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'Kill Alex Cross' is the 18th book in James Patterson's Alex Cross Series. I can't quite believe it's been so many, but I've been reading these from the first book and I've read every one of them. I suspect I'm only still reading them now because once I start something I like to see it through to the bitter end - I've started so I'll finish! But will it ever end I wonder? The title of this book would suggest that maybe Detective Cross's time is up and the tag line is 'Could his most terrifying case be his last?'
You'd think that after so many books the characters would be well developed and multi-layered, yet in actual fact they become more one-dimensional with every new instalment. Our protagonist, Alex Cross, in particular seems to have absolutely no personality whatsoever. If you'd not read the previous books you'd glean next to nothing from this one about Alex, his wife Bree or the three Cross children, Damon, Jannie and Ali, and would struggle to sympathise or take interest. FBI agent Ned Mahoney and FBI Director Burns receive no fleshing out whatsoever, and even John Sampson, Alex's best friend since childhood and former partner on the force, is given little background. The only permanent character that retains any actual 'character' in this book is the ever-present Nana Mama, Alex's grandmother, who must surely by now be aged 120. You really need to have read the rest of the series before reading this book, otherwise you will have no chance of identifying with any of the pre-existing characters.
New main characters in this book are the President of the United States and the First Lady and their two children Ethan and Zoe, Hala and Tariq who are terrorists from Saudi, homeless teen Ava and a few other incidentals. Plus the villain of course, who as usual gets to have direct dialogue with the reader before he is identified. Hala and Tariq in particular are given full background and their characters have enough layers to be believable.
As usual there are two main cases that Alex is working on. The first is the kidnapping of the president's children from their school. No ransom demand is received. Alex is called in to work with the FBI at the express request of the First Lady due to his previous work on the high profile Gary Soneji case.
The second is Hala and Tariq's terrorist activity. This sub-plot starts off promisingly, but sadly delivers little. Perhaps Patterson was just out of his depth on this subject. Rather tenuously I feel, Alex is called in to assist the task force for the second plot line, just in case the terrorists are also responsible for the
We couldn't have a crime thriller without a sub-plot or two. Thankfully we're spared the usual love interest/gratuitous sex scenes this time, and instead we have Ava, a teenage girl who is living on the streets and robbing old ladies (including Nana Mama) to get by. Also in the background is the campaign to get a new Charter school up and running in the area. The campaign is lead by John Sampson's wife and voraciously supported by Nana Mama.
From the title of the book I was expecting some kind of plot to kill Alex Cross. I was bitterly disappointed. Of course, as you'd expect, an attempt is made, but that happens in pretty much every book in the Cross series, and this time it was beyond half hearted and really nothing more than a reaction than a pre-planned event.
Alex tells his story in the first person, but the other characters are presented in the third person. I like this; it really separates our protagonist from the others without the reader being entirely conscious of it. The whole book is written in the past tense. I recall finding another author's latest offering particularly odd and couldn't put my finger on why, until I realised he'd switched to the present tense, which makes the narrative seem oddly distorted. So that's another point in Mr Patterson's favour.
As with all of the other books in the series, the chapters are short and choppy, keeping the story moving along quickly but jumping about between the two main narratives, the sub-plots and the kidnapper's own narrative. Despite this it does actually flow quite well.
'Kill Alex Cross' isn't a gripping thriller or a page-turner in my view. I read it during my lunch breaks at work and never found myself still reading as I walked down the corridor back to the office or sneaking in a few pages before starting work or going to bed. However, it did sufficiently hold my interest to keep me reading it each day. Perhaps that is just my stubborn streak though. Within the series it is rather lacklustre, and independently of the series I suspect it would be a poor read.
It seems hard to believe, that this is Alex Cross' 18th outing, and he's certainly come a long way since his first appearance in Kiss the Girls. Recent entries in the series have shown signs of tiredness, suggesting that Patterson was overusing his original (and best) creation. To some degree Kill Alex Cross halts that decline.
When the son and daughter of the current American President are kidnapped from their school, Alex once again finds himself in the thick of the action, trying to find them and bring them home. Meanwhile, a series of high level terrorist attacks lead to an atmosphere of panic and fear in the capital. Are the two cases connected or is the timing purely co-incidental?
By now you pretty much know what you are getting with a James Patterson novel: breathless, non-stop action that acts like a bullet to the brain. Patterson's books are the very definition of "lean". They don't waste time on characterisation or background information; they simply deliver the action hard, fast and direct. If Michael Bay wrote books, this is the sort of thing he would write (although he'd have more helicopters).
The comparison with film is not an unreasonable one, since Alex Cross novels have a very filmic quality. Chapters are kept deliberately short - often only two or three pages - and this equates to the regular changes of scene that films employ. Thanks to this, Kill Alex Cross is one of those books which is a real pleasure to read. The short chapters, superficial character development and non-stop action make it highly readable and very enjoyable. It's the perfect book for when you don't want to concentrate too much. It can be read all in one go (it won't take that long) or you can read it in short chunks, making it the ideal companion for bus or train journeys of any length.
There's even a return to form in the soap opera that is the personal life of Alex Cross. In recent books, this had started to become rather tiresome (particularly his endlessly changing love life). On the evidence of Kill, things are starting to settle down a little bit. Yes, there is a sub-plot here which (once again) threatens to disrupt the entire Cross family, but this does feel like a legitimate part of the plot, whereas in some previous books it has felt rather shoehorned in.
OK, so the plot is not terribly taxing and although Patterson throws in a few red herrings, these will be fairly obvious to regular readers. This isn't really an issue, though. Part of the fun of Cross novels is pitting your wits against the great detective to see if you can solve the mystery before he does... and then reading on to see if you're right. It's a tried and tested technique in the thriller genre and Kill Alex Cross ticks all the right boxes.
It's a shame that after taking up a sizable chunk of the book, the terrorist attack sub-plot rather fizzles out. It had a lot of promise and I was really looking forward to seeing how things would play out. In the end, it just sort of... doesn't. It fades away disappointingly, leaving a slight sense of anti-climax. It's possible that this is because Patterson is saving this plot strand up for another Cross novel. I certainly hope so, because there's lots left to explore and it would be a real pity if it was left hanging, unresolved.
For the most part, this book can be read as a standalone title although given that it's number 18 in the series, you'd be better of reading earlier titles. If you've read a few Cross books, though (even if you haven't read some of the more recent ones), you'll easily be able to understand this one. Whilst there are occasional references to Cross' earlier cases, these are not particularly numerous, nor are they directly relevant to the plot of this one. I read this out of sequence, since I hadn't read Cross Fire (Alex Cross 17), but I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything.
Recent instalments suggested that perhaps the series was starting to run out of steam. Churning out so many Cross novels has meant the quality of recent offerings has been somewhat variable. Kill Alex Cross bucks that trend and delivers a fast-paced, exciting and interesting thriller. It's the ultimate in disposable reading, but it's no less enjoyable for that.
The Kindle and paperback versions will cost you about £3.50 new, but since it's the sort of book you're only likely to read once I'd recommend paying as little as possible. There are plenty of copies floating around in charity/second hand book shops, so I'd recommend picking up one of those.
Kill Alex Cross
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013