for the author.
Is John Sanford A Detective?
John Sanford writes detective fiction but is not a detective. He used to be a reporter, so he has an investigative instinct.
Wrapping It Up
Whether you’re into Virgil Flower stories or find Lucas Davenport charming, you have plenty to celebrate because of the expansive fiction catalog featuring these characters.
Year after year, Sanford has been writing incredible thrillers featuring Davenport and Flowers in separate and crossover novels. And we have compiled the top must-reads in the post above.