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I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with James Patterson's Women's Murder Club books. Some are interesting, fast-paced thrillers that really know how to keep the reader entertained; others have been a real let-down. 9th Judgement mostly falls into the former category.
Detective Lindsay Boxer and her various female law-enforcement friends are investigating the brutal murder of a young mother and her child, gunned down in the street - the first in a series of such murders. They are also investigating a robbery at the home of a famous movie star which resulted in a murder. With two high profile cases, Boxer and her team are really up against it.
If you've previously read any James Patterson, then you will know exactly what to expect. A fast-paced, breathless thriller with minimal characterisation and plenty of twists. Patterson has a knack for creating interesting story-lines that are fun, but superficial. 9th Judgement is no exception and races along at a cracking pace. OK, so some elements of the plot are rather unlikely and there are some holes big enough to drive a bus through, but you won't actually care. Patterson is a natural born storyteller. He knows exactly how to write an insanely readable book.
Patterson deliberately writes in very short chapters - often only two or three pages long. This is such a simple and effective tactic that I'm only surprised that more authors haven't started to use it. Keeping chapters so short has two main benefits. First of all, it means that Patterson can constantly switch the action between different events or different characters, keeping things moving so that the reader doesn't have time to get bored. Secondly, it makes for a readable and addictive book. As you reach the end of one chapter, you are always tempted to "just read one more" because you know it will only take a few minutes.
Of course, this approach does mean that James Patterson's books are not the most complex in the world and many elements of both plot and character are superficial. If you accept, however, that 9th Judgement is about action rather than literature, then you'll get along fine. It's chewing gum for the eyes; something to read when you don't have the energy to concentrate on anything more complex or don't want to get bogged down in a long book. It's the equivalent of the big, dumb Hollywood blockbuster - a bit of superficial fun that keeps you entertained for a few hours and then is forgotten about totally. As long as you approach 9th Judgement in that frame of mind, you'll be OK.
The emphasis of this book has certainly shifted to detective Lindsay Boxer here. Boxer has always been the lead character (it's through her eyes the books are narrated), and by focussing in more closely on her thoughts and her feelings, some aspects of the book become more powerful. On the other hand, the element of teamwork (which has been effective in some of the WMC novels and less so in others) is lost. The other three major female characters only pop up from time to time and their roles are much reduced. I guess how much this affects your enjoyment will depend on your feelings towards the characters. Personally, I have always found them to be a pretty bland bunch, so their absence is not much of a negative.
A positive aspect was that this book places far less emphasis on the terminally boring love lives of the various female characters. I've lost track now of how many partners they've had and lost between them, but their incessant whining about their home lives was becoming rather tiresome. Whilst there is a little bit of it in 9th Judgement, it's thankfully rather limited.
What really lets the book down is the ending. This is true of both the ending for the main plot and the epilogue which is supposedly setting up the next book in the sequence. Having strung the reader along for around 450 pages, the actual conclusion is reached with almost indecent haste and leaves you feeling very dissatisfied. Similarly the epilogue feels like a badly-thought out conclusion and, on turning the last page, my first thought was "Oh. Is that it?" That's a real pity, because until that point, it's been a great page-turner, a thriller that kept me entertained and intrigued in equal measure.
The book is available new in paperback or Kindle for just under £4. To be honest, though, I'd keep an eye open for a cheap second hand copy in charity shops. Although it's a fun read, it's also probably the type of book that you will only ever read once, so there's not really much point spending a lot on it.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012