Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Books: On James Patterson

I was around 18 and at University. I had taken a summer job to subsidize my drinking during the term time at my uncle’s air conditioning firm. It was also a time when I didn’t really read. A girl I was fooling around with recommended a book called, “Along came a spider.” As a young lad and eager to impress I duly obliged.

I was delighted I gave it a go. In Alex Cross I had found a cool detective that I didn’t know existed in literature (I have subsequently realised there are far better ones out there). In Gary Soneji there was the type of villain I loved. In short the book was fast paced with a good story. I was hooked. The short chapters gave way to the very definition of the term page turners.

As the months progressed, I devoured the next couple of books. I will never forget that summer doing air conditioning. It was a time where internet was not common place and so when I was strolling through Covent Garden on the way to a job in the Lyceum theatre and saw a board in a bookshop that read, “Roses are Red by James Patterson” coming soon, I punched the air in delight. God I miss those days when you didn’t know when a book was coming out – you only get that with George R R Martin these days!

A weekend job in WHSmiths had me looking forward to the book catalogue to see when the next book was coming out. Patterson led me to other authors: Mo Hayder, Mark Billingham, Harlan Coben, Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen etc. All of which I now regularly read. (John Connolly I discovered in a unique way, which I will talk about some time).

Thrillers were my thing way before Fantasy. Usually it is the other way round but I’ve always been a geek at heart. As the amount of books I read increased so did my knowledge of the authors. Suddenly James Patterson had two books out a year, and then three and then four. His name was always on the cover but other names joined him. I still bought every book but the stories were hit and miss. The woman’s murder club started off fantastic and then by the time I read the “5th Horseman,” I half enjoyed it and I was half disgusted with how lazy the writing was.

I was actually half way through the “Lifeguard” before I realised I had already read it. I was appalled at how frequently the books were coming out and how hit and miss they were. At least he was still writing the Alex Cross series by himself I reconciled. However, even these were starting to take a dip. “London Bridges” was woeful in comparison to the others.

I was torn between ditching him all together and remaining loyal. After all he was the author that kick-started my reading interests again. In the end I decided to just read his Alex Cross books which were written solely by him and released once a year. This worked well, when I read them it was like meeting an old friend. The weak writing didn’t matter so much and instead I remembered why I liked him in the first place.

Which brings me in a rather long winded fashion on to his latest book – Cross Fire. THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW.
I was really enjoying this book. I did enjoy the book in fact. After a number of recent books in the series where his arch enemy Kyle Craig would randomly pop up and threaten Alex, we at last get the showdown. Kyle “the Mastermind” Craig completely alters his appearance of Max Siegel, so he can work alongside Alex. Sounds silly I know, but it actually made for an interesting dynamic between the two. The plot unfolds and Kyle as usual is always one step ahead of Alex.

The scenes where they interact are well done and we get a very interesting conversation between the two over whether or not Alex would shoot Kyle give the chance. Alex replies “no,” but you know the time when he will have to make the decision for real is going to happen.

This is where the book falls down and I lost a little more respect for James Patterson. From book one, the Cross family have remained intact, even adding to their ranks. On no occasion have any of them been killed by any of the villains that have had a personal grudge on Alex. The series is crying out for such a death. Nana Mama is 92, surely her time has come? I loved her at the start of the series but her interaction with Alex is so repetitive. Every book she scolds him and tells him to lay off his work and think about his family. Every book, Alex says he will and then doesn’t.

Kyle Craig has been built up for a number of books now and it was an ideal time to kill of a major character. Does this happen? Of course not and this really irked me. Instead the so called “Mastermind” falls for one of the oldest tricks in the book and is easily dispatched. To add insult to injury, the last pages of the book mentions the return of Mr. Smith another villain we have already seen and thought dead. Who cares? He is not going to kill anyone significant. It will also be the third time a villain has re-emerged in the series.

Having said that, I enjoyed the book apart from the conclusion. The dynamic between Kyle Craig and Alex was good. The random appearance of Christine was intriguing although did not go anywhere.

Will I read the next one? You bet ya, and I will probably moan about that one as well. Hypocrite that I am.