The Alex Cross novels were a staple of my teenage reading, and I still like to check in now and again, even though the patented James Patterson storytelling formula has somewhat lost its lustre.
In “Triple Cross,” the titular detective is investigating the brutal slayings of whole families around the D.C. area by ‘The Family Man;’ a killer who shows no compunction about executing children in cold blood. Blockbuster true crime author Thomas Kull attempts to insert himself into the investigation, much to Cross’s chagrin; then Kull’s former editor comes to the detective with the suggestion Kull is responsible for the killings that inspired his bestselling books, and he’s back in action as The Family Man.
Cross’s wife Bree Stone, meanwhile, is looking into a series of charges against fashion icon Frances Duchaine. She has been accused of saddling several victims with impossible debt for plastic surgery she declared essential if they were to make it as models. When the money couldn’t be paid back, these would-be models were forced into sexual slavery.
Both cases could sustain novels of their own; the fact they share equal billing should tell you everything you need to know about their unwinding. “Triple Cross” is the 30th entry in the series, and displays all the hallmarks of Patterson’s brand of thriller writing. His plotting, despite the enormity of his output, is almost unrivalled — it’s the execution that has started to leave me cold.
Once, I loved Patterson’s brevity: the short, sharp chapters; the concise characterizations; his determination to make his novels as honed as possible. Now I crave precisely what Patterson leaves out: depth; emotion; heart. His thrillers are plot machines, for better or worse. The pleasures derived are somewhat primal. But that doesn’t make them unworthy of enjoying when the mood suits.