Kill Alex Cross? Crimezine likes Alex Cross, let’s get that clear from the start. We even like James Patterson. But there is a problem, here’s why. Big Jim stopped writing good books a few years back and started dishing up the literary equivalent of junk food McMeals to go.
Boy do those meals taste good though! Larded high-fat plot lines, sugar rush characterization, glossy buy me packaging. This is an addictive combination, but the problems are obvious: Literary indigestion on an epic scale, dysfunctional binge/purge reading habits, leading to narrative malnutrition and a myriad other page turning disorders, that not even Pepto-Bismol and and a lay down in a darkened room can solve.
Why is this?
Big Jim is a born ad man. As CEO of mega-money Advertising Agency J. Walter Thompson, he worked some of the biggest corporate ad’ sales accounts in America, from Kodak to Burger King, Big Jim dealt with them all: lean copy and sales spin for the fattest corporations and the fastest of fast moving consumer goods in the world. There is no doubt that Patterson transposed his experience in the field of big league advertising to the world of publishing and in that respect he is a true innovator.
The historical evolution of James Patterson writer, is key to understanding his current work. Crimeziners who are fans of the Pattersonian Oeuvure may remember the great mans debut 1976 novel The Thomas Berryman Number, a densely plotted Chandleresque work, quite different to recent Patterson Novels. In 1989 Patterson wrote the book Midnight Club, as he was fleshing the outline, he figured that he could strip out extraneous literary embellishments and focus on plot rather than on the composition of sentence by sentence structure.
This led to the infamous Patterson style: short chapters . Short paragraphs. Short sentences. Big Jim reasoned that this style made his books easier to read, less elitist. It is no accident that the first Alex Cross book Along Came a Spider followed directly after this (1993) This was proved to be a crucial turning point, as Big Jim threw a large ammount of his own money into developing a TV ad’ to pump sales for this book, a move that publisher Little Brown was initially reluctant to back. But Big Jim’s shrewd ad’ man smarts paid dividends. The ad’ launched both Alex Cross and James Patterson Author into the Crime Thriller major leagues.
So back to the title of this weeks Alex Cross book. The real question here is who wants to Kill Cross? Is it Patterson, is it the reader? Or is it one of the myriad serial killers with fluffy animal names that have been pursuing Cross through the past eighteen books in the series? The Tiger, the Weasel, the Badger? Who frankly cares anymore?
There is a serious malaise in the Patterson/Cross camp. Washington Post literary hack Patrick Anderson has described Big Jim’s writing as: the absolute pits, the lowest common denominator of cynical, scuzzy, assembly-line writing. Crimezine feels this is a trifle harsh. Best selling writer Steven King has called Patterson a horrible writer who writes dopey thrillers. Owch! or should that be a Pattersonian Owch!!!
But Big Jim is not a man who listens to criticism. He points out, quite rightly: There are thousands of people who don’t like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do.
This is quite true. Millions buy Patterson’s books, in the same way they buy other fast moving consumer goods, but as ad’ man Patterson should realize, brand loyalty can be eroded, some times to disastrous effect and big brand complacency can often lead to major balance sheet disappointment.
Big Jim is diversifying into other literary markets, but he is ignoring his core competency, this is dangerous. Many readers , Crimezine included are begining to wonder if Big Jim cares anymore. Is he so rich and complacent, trundling around that Floridian golf course every morning, that he no longer cares what his loyalest fans think? Perhaps he assumes he can serve up any kind of literary slop he chooses, and we, his readers, will chow it down no questions asked?
Conan Doyle grew to loathe Sherlock Holmes. He tried to kill him off (albeit unsuccessfully) at the Reichenbach falls. James Patterson seems to be offering Alex Cross an altogether more painful and slow burning demise, one that is mired in cliche, preposterous plot lines and the kind of smug contempt for readers that is sure to end in very genuine tears.
If you are still brave enough to face the latest installment of the Alex Cross saga, If you want to find out how he rescues the presidents children, and saves millions of Americans from a poisoned water supply, in time to rush home to Nana Mamma and the cutsie-pie kids, Kill Alex Cross is availabe in Hardback now.