James Patterson is to be congratulated. His latest crime series Private, is more than a book, it is a marketing concept, more ambitious than any other attempted in the history of crime publishing.
With Private, Big Jim has created a vast new crime franchise, to rival Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine. Although with his army of elvish scribes working in tandem, this new Patterson project is rapidly developing in to an epic of biblical proportions.
Private sounds naughty—forbidden, you know you shouldn’t look inside, but you just cannot help yourself, the cover is big, golden and sexy, it has brand name credibility and end of aisle product placement, what could be the harm?
Patterson, a former head of brand marketeers J. Walter Thompson, just cannot help himself. He uses the phrase brand diversification, early in this novel, a term that appropriately describes both the Private organization and the vast Pattersonian empire that mirrors it.
Big Jim has needed new product for a while. His Alex Cross novels have become increasingly ludicrous of late, and the Women’s Murder Club series, which he co-penned with fetchingly enigmatic Maxine Paetro, have surely burned themselves out at long last.
Meet Jack Morgan, the square jawed Marine back from the ‘hell’ of Afghanistan covered in glory and dead comrade. Poor Jack. He is getting puzzling flashbacks—he died out there, for Christ’s sake, but was resurrected! A miracle!
Cut to Jack meeting his pops in jail. Jack’s pops was a bad man and an even worse father, but now he repents! He gifts jack fifteen million dollars and files for his detective agency Private. Where did this run down old crook get fifteen-mil? We are never told. And the old man dies mysteriously in jail soon after, so we never get to find out.
Most people would have bought a luxury condo in Boca Raton and sipped cocktails for the rest of their days. Not Jack. Oh no.
Five years later, and Jack has turned that 15 million into a worldwide detective agency with better crime lab resources than either the LAPD or FBI. Wow! Jack is certainly a good businessman, for a psychologically disturbed Vet’ with a convict Dad and he drives a Lamborgini too. Cool! There are problems however, Jack’s Brother is as bad as Jack is good and to add insult to injury, eligible Jack is unlucky in love (sob!).
The Plot of the first Private book [there are at least three now] is a triple-header. Firstly, heroic Jack swings to the rescue of a life long friend, who’s wife turns out to be a smack-shooting, crack-head, who is selfishly whoring herself out, while her loving husband is at work.
Now Crimezine is no expert in these matters, but one would assume it would be hard not to notice, if your significant other was indulging in such behavior, more importantly, how could Jack, being such a life long friend of the family, not notice the tell tale clues? Drooling, facial sores, haddock-brained speech, vagrant hygiene? Who killed this lovely lady? Could it be the mafia? Gasp.
Next up, a team of dorkish computer-gamers are stubbing out the lives of young schoolgirls, using hi-tec phone hacking software to get the inside track on the girls lives and lure them to their deaths. Really? If these dork-boy computer nerds could figure this out, surely they would be using the technology to steal money from financial institutions and use the proceeds to buy their twisted kicks elsewhere, like from the junkie hooker that Jack’s best friend is married to, for example?
Last, but no means least ,we are expected to believe that Jack’s Uncle is a big noise in the NFL and he needs Private’s help to uncover a multi-million dollar gambling scandal. It would appear that the research done for this strand of the story involved a cursory flick through the LA Times sports section, which is as lame as it is unforgivable.
It is perhaps inevitable, that such an ambitious novel, that tries so desperately to be all things to all men, will run the risk of satisfying no one.
Private is more bloated than a blowfish Ciabatta. The action is relentless, if unconvincing. We are expected to believe for example that a semi-automatic weapon can emit an: ‘unconstrained burst’ of gunfire, a lazy and dull-witted mistake for big-league crime writers. But the bloopers keep on coming.
We are told that Santa Monica is part of Beverly Hills, an error that reveals that neither Patterson or Paetro live in Los Angles, where the novel is set, although their name dropping of fancy-pants restaurants suggests the pair may have made an expenses paid daytrip to the city at some point. More likely they Googled up name checked locations, in a lazy Internet crawl.
The most annoying aspect of this novel however, is its derivative nature. It is hard to come up with new concepts for Detective fiction as it is such a classic genre, but Private is a veritable shopping list of clichés. We get a computer super geek with weirdo dress sense called Mo-bot We get a Q-like gadget specialist Dr Sci. The list goes on, and on, and the parallels to TV shows like CSI are glaring.
In conclusion Patterson fans will grin and bear this novel as per usual. It is clear that there will be a deluge of Private novels heading your way in the near future. Private Games; Private #1 suspect; and Private London, are all now available and if you are even vaguely interested in reading the series the first book is recommended. Likewise, if you are concerned that your leather bound set of Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine might get water damaged during your poolside vacation this year, Crimezine recommends you get your Privates out instead.