Review: The Black Book by James Patterson & David Ellis

Black Book.pngThe Black Book is a tightly-plotted and pacy thriller, the likes of which we haven’t seen from the super-prolific James Patterson in many years. It’s a well-woven tale of corruption and duplicity, with engaging characters and an inventive structure.

The novel opens with Detective Patti Harney and her father, a high-ranking figure in the Chicago PD, arriving at a crime scene involving her twin brother, Detective Billy Harney. He’s been shot and left for dead in the bedroom of assistant state attorney Amy Lentini, who is herself DOA from a gunshot wound to the head, alongside Billy’s partner, Detective Kate Fenton. Which begs the questions: Who shot who? And why? It’s obviously connected to the raid Billy led into an apartment building he was certain was operating as a sex club to the Chicago elite, and to the missing black book that served as a record of everyone who had entered and exited the brownstone.

The narrative flashes backwards and forwards, to before and after the shooting, building in suspense and momentum, until the truth is revealed. Billy’s initial memory loss seems a tad cliched and convenient, but it works, and isn’t overplayed. And while veteran mystery readers might identify the true perpetrators of the crime early on in proceedings, there’s more than enough here to keep pages turning, and readers tuned in until the very end. The Black Book pulses with excitement, and with Billy Harney, James Patterson and David Ellis have created a hero worth following to hell and back.

ISBN: 9781780895321
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Never Never by James Patterson & Candice Fox

Never NeverCandice Fox is one of Australia’s best and most innovative crime writers, so when her collaboration with multi-million copy bestseller James Patterson was announced, I was wary, simply because I couldn’t imagine their distinct styles coalescing. Patterson and his co-authors write fairly conventional thrillers, stripped to the bare essentials to ensure Patterson’s trademark rocket-fast pace. They’re fine-tuned, well-oiled machines, and provide plenty of readers precisely what they want. What has appealed to me about Fox’s work, however, is the complexity of her heroes and villains; her ability to find equilibrium between plot and characterization; and her willingness to explore dark societal underbellies, and portray violence realistically, without ever relying on sheer gratuity for shock value. My concern with Never Never was that the Patterson trappings – which I respect, and do not disparage – would dilute the traits I most admire her work for.

Never Never begins shortly after the events of the ‘Bookshot’ Black and Blue – though readers who’ve not read that novella needn’t worry, as that was quite evidently an interlude, with little resonance on this full-length story. Harriet Blue – a detective working sex crimes – has just learned her brother her brother has been arrested for a series of brutal murders around Sydney. Her superiors want her out of the city immediately to avoid the inevitable media attention, so Harry is dispatched to Western Australia, to work a missing persons case deep in the outback. Three people have vanished from the Bandya Mine, and it’s her job to track them down and bring in the perpetrator.

Harriet Blue has the makings of a great lead for a long-running series. She’s tough-as-nails, a capable brawler, and has that never-say-die attitude integral to a resonant protagonist. Presumably she’s an intelligent woman, too – though you wouldn’t know it based on her choices here, or the bumbling nature in which she runs her investigation. Harriet is purely reactionary, and continuously falls into perilous scenarios, never once being granted the opportunity to showcase her street smarts. This means there are plenty of rousing set pieces that’ll get readers’ hearts pounding, but not once does it feel like she’s cognizant of her situation. It’s impossible to delve into specifics without giving away spoilers, but Never Never is essentially Harriet stumbling headfirst into trouble before the ultimate villain reveals himself. If I’m ever attacked by a group of thugs, I’d want Harriet Blue in my corner. If confronting a cryptic crossword, I’m not so sure.

Events in Never Never are contrived. There’s very little organic about its development. It all feels very rote. Readers looking for a purely orthodox thriller will be sated, but those who’ve lapped up Candice Fox’s previous books, or indeed 2016’s landmark Australian crime novel by Jane Harper, The Dry, mightn’t feel the same. Sure, there’re some thrills, and some kick-arse moments for Harriet; but where’s the spark?

My thanks to Random House Australia for providing a review copy.

ISBN: 9781925324938
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Century Australia
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 15-Aug-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: James Patterson Bookshots – Cross Kill by James Patterson

9781786530011 (1)This bite-sized Alex Cross thriller sees the return of his long-thought-dead nemesis first introduced in Along Came a Spider, Gary Soneji.

