I wanted to write this review because I used to be a huge James Patterson fan. In fact, were it not for James Patterson, I might not have found a love for books. It all started in mid 2000 when my Mom bought home the book "Roses Are Red." I must confess, despite Mom buying the book, I had no interest in it until I was assigned a book report and the teacher said, "Find a book you'd like to report on." Feeling a little panicky on actually having to choose a book Mom told me I should try James Patterson. "You never know," she said in that motherly way, "you might like him." Of course, being a teenager I had already resigned that I would hate him. But that didn't happen. I discovered that not only did I like Patterson at the time, but reading could be quite fun and engaging. I was thirteen, and in that weird stage where reading seemed "uncool". Something only nerds did (my brother remarked that he was glad when I started reading and came to terms with my disability--don't you love siblings?).
I enjoyed Patterson for the reason being that he could thrill me. After reading Roses Are Red I quickly dived into other James Patterson lore. Books like Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls and Jack and Jill were fascinating, thrilling reads. And to this day I still love those book very passionately. I came to really love Alex Cross as a character. And I thought James Patterson had a knack for creating villains. In particular, Gary Soneji from Along Came a Spider and Cat and Mouse. To some extent I found some of Patterson's books frightening. From 2000-2001 I spent a lot of time diving into James Patterson and just reading a few books. His Alex Cross books were among the best he'd done. At one point I came to school with a different Patterson book under my arm every week. "ANOTHER James Patterson?" my friends would say. And then back far away from me as if reading books was a disease (and indeed one of my friends did get hooked, but I deny all accusations of getting her hooked... sort of). I whipped through several Patterson books. It was the first time I felt a strong attachment to an author since I'd read R.L Stine's Goosebumps books in elementary school. Except this author was an adult and I was beginning to enjoy adult fiction more and more.
What was it about Patterson that was so attractive? Well, the first being his books were fast paced and easy to read. A lot of people criticize Patterson's overly short chapters, but I welcome them. When you've had a long day and pick up a Patterson book you can look at a chapter and say to yourself, "This chapter is only three pages, I can do that." But then the next chapter is two... and then three again... then possibly four. "Just one more chapter," you might say. Then suddenly before you know it, you've ripped through twenty chapters and around seventy pages. And each chapter ends with a nice little cliff hanger to make you want to go onward.
Patterson also had some cunning and menacing villans. From Gary Soneji to Geoffrey Shafer in Pop Goes the Weasel. In terms of writing thrillers... James Patterson could thrill.
"So Sean, why such a low rating to one of your favorite authors?" Well, allow me to answer. Some writers as they age get worse over time. No one seems to have fallen the way Patterson has. Patterson's writing style hasn't changed much but his ability to tell stories has dwindled in such a way that most of his books now are almost laughably bad. Strangely enough, I seemed to get addicted to Paterson just as he was about to dumble over that cliff. While I enjoyed Roses are Red and all the other Alex Cross novels which came before it, Violets Are Blue began what would seem to be a series of disappointing reads by the author. Thrillers can often get away with certain things, but Violets Are Blue seemed incredibly illogical. Patterson seemed to like putting his books in a very grim and down to earth reality, but when Violets Are Blue introduced vampires he also introduced a reason as to why Vampires are best served as fantasy. There was nothing wrong with putting Vampires in real life, for example (Dracula, 'Salem's Lot, The Vampire Lestat series... even Twilight takes place in our world) but trying to find all these scientific and "fad" fashion explanations sort of made the vampires come off as jokes. For Patterson the vampire Mythos wasn't for him. But he didn't seem to realize that. Indeed, Patterson would go into other places that didn't seem befitting.
While Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is his bestselling book, he was certainly no Nicholas Sparks. In short, when Patterson dwells into other genres he never seemed to do it as well because he seemed to be stuck in basing it on some sort of reality. It was why his Alex Cross and Woman's Murder Club books were good. And yes, his Woman's Murder Club books continued to be good (some still are). But what of Alex Cross?
There's writing Thrillers... and then there's writing comic book like fiction. That is to say that when it came to Alex Cross and some of his later adventures following Roses Are Red, we began seeing villains like what you'd read about in Comic Books. Bad guys overcoming odds and doing things so out there that many of his books became surreal while trying to be real. For a great example all you need ot do is read The Big Bad Wolf. Here we have a villain called "the wolf" who can escape the midst of Alex Cross in unbelievable ways. Including putting people there to impersonate him. At the end of The Big Bad Wolf he blows up a police van with a rocket launcher... while standing right next to it. He can lift up people and kill them by snapping their neck easily. What made Patterson's villains so amusing before reading Violets Are Blue, Four Blind Mice, The Big Bad Wolf and London Bridges (especially that last one) was how Patterson could make his killers seem relatively human. The vampires in Violets Are Blue and The Wolf seemed to be so absurdly unreal that we're reminded we're actually reading fiction.
