Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

Book review: James Patterson's "Cross My Heart" a disappointment.

   The free market has seen the demise of real, live bookstores. When I moved to Broad Ripple in 1987, there was a B. Dalton at what then was Glendale Mall, another bookstore opened where Peaches had been on the Avenue, and a used bookstore was on Ferguson. All three now are gone. Locally owned places, like Big Hat Books on Cornell, have sprung up, but selection is less than what stores once offered. Always, too, one has Amazon, or one of its imitators, to which to turn for a cheaper price.

   I would make two observations. First, nothing will quite take the place of a book or a bookstore. To sit under a tree on a nice day and eat an apple as one reads is not quite the same when one reads from a laptop, Kindle(r), or whatever device one uses. By extension, the same is true of a bookstore. Part of the fun of a bookstore is to wander the stacks and flip through the pages of books other than the book one had intended to purchase, or even books in categories completely different from what one was there to buy. The degree of difficulty of browsing books, online, is very great compared to grabbing a volume off a shelf.

   Second, bookstores essentially are run on the same business model as a consignment shop. Money does not pass until there is a sale. Bookstores do not purchase the books they sell. That is why books with covers torn off appear once in a while. Those are books that could not be sold. That places an emphasis for bookstores to sell what is more certain to be sold. Publishers (also becoming fewer in number) are less likely to gamble on a new writer. At the same time I decry the demise of the bookstore because of on-line places like Amazon, the on-line places have enabled writers to publish books (especially e-books) that otherwise would not have seen daylight.

   If you walk into a big box bookstore---i.e., Barnes & Noble---you will see the big name writers prominently at the front of the store. One recently died. Tom Clancy may be dead, but his name will continue to sprout on the shelves as he had sold his by-line years ago. No human---even Jack Kerouac on benzedrine with news type fed into his typewriter---could write as many  books as the people in question. Clive Cussler has franchised his name. So, too, has James Patterson.

   I want to note that I read for various reasons. First, as a lawyer with a practice that focuses on appellate and post-conviction issues, I read one hell of a lot. Some of that reading is a bore to some people, but I always have been something of a geek and enjoy it. Second, I read to enlighten myself. I will read history, biography, graphic novels, and various genres of fiction. Third, I read to relax. In this last area, I like to read detective novels. Perhaps the search for the solution to the crime or crimes or problem at the heart of the story is an allegory of the search for meaning to our existence.

   Patterson hit the big-time with his novels about Alex Cross, a detective and psychologist in Washington, D.C., who tracks serial killers. Morgan Freeman (because of "Kiss the Girls") always will come to mind when I read of Alex Cross (as will Alec Guinness when I read John Le Carre). He also has written other "lines" of books that have sold well. I read a couple of them. They were not to my taste. They also were not of the same quality of the Alex Cross series.

   Unfortunately, I think Patterson became lazy when he wrote his latest, "Cross My Heart."  Alex, his partner John Sampson, his grandmother Nana Mama, his wife Bree, his kids---all are in this book. This makes one comfortable, at first. Then I had to flip back to make sure I had not read this book previously. Because everything seemed the same.

   A few books ago, Alex Cross became the target/quarry/prey for a serial killer. Maybe that was cute back then, but the same concept is present, now it seems, in every Alex Cross novel. Ludlum seems to write the same book all the time---guy wakes up suffering amnesia, somehow knows Swiss bank numbers so he has access to resources, and ultimately battles an evil genius bent on control of the World. Alex Cross seems to have become a victim of the same writer's rut. A would-be member of the Serial Killer Hall of Fame sits in a van down the street from Cross's house and tracks Cross and Cross's family. If that occurred in one book---fine. But that has happened now in a few of the books. Cross is supposed to be a detective. He and his family have been attacked by nuts like that before. He doesn't scope out and have a squad car roust the people in the van or the car with darkened windows that seems always to sit less than a block away from Patterson's residence?

   The matter of police and forensic work in this latest book also is less than stellar. WARNING: I AM ABOUT TO DISCLOSE MORE OF THE PLOT, or at least part of the story line. Cross and his wife are in pursuit of a man for whom all the police agencies in the D.C. are searching. Cross and Bree have the guy's car in sight. They are detectives and therefore, one would think, credible to authorities. Cross and his wife do not call the proper place and say: Follow this Chevy Impala! After a culprit is captured, and is suspected of being insane, Detective Cross, who just chased the guy and watched his wife wound the guy, when asked if he will do the evaluation of the guy (for purposes of the guy's sanity or lack thereof) says, "Of course." I don't think so. Alex Cross was a possible victim and definitely an investigating officer of the case in which this guy is the suspect. Perhaps Alex would watch an interview on closed-circuit TV, but Dr. Cross would have an ethical obligation, and Detective Cross an ethical and strategic reason, to step aside and allow some other psychologist who is "disinterested," to conduct that interview.

   Finally, this last book had all the feel of the Batman movie, circa 1968, in which Cat Woman, the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin join forces against the Caped Crusader and his aging ward Robin. There were enough serial killers stalking or laying traps for Alex Cross in this book I lost track of who was whom.

   I received a royalty notice on my latest novel, "Billion Dollar Ball$." I received a deposit of four dollars and eight cents ($4.08) in my account. Obviously, James Patterson has a formula that appeals to more people than do my books. I liked the series when it first appeared. Now, though, I think Alex has gotten a little tired---wait a second! He's always exhausted when he gets home each night! And he's a psychologist and ignores the effects of long-term stress and fatigue on a person?---and needs a rest. This book is not great. It is a mish-mash of various Alex Cross-esque characters and themes.  

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