Stories at the speed of life. All killer, no filler. The ultimate form of storytelling. These are just some of the taglines associated with James Patterson’s line of Bookshots titles. And while the latter instigates an irrepressible eyelid twitch, I’ll admit, there’s something to be said for the sheer pace of Cross Kill. As a lapsed Patterson reader, and a one-time big fan of his Alex Cross series, Cross Kill served as a nice reminder of what I enjoyed about his particular brand of storytelling all those years ago. It annihilated two hours of my evening like the snap of a finger, and so, I suppose I got what I paid for, and what was promised on the blurb.

It helps that Cross Kill flashes back to Patterson’s early Cross novels, when I was devouring them one-by-one from my father’s bookcase. Gary Soneji was Cross’s first epic villain – but he was seemingly killed more than a dozen novels ago, or more than ten years ago according to Patterson’s continuity. His return is impossible, but Cross is adamant it was Soneji who took a shot at him – and put a bullet in his partner’s head.

Unfolding at a wicked pace, there’s little meat on the bones of Cross Kill, but its events should have huge repercussions for the Alex Cross series moving forward; assuming everything’s not just swept under the rug for the next full-length novel. If you’re already a valiant Patterson reader, you’ll no doubt dig this, and it’ll sate your cravings until later in the year. If you’re not a fan, this won’t do much to persuade you to switch sides: it’s chock-full of his stylistic trappings, just thoroughly condensed, with all the nuance of a semi-trailer careening through a brick wall. But when you’ve been absorbed in gargantuan literary novels, as I have recently, this served as effective relief. And I’ll admit, I’m interested in picking up the next Cross novel to see how Patterson confronts this story’s dramatic moments.

ISBN: 9781786530011
Format: Paperback (188mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 144
Imprint: BookShots
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: James Patterson Bookshots – Black & Blue by Candice Fox

Black and BlueIn high school I devoured James Patterson’s Alex Cross books, but a long time has passed since those days, and his style – short, choppy chapters with an extreme focus on plot rather than character – no longer resonates with me. It’s like he’s got the framework of a brilliant novel, but rather than fill it, he leaves his novel emancipated, stripped down, raw. It’s not for me – but obviously fits the bill for millions of other readers, so hey, I guess this is a case of accepting I’m the outlier. I grabbed a copy of Black & Blue purely for the Candice Fox factor. On the one hand, I want to support the work of a local author whom I greatly admire; on the other, I will admit, I just wanted to see how Patterson’s influence would impact her storytelling.

Black & Blue is one of the first entries in Patterson’s Bookshots series, dubbed as “the ultimate form of storytelling, and introduces Sydney detective Harriet Blue, who will star as the lead in a full-length novel this August, Never Never. The plot is simple – a young woman has washed up on a river bank, and Blue believes she’s another victim of Sydney’s worst serial killers in decades – the Georges River Killer. She investigates the murder alongside Tate Barnes, a despised, nomadic detective, whose methods are questionable, and whose past is black as pitch. Not that Blue is completely on the side of the angels, as demonstrated by her brutal takedown of an accused assailant under the cover of darkness early on in the novel.

There’s no question Black & Blue provides an hour of fast-paced entertainment – but there’s nothing here that’ll live long in readers’ memories. The plot is fairly rote, amped up by Patterson’s short chapters and constant perspective-shifts, from Blue, to the killer, to her superior officer. Speaking of, Harriett Blue and her supporting cast have potential, but it’s not properly explored here: it all feels very much like a tease, which I suppose is all I suppose it was meant to be. Still, as the ultimate form of storytelling, I was left feeling a tad indifferent. Black & Blue is a solid little thrill-ride, but if I had a say in the matter, I’d have voted for a solo Candice Fox novella instead. She is an author who has demonstrated a willingness to bend the tropes of the genre. Here she is playing very much by the rules, and the book lacks her trademark flair. That said, hopefully readers who enjoy Black & Blue will sample Hades, Eden and Fall.  It’ll blow their minds.

ISBN: 9781786530165
Format: Paperback (188mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: BookShots
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom