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Twice as good as "Cross"
Double Cross - James Patterson
Member Name: SWSt
Double Cross - James Patterson
Advantages: Great plot, fast paced, easy read keeps interest levels high
Disadvantages: Sidelining of key characters, very superficial on all levels
Shows what I know. After a disappointing sequence of mediocre Cross adventures, Double Cross is back with a vengeance. Although it must be acknowledged that one of the key reasons it works so well is because it returns Cross to his roots, back to the character of the early books - the ones that made him popular in the first place.
Characters and character development have never exactly been Patterson's strength (his books proceed at too rapid a pace to allow for such niceties). Things are slightly different with Detective Alex Cross, though. The author has had the opportunity to develop him over a series of books, so he is much more familiar, much more comfortable, even a little more rounded than many of his creations. And so it proves here. Sure, he might be a walking cliché - one of life's nice guys; tough, but fair; trying his hardest to be a good dad in the face of a difficult and demanding job, but that makes him a character we can all identify with. In recent books - he's started to drift away from that and become almost a shallow parody of himself, little more than a convenient character that did what the plot demands. Thankfully, Double Cross reverses that trend.
True, Patterson's support cast still suffers. His family is even more sidelined in this book, which is a shame, as Cross's sparky, fun family and his relationship with them is always one of the highlights, along with the inter-family tensions his dangerous job generated. Worse still, his "best friend" - John Sansom, a staple character since the first book, suffers badly. He has become so paper thin and irrelevant to proceedings that it would surprise me if Patterson soon set up a "shock" storyline in which Sansom is killed. Finally, there is Detective Bree Stone, the latest in a tiresomely long line of Cross girlfriends. In fairness, Stone is slowly becoming a much more rounded, fleshed-out character and hopefully, Patterson will take the time to develop her more, and not feel the need to dispose of her to give Cross yet another new love interest. In fact, she is increasingly occupying the role taken by Sansom in previous books (friend, colleague, confidant), which is why it would not surprise me if Big John's days are numbered.
But let's face it, Patterson books have never been about characters. They've always been about the plot, the breathless chase after the latest serial killer to pit his wits against Cross. And it's here that Patterson really returns to from. He conjures up a belter of a plot, which sees Cross chasing two serial killers including former friend and colleague Kyle Craig. Patterson, as ever, sets up an intriguing and interesting story, which grabs your attention right from the start and makes you want to read on. Some elements are hugely far-fetched (in particular, the way Cross moves back into the DC police circles is unlikely), but it's never meant to be that realistic. Patterson's books are little more than the printed equivalent of a no-brain action movie: great fun, but undemanding. What matters is that the plot tears along at a cracking pace, effortlessly moving us from one development to the next. Barely has one corpse cooled, before another turns up, cranking up both the excitement levels and the pressure on Cross. There is actually a palpable feeling of tension that makes you want to read on as fast as you can.
Patterson also works his central story reasonably well as a murder mystery. Whilst he's never been the most subtle of plotters, he knows how to grab attention and interest. Clues are slowly thrown into the mix and revelations made at regular intervals, which sustain the interest levels by giving the reader more and more to think about. Moreover, because we see things from both sides- from the perspective of Cross and that of the murderer, we often know more about what is going on than the characters themselves. This helps to give the book a cohesive feel to it and stops the plot from becoming too flat. Of course, seasoned murder-mystery readers are likely to find it far too superficial and have worked out within the first 100 or so pages who the guilty party is likely to be. Patterson could never be accused of writing complex plots, and this might frustrate some.
Very much an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" man, Patterson sticks to his tried and tested formula of very short chapters (a "long" chapter in a Patterson book consists of 3 pages!) This makes it very readable and adds to that determination to find out what happens next. By keeping chapters deliberately short, you get sucked into the temptation to "just read that next chapter", since you know it will only take a couple of minutes. Similarly, Patterson's habit of ending pretty much every chapter with either a cliff hanger or a new plot development increases that temptation to carry on reading.
Readers who are new to the Cross novels would do well not to start with this one, however. It very much follows on events in previous books, without ever really explaining them for newcomers. As such, if you've not read any Cross books before, you might struggle to keep up with some of the developments. Patterson assumes he has a built in readership and that those readers will know exactly what he is referring to. Clearly, taking time to re-explain past events would slow the pace of his books down too much, so it's not something he has a tendency to do.
Although it marks a definite return to form, this is not the best of the Cross books - that accolade would definitely lie with the earlier titles. The sidelining of some key characters and Patterson's tiresome obsession with Cross's love life mean that there are still some serious weaknesses in Double Cross. What is certain, though, is that this is the best Cross novel to come out for quite some time. When I read Cross, I was worried about the fact that Patterson had set it up for its inevitable sequel and wasn't looking forward to it. Having read Double Cross I'm already looking forward to the next one (which, of course, has already been churned out from the Patterson word factory in time for the Christmas market...)
ISBN: 978-0-7553-3031-7 (hardback)
Available new from Amazon for £5.08 or second hand from £1.60
© Copyright SWSt 2008
Summary: The Patterson Rollercoaster continues its journey down the track of variable quality!