Do I Have to Read James Patterson?

The Daily Beast’s William Boot reviews bestselling novels to see which, if any, are readable. This week: James Patterson’s I, Alex Cross.

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Book: I, Alex Cross Author: James Patterson Pages: 374 Readable Pages: About 38 Sample line: “Everything that lay ahead of her seemed bright and promising—except, of course, that she was about to die in these dark, gloomy, dismal woods.”

James Patterson’s book I, Alex Cross ought to have been called I, Patterson. The author’s ego permeates every page, overshadowing the mystery and the characters, such as they are. The novel, which sits at No. 2 on the Times bestseller list, is allegedly about a Washington, D.C., serial killer who goes by the ridiculous name Zeus. But it is Patterson who is fantasizing about playing God here.

I was tipped off when I read the author bio on the jacket: “James Patterson has had more New York Times bestsellers than any other writer, ever, according to The Guinness Book of World Records.” That “ever” is a nice touch—a lifted finger at John Grisham, Sue Grafton, and other mega-sellers who write one book a year instead of eight. Patterson, the blurb continues, writes “full-time,” and as if to prove the point, Patterson thoughtfully includes a list of the 65 books he has published to date. A full 16 of them are mysteries starring the D.C. Metro detective Alex Cross: I, Alex Cross, along with Double Cross, Cross Country, and—wait for it— Cross.

Cross, it must be said, is a moron, always a step behind other cops and the reader. No, it’s the serial killer, Zeus, that gets Patterson’s juices flowing, and best way to enjoy the book is as an unintentional autobiography. James Patterson—I mean, Zeus—frequents a sex club in the Virginia hinterlands. What we know about Patterson—I mean, Zeus—is that he is fond of dead girls, rough sex, and deadpan interior monologue: “[I]t was completely in his control. He was, after all, Zeus.” Cross gets on the case when Zeus murders his niece, Caroline, who had drifted into the sex trade. The White House worries Zeus might be someone high in the political power structure—a rogue Secret Service agent, perhaps, or even the husband of the president.

A mystery that roasted Washington, D.C. for its sexual depravities might have been a guilty pleasure. Alas, Patterson cannot pull off even that. For one thing, he often forgets he has set the book in Washington, and in a bid for penance has to rush Cross to, say, the Kennedy Center Honors. (“In Washington terms, there was no other night quite like this one.”) For another thing, the political sex supplied here feels like it owes a co-byline to the Family Research Council: “The bottom drawers held a collection of restraints, insertive objects, toys, and contraptions...” Insertive objects?

Patterson has written I, Alex Cross in such a sprint to get the next bestseller ( My Cross to Bear? Hands Cross America?) that it’s hard to list all the book’s awful surprises: the redneck who disposes of bodies in a way that will thrill fans of the movie Fargo; the sex-club impresario given to proclamations like “Whatever their little hard-ons desire”; Cross’s partnership with a Wonkette-style Internet gossip; even Cross’s own arid interior monologue, which feels like an editor’s notes accidentally inserted into the text: “What was this about, and how had it led to the death of Caroline Cross? Where else would it lead?”

It has led, a downer for us frequent fliers, to yet another James Patterson bestseller. On the bright (that is, readable) side, I enjoyed Detective Cross’s beloved Nana, who pops up throughout the book to collapse and be rushed to the hospital. Those scenes (roughly, pages 77-83, 90-94, 161-166, 193-194,199-205, 218-220, 231-236, 364-365) are—in their sheer frequency—much more diverting than Patterson’s attempts at creating suspense. I, Alex Cross is perhaps the worst novel, ever, set in Washington, D.C.; the worst smutty book, ever, involving politicians or U.N. ambassadors; and the worst bid for literature ever—OK, this week—on the Times bestseller list.

Read it? No.

Previously reviewed by William Boot:

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

William Boot covered the war in Ishmaelia and wrote the Lush Places column for The Daily Beast. He now reviews commercial fiction.

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