John Sandford was born John Roswell Camp on February 23, 1944, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended the public schools in Cedar Rapids, graduating from Washington High School in 1962. He then spent four years at the University of Iowa, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 1966. In 1966, he married Susan Lee Jones of Cedar Rapids, a fellow student at the University of Iowa.
He was in the U.S. Army from 1966-68, worked as a reporter for the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian from 1968-1970, and went back to the University of Iowa from 1970-1971, where he received a master’s degree in journalism. He was a reporter for The Miami Herald from 1971-78, and then a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press from 1978-1990; in 1980, he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, and he won the Pulitzer in 1986 for a series of stories about a midwestern farm crisis. From 1990 to the present he has written thriller novels.
Q. Your latest, The Investigator, is one our magazine called “suspenseful, unsettling, and action packed.” It’s part investigation, part action thriller. How did you come up with the story?
John: I now live in a border state, where the issues I get into with The Investigator are very real – the conflict between illegal immigrants at the border and so-called “militias” trying to patrol it. Sometimes the media (depending on which side they are on) will try to make these issues seem cut and dried, but they aren’t. One thing that many people have trouble understanding is that the border can’t be thought of as a line. It’s actually an area, maybe a hundred miles deep on both sides. People have been crossing that border, in both directions, for a couple of centuries, that’s always been the case. Same thing on the Canadian border. And the state of New Mexico probably couldn’t function without illegal immigrants, so there’s that. It’s complicated. The other part of the story, involving the oil fields of West Texas and New Mexico, was done simply because I find the oil culture to be fascinating.
Q. For those who aren’t familiar with the character, who is Letty Davenport? How has she grown as a character? Where did she come from?
John: Letty started out as a little girl growing up poor in a tiny town on the border of Minnesota and North Dakota. Her father abandoned Letty and her alcoholic mother, and Letty had a rough life dealing with all of that. Then her mother was murdered during an investigation run by Lucas Davenport. They bonded, and the Davenports adopted her. At that point, she stopped being poor, and grew up with a rich family, which changed everything, of course.
But a rich family with guns…
Q. Famously, you won a Pulitzer Prize and got a measly $50 per week raise, which put you on the path to writing novels. If you had to do something else to make the mortgage payments, what would it have been?
John: Dunno. But I would have done something. I’ve always been interested in the complications of commercial real estate…
Q. John Sandford is a pseudonym. How did you come by it?
John: My first “sold” thriller novel (and an earlier non-fiction book on plastic surgery) were published by Henry Holt. The thriller was the first of four “Kidd” books about a computer hacker, a character who also shows up in the Prey books. When I wrote the first Prey book, which would be published about the same time as the first Kidd book – and had been sold to Putnam’s – the Putnam’s editor asked me to use a pseudonym so the publications (and especially the publicity) wouldn’t become confused.
I first thought to use my mother’s maiden name, Barron, as my last name, but it happened that there was already a John Barron publishing novels. So, I went with my paternal great-grandfather’s last name, which was Sandford. I’ve always been something of a Civil War buff, and Henry Sandford was one of the relatively few survivors of the original members of the Union Army’s Iron Brigade.
Q. Most of the criminals in your stories have the fundamental flaw of being not all that bright. Would you agree that this is a commonality?
John: I have quite a few bright killers…but it’s true that most of the killers in my stories are either dumb or not nearly as bright as they think they are. That was my experience of covering crime as a newspaper reporter. Most of the criminals I dealt with were astonishingly stupid; some could barely function as human beings.
Q. What are you working on now?
John: A new Letty Davenport novel. I just finished, in the past couple of weeks, the next Prey, and took a week off before starting the new Letty. And during that week, thought of a solid possibility for a third Letty. We’ll see – we don’t even know how the first one will be received, so I may be getting ahead of myself.
John Sandford's Latest
Letty Davenport, the brilliant and tenacious adopted daughter of Lucas Davenport, takes the investigative reins in the newest thriller from #1 bestselling author John Sandford.
By age twenty-four, Letty Davenport has seen more action and uncovered more secrets than many law enforcement professionals. Now a recent Stanford grad with a master’s in economics, she’s restless and bored in a desk job for U.S. Senator Colles. Letty’s ready to quit, but her skills have impressed Colles, and he offers her a carrot: feet-on-the-ground investigative work, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security.
Several oil companies in Texas have reported thefts of crude, Colles tells her. He isn’t so much concerned with the oil as he is with the money: who is selling the oil, and what are they doing with the profits? Rumor has it that a fairly ugly militia group—led by a woman known only as Lorelai—might be involved. Colles wants to know if the money is going to them, and if so, what they’re planning.
Letty is partnered with a DHS investigator, John Kaiser, and they head to Texas. When the case quicky turns deadly, they know they’re on the track of something bigger. Lorelai and her group have set in motion an explosive plan . . . and the clock is ticking down.