Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling novelist John Sandford has delighted readers for years with his Prey series, which follow the adventures of fictional Minnesota detective Lucas Davenport as he plays by his own rules to solve tough cases. The charismatic Davenport often delves into some pretty dark stuff, tracking serial killers, uncovering political scandals and even exploring the Twin Cities goth scene in 2009's Phantom Prey. But for the 25th entry in the series, Gathering Prey, Sandford introduces Davenport to his most twisted milieu yet: the Gathering of the Juggalos.
That's right, Davenport is the Juggalos' only hope (outside their “fam-i-ly”) from a psychopath named Pilate whose band of “Disciples,” while cheating festival attendees out of their money, have been killing people at large-scale events around the country. Pilate and his group have been murdering “travelers” (vulnerable panhandlers that travel from town to town) and have their sights set next on the Gathering of the Juggalos, where they expect to find travelers galore.
This past Father’s Day weekend, I spoke to the biggest John Sandford fan I know, my dad, about how the new book makes the Gathering of the Juggalos and the world of the Insane Clown Posse sound. My dad is a native Minnesotan who has been reading Sandford's often hyper-localized Twin Cities work for decades, so he knows the ins and outs of the series very well. While neither of us have been to a Gathering, I trust his opinion on the book and its portrayal of Juggalos to be fair and unbiased.
Prior to Gathering Prey, were you familiar at all with the Gathering of the Juggalos?
Not myself, no. I was familiar with the Insane Clown Posse because you interviewed one of them a while ago. So, when I see them whenever they make the news. I know they’re a little bit radical. Well, all of a sudden it turned up in the book’s storyline of these people going to these Juggalo gatherings. I thought, “Geez, I didn’t know about those,” and then all of a sudden it said, “Yeah, those are the followers of the Insane Clown Posse.”
It was part of the storyline, but the Juggalos aren’t the real bad guys. They’re just in the plot in a very strong way.
How did the book describe the festival elements of the Gatherings?
Well, I have a spot marked here. It says:
“Lucas looked at his watch and as he walked away he said, ‘Two Harbors is only a half-hour away, maybe we can catch her there.’ On the way there going north, Letty [his adopted daughter] asked him, ‘Have you run into any Juggalos?’ Lucas goes, ‘I prefer Aerosmith.’ ‘So you know who they are?’ ‘Sure, followers of the Insane Clown Posse. Most of the Juggalos are OK. Unusual, even strange, but OK. They have meetings around the country that they call Gatherings. The Feds say some of the Juggalos have formed into a criminal gang. I don’t know about that.'”
Part of the plot is Letty meets a traveler out in San Francisco begging for money. She befriends her, and they get together and move on. Travelers are people who go to places like Sturgis and different parts of the country. There’s another group, these are the bad people of the story, and Pilate is the leader, calling his people his Disciples. They go to these events and try to sell drugs and cheat people.
With that in mind, it appears this group of Pilate’s people, not only like to make money like that, but they’re killing people for no apparent reason. That’s where the friend that Letty met in the beginning met one of her friends, and where the storyline started because when they got to Sturgis, that fellow disappeared. The travelers are a vulnerable group — they don’t have phones to contact them, so people don’t miss them if something happens to them. Pilate’s group takes advantage of those kinds of people.
So, it’s Lucas Davenport coming to the Juggalos' aid?
Yeah, and he involves a lot of local police in Hayward, Wisconsin and near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Do you recall your first time being introduced to the writing of John Sandford?
Well, I first heard about him because he was this Minnesota author, real name John Camp, who was from Iowa originally. He did a lot of work for St. Paul papers. I can’t recall the first book of his I read, but after that I went back and pretty much read everything in order. It’s been a pretty good sequence. All the books are “Prey” novels, the first being Rules of Prey. They’re really well-written novels. There’s not this “he ducks machine guns 18 times” thing. He writes smooth novels, and I recognize a lot of the places because they’re based in Minnesota, basically out of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
What do you like about Lucas Davenport as a character?
As a character, he’s cool. He was brought up Catholic, his best friend is a nun, he made his fortune in video games and just has this little bit of renegade in him where he doesn’t always play by the rules and gets himself in trouble. He’s the kind of character that guys like to identify with. He knows how to handle himself, has a quick wit, always has some of the best lines to say and always winds up on the right side even though he’s been shot in the neck or bludgeoned in the head. He comes through it pretty well.
Overall, would you say Gathering Prey’s description of Juggalos is a flattering portrayal?
They’re not the evil ones in the book. Pilate’s gang are the evil ones. They follow the Juggalos so they can make money selling drugs to them, and they take advantage of the travelers who enjoy doing things that the Juggalos do, but they don’t mess with the Juggalos as much as they mess with the travelers. But the Juggalos aren’t depicted as a criminal gang in this story at all. They’re just the event.
After reading the book, do you have any interest in going to one of the Gathering of the Juggalos?
Short answer, no. I rarely dress up in clown outfits.