I have read all of James Patterson’s Alex Cross detective novels, some of which have been disappointing and appeared to be written by a committee, or phoned in, or written specifically to make it as a movie, which is true of two of his novels. This most recent Alex Cross crime thriller is one of his better ones.
As usual, his primary character is Alex Cross himself, a Washington, DC, police detective (and incidentally a psychologist, but that gets mentioned only once in this novel). Around him are his usual secondary characters, his second wife Bree (his first was murdered), his Nana (the grandmother who raised him and now helps raise his three children), the children (one in college and two younger ones), and in this case, a fourth child, a teenager named Ava, whom the family is currently fostering and hoping to adopt, despite the emotional traumas and resulting damage to her psyche that prevents her from trusting this family or any adult who might help her, and making her particularly vulnerable to repeating past experiences.
Patterson uses an interesting technique when writing, using the first person narration when it is Alex Cross but third person when it is the supporting characters. Sometimes this gets in the way of following the story lines but other times, such as in this book, I think it enhances the perspectives.
As usual, the crimes he investigates are horrific and there have been times in the past when I have found them more gory than necessary. This time, Patterson seems to have reigned himself in somewhat, describing the brutality clearly but not dwelling on the scenes, which was a relief.
In this novel, there at first appears to be four story lines: one involves the murders of young blonde women, all similarly killed and posed; the other involves young gay men, again all similarly killed and similarly disposed of; another involves a man who is apparently stalking Cross, intent on revenge for his perception that Cross had taken from him his daughter who was killed in a crossfire in the past; and Ava’s story. Very quickly we learn that the first two story lines are really one, that the two perpetrators of the murders of the young blonde women and the young gay men are feeding each others fantasies and have been doing so since college (and this is a good 40 years-plus later). The stalker story begins separately from Ava’s story, but there is a point where we begin to realize that his narrative is going to become wrapped up in Ava’s. All of these stories feel like jigsaw puzzle pieces until Cross slowly begins to manipulate and recognize the pieces, and even once that occurs, there is the intensity and anxiety of his not having done so quickly enough. At one point in the novel, because he knows one of the characters is goading him and trying to undermine him by blogging with implications and innuendos about him, and he reacts unprofessionally by physically attacking the man, that thread of the stalker/Ava story becomes entangled by Cross’s temporarily being relieved of duty and possibly facing criminal charges. In that way, he becomes another separate part of the novel. Eventually, of course, it all comes together, although not exactly as we would expect it to – parts of it do, parts of it don’t. Rather like life itself.
Patterson very clearly manipulates the reader with suspense and plot and with his characters, particularly the perpetrators. Cross is an old “friend” for me so I already have a well-established idea of who he is and what he looks like, etc. I do think my one criticism of this book would be that someone unfamiliar with the character might not understand where he is coming from nor the depth of his development. That said, however, I did like the fact that a bit more than usual, Patterson involved Cross more within his family, so we got to see his interactions there and his own vulnerabilities as a result.
I did enjoy this book, obviously. It was a thriller full of suspense and his writing flowed well from scene to scene and character to character. I think it helps to have read some of his other Cross novels but it isn’t necessary, either, because it’s so well developed.