Patterson also began to make Alex Cross a extremely different character. Alex Cross was always smart and amusing and logical. It was why we liked him. But pretty soon it seemed as though Cross could do no wrong. The same would begin to happen with Lindsey Boxer (leader of The Women's Murder Club). These characters would become so perfect in some books that there was nothing they couldn't figure out. Nothing they couldn't solve. In some cases you started getting books that had a lot of strange conclusions based on Alex Cross or Lindsey Boxer coming to unusual conclusions.
Patterson could thrill, but he can't seem to anymore because he lost that love of character development he once had. In this day and age, Patterson routinely pumps out four or five (sometimes even six, and one year he had SEVEN) books. There are plenty of authors who have what's referred to as diarhea of the keyboard. Patterson has that, but he's also taken on several co-authors to help him get his books pumped out. Ever since Patterson began pumping out a bare minimal of four books a year, he has written so many forgettable stories. Ones which don't really have much character development. Instead, nowadays he's much more focused on leaving us with an amusing or surprising twist. In some cases the twist is good (though sometimes predictable as in Beach Road) but getting there just wasn't any fun. So much stock was put into the twist that Patterson seemed to forget that telling the story was just as important. As if that wasn't enough, his books also began moving at a much more frantic pace. Patterson books were already fast to begin with... but now they're so fast that the reader often feels like Patterson started driving off before he actually closed the door. And by that I mean he has numerous plot holes. I'm talking plot holes so big you could fly a plane through. Is Patterson writing novels or trying to condense a book enough that Hollywood will have no problem adapting it? There's nothing wrong with a short book... if it makes sense. But often times Patterson's do not. What happened to the man who gave us such classics as Kiss the Girls?
It doesn't even end there (you have to understand in just ten years Patterson jumped from having like 20 books... to almost SIXTY, this means Patterson is pumping out books faster than Nora Roberts and she puts out quite a lot in a year as well). Patterson also started diving into young adult literature, which again, is something that's a little hard to take in and reconcile with. I hear those Maximum Ride books are quite popular, but I've only read one of them. I did however, read The Dangerous Days of Daniel X which best shows where James Patterson is as a writer now versus where he used to be just so much as ten years ago. The Dangerous Days of Daniel X has a plot which doesn't make sense and characters that just aren't that believable.
It's hard to say just when James Patterson jumped the shark as a writer. In fact, it's so bad that the summary for most of his thrillers now... sound surprisingly familiar. There is always usually something which happens that is a strange murder or disappearance. Hey, nothing wrong with that. Even before James Patterson's books almost always centered on a serial killer. But then it's always that whoever is fighting "the most cunning and/or complex villain ever!" And there's some sort of race against time going on. In short almost all of James Patterson's Thrillers from 2001 onward tend to follow a very solid and stoic formula. There are a few formulaic authors but they still tell good stories while they're at it (Jodi Picoult, anyone?). This is that trait that James Patterson seems to have lost. Is he still a good writer? Somewhat, yes. But is he a good STORYteller? Well, no. Not when you leave more and more gaping plot holes from one book to the next. Not when suddenly the twist in your books becomes more important than the characters or plot themselves.
Patterson can pump out books but his good ones are few and far between. There's a lot of heart that is missing from his books. His characters are unbelievable, his plots implausible. This is from a man who used to construct such intricate and interesting plots. He is still immensely popular and can still sell, but this mostly comes from the idea that James Patterson is a fantastic marketing man. His plot summaries are eye catching and his covers almost literally jump out at you. He knows how to sell books, but doesn't seem to know how to construct a story. You don't have to take my word for it, go on over to Amazon.com and read some of those reviews. Time Magazine called James Patterson "the man who can't miss." Sure, if we're talking sales. He can't. But if we're actually talking the quality of his stories, James Patterson has devolved into a guy who is throwing darts with a blindfold on and hoping he hits something... many times it just isn't the target. He can still write a good book from time to time, but they're so few and far between that his books have become something you don't exactly look forward to if you've been reading Patterson for a while.