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The Lifeguard is one of a selection of James Patterson's books that he has co-written with an other author. This one is co-written with Andrew Gross, and it's not the first time the two have paired up for a novel. However, this one is a rather disappointing effort by both their standards, and I found the extravagant plot and an impeded writing style from Patterson didn't help.
Ned Kelly is a lifeguard at a luxurious Florida hotel. When he thinks he has met the girl of his dreams, he finds out that they couldn't be more different, she rolling in money, he slogging a living to stay afloat. Desperate to impress, when Ned's cousin brings him in for a bank raid worth $5 million, Ned goes along with the plan. However, as things turn sour and the job goes wrong, Ned finds himself on the run, being hunted, but by whom?
Essentially, the plot would have worked had there been more time and patience in the writing. However, this is not Patterson's style, and while he has been able to cram loads of detail into his work before with success, it seems that for some reason he is unable to do so this time.
From the off, the plot just seems way over the top, and when he starts adding twists and turns, it becomes more of a badly abridged version of the most intrinsic of Robert Ludlum novels: not in a good way. The characterisation is not given enough credence, and while I know all too well that this is Patterson's style, it doesn't work this time round.
Patterson's writing style is traditionally fast and fervent, as he doesn't bother with long and descriptive passages. The same is the case here, and it's a shame it doesn't really work. Patterson is usually at his best when he is writing an Alex Cross book or one of the Women's Murder Club series. If you want to give The Lifeguard a go, it's available from amazon.co.uk for £3.98.
I always worry when I see a book which James Patterson has co-authored. He seems to lose his natural story-telling flair and get bogged down in too many concessions to the other person's style. The Lifeguard is unlikely to change my opinion.
The Lifeguard's problems are many and varied. They start with a plot which is too far-fetched and completely unbelievable. It's packed with unlikely co-incidences and ridiculous scenarios which simply wouldn't happen in real life. Whilst this wouldn't necessarily be a problem (after all, many novels are escapist and feature "impossible" things), The Lifeguard makes everything so silly that it's just impossible to take seriously. In an attempt to keep the plot moving at a rapid pace, Patterson and Gross strip out all unnecessary words and developments. Whilst this certainly helps to keep the plot rattling along, it also adds a certain amount of incoherence to it, as well. The plot just about makes sense, but only just: it skates pretty close to the borders of utter nonsense land on several occasions. It's also hugely predictable: within a very short space of time, you will have worked out exactly which characters are going to team up and exactly who the murderer is.
The plot falls way outside of the experience of most people. Revolving around the theft of a number of multi-million dollar paintings and some subsequent murders, featuring multi-millionaires who have little to do except eat food and play gold, its setting is alien to most people. Again, this wouldn't necessarily be a problem, except the attention to detail is so slight, that it's difficult to build up more than a very superficial glimpse of the world Patterson is supposedly trying to create. An unrealistic plot and unrealistic setting is not conducive to a good read.
Sadly, this lack of realism extends to the characters who are, to a man (or woman!), pretty unlikeable. Most of the characters are greedy, selfish, thoughtless and criminally minded. As such, it makes it very difficult to care about any of them and removes any sense of danger or excitement from the book. Like the plot, they are very hastily sketched. Most, we learn little about; even the ones we do find out about are superficial and dull. Patterson and Gross clearly couldn't be bothered with niceties like character development when planning this book - they obviously thought the story was good enough. All the characters are one-dimensional, card board cut-outs. Their behaviour is hugely predictable and, like the plot, utterly unlikely.
The plot relies heavily on some of the characters doing things which no-one in real life would ever contemplate, even under the most stressful of circumstances. They are merely there to service the plot and if the plot demands that they act in an unlikely way just to get the story out of a hole... well, that's exactly what happens. If anyone in real life behaved like these characters they'd quickly find themselves either 1) in prison 2) dead or 3) unemployed. By the time you've finished this book, any of the three might actually seem quite an attractive proposition.
Towards the end, Patterson does try and introduce a few of his trademark twists to liven matters up a little. To be honest, though, regular Patterson readers will know how his mind works by now and will be unsurprised and unexcited by these developments.
In the plus column, Lifeguard is perfectly readable in a lazy kind of way. As always, Patterson keeps his chapters short (usually just a few pages) which adds to the compulsion to read on. Because everything is so stripped down and minimalist, there is nothing to slow the pace down, which means that things certainly fly past at a cracking rate. Patterson's style always makes you want to read more - even if you're not particularly engaged by the story - and he's certainly not lost his touch there. Almost in spite of yourself, you'll soon find yourself racing through the book, if for no other reason than to finish it.
And because the book is so superficial, it won't take very long to read, which is another good point. Lifeguard is a book you will skim through. At most there's a 2 or 3 days gentle reading in this.
At the end of the day, though, Lifeguard just doesn't cut the mustard. It's superficial nature, unlikely plot and unlikeable characters render it a dud more or less from the start. Patterson needs to start concentrating more on quality and worrying less about how many books he can churn out in a year.
Even if you're a Patterson completist, this is definitely one to buy second hand or borrow. Its entertainment value on first read is limited and its re-read value is virtually zero.
James Patterson and Andrew Gross
Headline Books, 2005
ISBN: 978-0755325689 (paperback)
Available new from Amazon for £5.99 or used from 1p.
© Copyright SWSt 2008