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October 24, 2008 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | October 24, 2008 |

Sometimes you need a little fast food. Nothing is more McDonald’s Super Value Meal than James Patterson. He writes books with hundreds of chapters, each about three pages long. It was the perfect breakroom book for when I was working at Barnes and Noble, and you can pick it up and put it down at will. You don’t have to concentrate hard at all. You just let your brain get assualted by the slurry as it churns into your head.

I love the Alex Cross novels, and like the Women’s Murder Club material. I think the latter has turned into a veiled attempt to capture the Sex and the City crowd, and involves more incidents where the girls sit around talking about relationships and drinking margaritas than them going out and actually capturing killers. The former took a bit of a nosedive for a while, not sure how to reinvent itself. So Patterson abandoned the nursery rhyme titles and started calling the novels “Cross.” The last two were Cross and Double Cross. And they’ve been getting mildly better, mostly I feel because it’s one of the few series that Patterson writes himself without his brand-name sidekicks.

Usually they involve one or two maniac serial killers sweeping around butchering people in the DC Metro area where Cross lives with his children and grandmother, Nana. It gets a little precious at times, and the dialogue and internal paragraphing get downright Rollinsish (though to be fair, Patterson was the original). He loves italics and exclamation points, but then again, he’s not writing for high literature, he’s writing popcorns books for the hoi polloi.

Cross Country was balls out. Patterson got his groove back and he is not fucking around anymore. This was back to what made the series great: unrelenting violence and non-stop action. It was a brutal read, and I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning to make sure I finished all of it. I blasted through it in about 5 hours.

Cross Country is about The Tiger, a Nigerian mercenary, who leads a gang of young boys — children who can barely call themselves teenagers — on missions of thrill-kill butchery. They murder entire families, shooting wildly, vandalizing houses, chopping up the corpses and leaving fingerprints because they do not fear death. The Tiger isn’t one of the best villains Cross has encountered, but his sheer indifference to capture is frightening. Nobody is afraid of dying or coming to justice. Their lives are hell, and so they embrace chaos. Cross loses an old friend and former lover, and in an act of vengenance/justice, pursues the killer to Nigeria, and then around Africa, hitting Sierra Leone and Darfur.

It’s not a substantive study of the atrocities in Africa, and it’s not trying to be. It’s little more than Patterson capitalizing on buzzwords, and wearing a red T-shirt to show he cares. But it doesn’t minimize the grueling way he captures the atrocities and brutality of the continent. It’s gonna get people who don’t know what they’re talking about riled up, and good on them. And it really adds to the story. Cross undergoes some massive punishment, and I’m impressed that Patterson threw down like this. Alex Cross is back. And despite it feeling slightly formulaic, it’s formulaic in the sense of “Law and Order.” It’s not meant to be Pulitzer, just a bestseller.

Cross Country doesn’t come out until next month, and I was able to obtain an advanced copy through the niceties of a woman who works for Hachette, who was inspired by AlabamaPink and myself and all of us Cannonball Readers. If that’s not a great sideeffect of doing this thing, I don’t know what is.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | October 24, 2008 |

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