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We, the jury, find this book... bland
Judge and Jury - James Patterson
Member Name: SWSt
Judge and Jury - James Patterson
Advantages: Well written, fast paced, interesting start
Disadvantages: Can't decide what it wants to be, paper thin characters and plot
FBI agent Nick Pellisante finally gets notorious mafia boss Dom Cavello on trial. Whilst there, he becomes attracted to one of the jurors.
Iíve been a fan of James Patterson for a long time. Iíve always found his blend of highly readable, fast paced books, likeable characters and good strong storylines very appealing. Recently, though, Iíve felt heís started churning out too many books and the quality has, inevitably suffered. Sadly, Judge and Jury does little to reverse that trend.
But letís start with the positives, shall we? Patterson has a hugely readable and very natural style. Heís one of those authors who sees it as his job to tell a story, not to bog people down in lots of unnecessary details and descriptions. As such, he provides readers with what information they need and nothing more: place descriptions are brief and to the point, people are introduced and described briefly, before letting them get on with their part in the story. Best of all, Patterson is very good at writing conversations Ė they sound very natural and normal, their patterns and rhythms very much like the conversations you or I would have with friends or colleagues. Fairly early on in his writing career, Patterson found a formula that worked for him, and has stuck to it closely.
Equally, the book uses very short chapters Ė usually only around 2 or 3 pages per chapter. Again, this makes the book highly readable and gives it that ďjust one more chapterĒ appeal Ė tempting you to read just a little further before putting it down. Writing in this way means that Patterson can move his plot along at high speed, chopping and changing between different characters or situations to keep the interest levels up and to pique our attention with a new plot development. Despite this, it never feels rushed or unnatural. It keeps things interesting for the reader, as well as keeping them on their toes! At the same time, you never feel there is so much going on that you are in danger of losing track of the plot. The other upside to this style is that Pattersonís books are perfect for the journey into work or on the beach. Light, frothy entertaining and something you can easily pick it up or put down at a moments notice.
Judge & Jury also has all these characteristics, making it a fast, fun, if ultimately shallow read. Unfortunately, though, itís not enough to rescue this particular title from mediocrity.
One of the downsides of having thinly-sketched characters is that it can be difficult to care about them. In previous novels, Patterson has got around this issue by having plots so fascinating and gripping that you just get swept up in the action. Here, sadly, thatís not the case.
The plot itself is relatively straightforward (cop pursues mafia boss), but the book itself has a bit of an identity crisis. It never quite seems able to decide whether it wants to be a courtroom drama, a mafia crime story or a vigilante tale. Itís almost as if Patterson had vague ideas for a story in each genre, but didnít quite have enough material for any of then, so decided to combine the three ideas into a single tale. Itís a tactic which never really pays off. The first part of the book is by far the strongest. This is fairly standard courtroom drama stuff, treading very close to Grisham territory. It covers all the concepts youíll be familiar with if youíve read Grishamís work (jury selection, presentation of evidence, shock witnesses and revelations etc.) and is a thumping good read. It moves along at a cracking pace, brings in lots of interesting revelations and has all the entertainment you would expect. Had Patterson stayed on this track, heíd probably have had a much stronger title on his hands. Sadly, though, he seems to run out of steam and strikes off in other, less successful directions.
Once it leaves the courtroom, the book loses much of its momentum and for the remainder, doesnít actually have a great deal of plot to work with. From this point on, itís both annoyingly predictable and more than a little implausible. There are gaping plot holes and unlikely coincidences which rapidly become annoying. True, this criticism could also be laid against some of his other books, but they had such engrossing plots that you either didnít notice until afterwards, or you just didnít care. Remove the strong plot element, and the weaknesses become all too apparent.
Iíve already mentioned the paper-thin characters and they are another weakness. They are massively underdeveloped and hugely stereotypical and clichťd. For example, all the time I was reading it, I couldnít help but hear Dom Cavello (the Mafia boss) speaking with the voice of Fat Tony from The Simpsonís! As I said earlier, strong, detailed characters have never been Pattersonís strong point, but he has always made them likeable (or unlikeable in the case of the bad guys). You wanted to see them triumph, or be brought to justice, or die or whatever. Here, the characters are just bland. You really donít care what happens to them one way or another. Given that there are, essentially, only three key characters in the whole book, this is a serious weakness.
Donít get me wrong, Judge and Jury is not a bad book. Itís just a distinctly average one and, coming from James Patterson, thatís a huge disappointment. Itís probably the very epitome of holiday reading Ė simple, undemanding and relatively enjoyable. Itís a book youíll read once and it will pass the time, but youíre unlikely ever to go back to. On that basis, Iíd recommend borrowing a copy from the library or buying it as cheap as possible second hand. Vintage Patterson, this isnít.
Judge and Jury
James Patterson and Andrew Gross
ISBN: 978-0446619004 (paperback)
Available new from £3.49 or second hand from 0.01p (Amazon)
© copyright SWSt 2007
Summary: Enjoyable at times, but not Patterson's finest hour