California Literary Review

Double Cross By James Patterson


March 18th, 2008 at 9:50 am

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Double Cross by James Patterson
Double Cross (Alex Cross)
by James Patterson
Little, Brown and Company, 400 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★½☆☆

Murder For the Sake of Attention

Most murder mystery devotees are familiar with the writing of James Patterson. He’s penned more than forty novels and two of them were made into movies starring Morgan Freeman – Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. He’s made millions from his legion of book-buying fans, so reading his latest effort, Double Cross turned out to be disappointing, even annoying.

Why in the hell talented and successful authors resort to the hack trait of running an intriguing bad guy through his paces only to have him escape at the end of a book in a shameless move to lure the reader into purchasing the next effort in the series is something of a mystery. Hey, when you’ve got all the money you need what’s the point in unnecessary artifice in order to accumulate a few more bucks. You can only sail one yacht or drive one Bentley at a time. How many homes does one require?

To top off this verbal duplicity the writing in Double Cross is average at best. The lead characters of somewhat-retired Washington, D.C. detective Alex Cross and his latest squeeze, Detective Brianna (Bree for those in the know) Stone are shallowly drawn as is their juvenile romance. It’s the stuff of Happy Days or perhaps Andy and Helen Crump in Mayberry. The city itself could be a superb character, a wonderful setting, for the bizarre murders perpetrated by DCAK (an acronym that stands for District of Columbia Audience Killer) and escaped con murderer Kyle Craig, but for all of Patterson’s efforts in this area the place could just as easily be Wichita (actually a cool town during the spinning mayhem of tornado season) or Beloit, Wisconsin (never a cool place).

In addition to the Alex Cross series, Patterson has written the Women’s Murder Club collection, and had a number of best sellers. He’s won an Edgar Award, the mystery world’s highest honor. He lives in Florida, no doubt to research locations for his DC settings.

Double Cross has our hero rejoining the DC police force because he’s so damn talented and such a civic-minded human being, and of course he just has to be next to his sweetie. A series of elaborate and highly visible murders have stunned the city’s populace. The killer loves an audience and works overtime to make sure his public executions are well attended. The maniac even sets up his own web site and live video feed to air his artistic carnage. And in Colorado another criminal whacko, Craig, plans a triumphant return to the bloody arena. From his super maximum-security cell he’s spent years plotting both his escape and revenge on Cross who put him in the big house in the first place.

The pair of killers are interesting and deserve better from Patterson – more incidents, more anecdotes, more history. Instead we’re subjected to a sappy Cross-Stone love line as exemplified by the following:

I liked what I was doing and I told her she had the softest body, which was strange considering how buff she was. That kind of sensual exploration had to lead to trouble and it did…Afterward, we lay on a blanket on the grassy beach, where the late-day sun dried us off, and we did other things that maybe could have gotten us into trouble again. Eventually we took our sweet time getting dressed and then fixed some dinner. “I could get used to this,” I told Bree. “In fact, I’m already used to it.”

I love John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series but always thought that his love scenes were clunkers to the point of being embarrassing. Compared to Patterson’s portrayals, MacDonald comes off like Arthur Miller.

What this book desperately needed is more of this:

But her scream came out as little more than a sob, a pitiful whimper that was swallowed up in the wind…The red leash around her neck blew free in the wind like a stream of blood from her jugular. A nice, cinematic effect, Qasim thought…Even in the last few seconds, the crowd down below had grown, and grown again. He wondered if those on their cell phones were calling the police…You won’t believe what I’m seeing right now. Here, look for yourself…The audience wouldn’t believe what they were about to see either. No one would.

That’s more like it. This is a murder mystery after all.

The promotional jive on the book jacket states that Time magazine has called Patterson “the man who can’t miss,” and that Double Cross has the pulse-racing momentum and electrifying thrills that have made the author a #1 best selling storyteller all over the world.

Well in this one he missed and my pulse never rose a notch.

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