James Patterson & Me: It’s Complicated …

Cross Kill

If James Patterson and I were in a Facebook relationship, our status would read: It’s Complicated.

My initiation came with 1st to Die in 2001. That book—which introduced me, and the rest of the world, to Lindsay Boxer and the Women’s Murder Club (still going strong with 15th Affair)—sated all my pressing needs as a bibliophile: damsels in distress, devious deceptions, deadly consequences. Needless to say, I devoured the man’s impressive backlist with reckless abandon, and soon found myself nearly caught up.

Titles like Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls knocked my proverbial socks off, and even lesser offerings—Season of the Machete, The Midnight Club, etc.—were always page-turning, if somewhat forgettable. I was fully committed. Or so I thought.

But as Patterson’s popularity continued to grow wildly, so, too, did his publication schedule, target audience, and stable of co-authors. Unable to keep up, I pledged my allegiance to the Women’s Murder Club and Alex Cross series, and vowed only to randomly sample his other offerings. After all, there were other authors in the literary sea. (I suppose we’d call this an open relationship.)

One of those “other” titles that found its way into my hands was “Run for Your Life,” the second in his Michael Bennet series, written with Michael Ledwidge. Coincidentally, I had just been hired to write the Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com, and so my very first contribution was (what I believe to be) a fair assessment of that book.

I praised Patterson for his keen sense of storytelling, engaging characters, and narrative urgency but also made note of the generous margins, large font, and short chapters, as well as his increasing saturation of the market. Too much of a good thing? It can happen, and here seemed to be the proof!

Years later, I absently picked up a mass market paperback edition of that book and was stunned to find the following boldly printed on its back cover: “Brilliant … Patterson knows how to keep you turning pages … perfect for an afternoon on the beach or that subway ride to work.”—Examiner.com

Please don’t get me wrong. I was elated to find my words immortalized in such a grand fashion, but also a bit flummoxed. In hindsight, I suppose this was the day that I learned the power of the ellipses, wherein most criticisms lie.

Between then and now, I’ve maintained a companionable relationship with Mr. Patterson. He graciously, and almost unbelievably, appeared as a virtual guest of my column on two occasions, once gave me a shout-out on Facebook for my review of 11th Hour (which was excerpted in subsequent printings), and truly impressed me with his down-to-earth presence at a book signing a few year ago.

Still, I’ve found myself reluctant to stray too far beyond the tried and true. For one thing, I like my killers to be human (in books, people, in books); lethal toys and deadly animals simply don’t do it for me. For another, I sometimes get tired of the formulaic quality that these stories tend to have—even while recognizing that reader expectation almost demands it. And finally, I occasionally wonder just how much of Patterson is in these projects versus his collaborators.

But still. Find me somebody who’s done more for the cause of childhood literacy in recent years. Somebody who’s donated more money to independent booksellers. Somebody who’s united a global audience by virtue of his reputation as a storyteller. This man is an absolute powerhouse. And who’s not attracted to such … bigness?

So I felt that I owed it to him to give his latest endeavor a chance.

Bookshots (“Stories At The Speed Of Life”)—short novels featuring original content meant to be read in just a few hours that retail at $4.99—launched last month with Zoo II and Cross Kill. I’ll admit that I raised a skeptical eye before curiosity got the best of me and I picked up the latter, ready to forget my reservations in honor of a brief but potentially promising dalliance.

Cross Kill features venerable Detective Alex Cross in an all new adventure that teases the apparent return of bad guy Gary Sonjei a decade after his demise. (How can any fan resist that?) There’s also a death watch for John Sampson, a cameo appearance by our beloved Nana Mama, and a jaw-dropper of an ending that will leave you wanting … well, whatever comes next.

Bookshots are basically publishing’s version of a tweet—a story in 140 pages or less. You can’t tell me that’s not ingenious (I won’t believe you), or that you don’t wish you’d came up with the idea yourself. But that’s James Patterson’s gift: knowing what we want before we want it, and then finding a way to deliver.

Once again, I’m at Patterson’s mercy. No matter how many times I think I’ve had enough of his promiscuous ways, I always find my way back. Like I said: it’s complicated.

 

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