The People vs. Alex Cross by James Patterson (Little Brown. 2017. ISBN 978-0-316-27390-9)

No. I won’t. Never again. There. My review of this book is complete. Oh, alright, if I’m going to write something negative about a guy who outsells King, Brown, and Grisham combined, a writer whom King as apparently called “terrible”, I better back up my opinion with something more than an overall impression. Here goes.

My Aunt Sukie, God bless her soul, gave me this book when I was helping pack her up for her move from her cozy little farmhouse south of Two Harbors to an assisted living condo in Alexandria, Minnesota. “Here,” she said, handing me a hard cover version of one of Patterson’s newer efforts, “I liked this one. You might too.” The novel sat on my reading stack for nearly a year until, despite my penchant for literary fiction or in-depth non-fiction, I thought, What the hell…and dove in. The water was shallow. I bumped my head. In fact, I think I was knocked unconscious by the flaws in this read. There are so many, too many really to catalogue here. But I’ll let the writing speak for itself:

I could hear Bree in my head saying I had not authority here and that my time would be better spent working on my defense for trial. But I was back in the game, and who was going to tell Bree or anyone? The creep? Not a chance. The creep would want to avoid any contact with legitimate law enforcement…

See what I mean? The entirety of the book is constructed of sixth grade sentences devoid of any writerly passion or craft or beauty. You can, as Stephen King or Grisham or Brown have demonstrated, write genre fiction that also passes, in the dim light of a late night reading lamp, for literature. But that is not true with Patterson’s prose. It is flat, sophomoric, and distinctly uninteresting and unchallenging to the reader. At least to this reader. The same thing can be said for Patterson’s characters, not a one of which, including his African American detective/protagonist, Alex Cross, is revealed to be anything more than cardboard cutouts, actors being moved around by the whimsical hand of the their director.

I read on and on and on and, despite the very short chapters that Patterson is known for, the brevity of which is said to equal “pace” (it doesn’t; this thing plods along like a freight train being switched in the yard), but found, despite the curtness of scenes, the plot simplistic, unrealistic, and crafted with the same sort of clunkiness that the dialogue and characterizations are. Maybe I am an outlier, that I’m letting professional envy obscure my objectivity: after all, James Patterson has sold more than 350 million copies of his books worldwide and me, well, I’ve sold about 15,000, I thought. But no, there are others out there who’ve been reluctant to wade into the Patterson universe despite the success of films made from his Cross books (Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider starring Morgan Freeman being good, solid efforts), Here’s a link to one of the better critiques of this author’s overall craft: https://themillions.com/2014/11/first-encounter-of-the-worst-kind-on-reading-james-patterson-at-32000-feet.html. I share Bill Morris’s reluctance to ever revisit James Patterson based upon some shared opinions that, while his work obviously is being devoured by the masses, it is scant intellectual sustenance for thinking readers:

So what is this book? The best answer I can come up with is that it’s product. Merchandise. Something designed to satisfy the craving of those millions of Alex Cross readers mentioned in the dedication. And while it might be unfair of me to judge James Patterson after reading just one of his 50-plus New York Times bestsellers, I’m guessing, based on the horrendous quality of the writing in Pop Goes the Weasel, that millions of Alex Cross fans will buy the next Alex Cross novel regardless of what’s between the covers. The audience is built-in, automatic. The writing doesn’t have to be any good; it just has to live up to the expectations created by the previous books in the series. I can’t imagine a better definition of brand loyalty.

Amen.

2 stars out of 5. I’ll watch movies made out of Patterson’s prose; I just won’t buy any of his books.

Peace.

Mark

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