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Book review: Mary, Mary, by James Patterson - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Book review: Mary, Mary, by James Patterson
Well, I've never read James Patterson before, and the cover copy on Mary, Mary sounded interesting. (Serial killer stalking perfect Hollywood moms... can Alex Cross catch her before she kills again?)

So I gave it a try, despite having heard that JP's prose is perhaps not tremendously compelling. After all, I'm big on reading best-sellers and ignoring people who write them off automatically because they have the nerve to be popular.


I've read worse books in my time, but I'm not sure I get why Patterson is so popular. The red herring mystery was easily solveable in the second scene, and the answer to the main mystery didn't tie itself very tightly to anything else. We never got a real motive. The fact that the detective was convinced it wasn't a woman can hardly be counted as a mystery, as we open with a scene in the murderer's POV, which uses male pronouns, so there was never any tension about whether or not the cops caught the right person--we know better from the start. And yes, we'd met the real murderer, but there wasn't enough information to play the mystery game fairly--it wasn't until after the murderer had been identified that we learned key facts about him. (None of which were related to the motive.)

This lack of motive and depth to the murderer would be all right if it were balanced by decent info about the detective. I mean, it doesn't really matter that Buffalo Bill isn't well developed in Silence of the Lambs, because it's Clarice's story, and she's drawn excellently.

But Alex Cross... not so much. What we get from him is that he loves his kids and sure hates going away all the time, though he takes advantage of this time away to be involved with two women in California, and spends part of his time at home with a third woman. It reminded me of an OSC characterization quote that basically boils down to "Some writers think that the way to add character depth is to have one two-dimensional character fall into bed with another two-dimensional character and have the cardboard equivalent of sex." We start out with what seems like a solid relationship, which is forgotten about right after the sex scene. Later, she casually says that she's seeing someone else and he takes it philosophically, as he's attracted to someone else. Which never goes anywhere, because there's a perky doctor at home. The kids are brought in as endlessly devoted, and Alex goes crazy because the mother of his third child--yet another woman--is trying to get custody. After all of the drama there, it resolves itself based on no effort whatsoever on his part. Two of these four relationships might have some vague relationship to his job, but none of them end up tied to the case. I just kept wanting to smack him and get him back on track with solving the damned mystery. Get me info. Research. You know... do detective work. I don't want to rely on some last minute lucky connection to have any idea at all what it's about. Even if the research leads in the wrong direction, I wouldn't be picking up a mystery if I didn't want to be, you know, following clues.

And he's supposed to be a forensic psychologist. For a guy whose field this is, he shows a marked lack of curiosity about the suspects. He notes that he doesn't believe one suspect is guilty, but she's guilty of something else, which he never investigates. He doesn't go into why he doesn't think it's a woman. He accepts a kind of blithe explanation of why the real killer does things. Where's the intellectual curiosity he would need to get into the line of work he's supposedly in?

Even the adventure part wasn't very adventurous, because there was no emotional jeopardy.


It looked good on the surface.


11 comments or Leave a comment
midnitemaraud_r From: midnitemaraud_r Date: October 1st, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read the first couple of "Alex Cross" books when they first came out - Along Came a Spider, I believe - and I used to commute to the City every day an hour + each way so I needed reading material. I liked them because the character was actually very likeable, and the stories were entertaining and a bit creepy. But then his books started to get repetitive and shallow, I didn't like him as much, and the stories... just as you said. Meh. I haven't read them in years.
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: October 1st, 2006 07:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh James Patterson (which should of course read James Patterson et al) is popular because "he" puts about a zillion books out on the shelves every year. You see someone's name around so much, and even the 'meh' people start to think of taking a chance on him. I actually admire his ingenuity i marketing, and am sure that's where writers are headed in the decade to come - teams writing many books every year under one name.

But I really hate James Patterson books... I hate them with a passion that I used to reserve for Mary Higgins Clark (who writes similar wispy, thin mysteries without bothering to adhere to point of view even in the same sentence, let alone paragraph).

Sour grapes? Maybe. I think it's awful that such trash gets published and is popular in spite of the abundance of better written, more readable material out there.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 2nd, 2006 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Is he one of the et als? Sigh.

I also wasn't impressed with MHC, even though she hadn't come to me with bad press ahead of her (in fact, she was recommended by a friend). I didn't hate her, but definitely a big meh of an experience.
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: October 2nd, 2006 12:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I always hate the 'meh's. More specifically, the plot-wise 'meh's that are badly written... I somehow find them even more offensive than really over-the-top ridiculous fiction that would actually have entertainment value (certain brand-name romances franchises come to mind).
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: October 1st, 2006 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fern, have you ever been published? I was just wondering, because if you haven't, you should, you write very compelling, intelligent stories.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 2nd, 2006 02:48 am (UTC) (Link)
One media tie-in, a while back. But see, all of these writers I can so blithely criticize can do one thing that's so far eluded me--create an original world and follow through with a story in it.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: October 2nd, 2006 06:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Don't you do that all the time with your stories? I remember Impinua (the damaged world of winged creatures) and her indigenes from Father's Heart, to name one.

Plus do you have to write in the scifi/fantasy genre? There's less world building involved in a story based on Earth...
purple_ladybug1 From: purple_ladybug1 Date: October 1st, 2006 10:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've enjoyed all the JP books I've read, but I think of them as my junk reading. As a kid, my junk reading was Baby-sitter's Club and Sweet Valley Twins. *shrugs* Most of his work I've read is earlier, which could make it better. But all the stuff I've read kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 2nd, 2006 02:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Morgan Freeman makes everything worthwhile. ;)
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 2nd, 2006 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I haven't really read James Patterson - kind of skimmed him over to see if I got interested and didn't - so maybe I have no right to say what I didn't like about books I didn't really read. However -

I thought he was more thriller than mystery. This is fine for those who like thrillers. I just don't happen to be one of them.

A couple definitely had me scratching my head over the "Huh?" factor. One, as near as I could follow, had an investigator getting close to a woman he's investigating when he KNOWS she's a suspected serial killer whose MO is to seduce men and then get rid of them. I mean, if it had been the investigator-falls-for-investigatee-who-he's-begun-to-believe-isn't-the-cold-blooded-killer-even-if-he-suspects-she's-just-using-him scenario, that can sometimes appeal, but this seemed more a guy-knows-she's-guilty-and-knows-this-is-how-she-kills-them-and-dates-her-anyway-because . . . . er, not really sure on the because.

Another seemed to have the latest mortal incarnation of God accidently bring the antiChrist (or antiDeity incarnation) back to life at the end of the book.

Like I said, I may not have followed the plots correctly, but that was my understanding.

By the way, an idiot mortal who decides to date a serial killer for the heck of it wasn't quite as groan inducing as a deity who (oops!) revives the incarnation of evil all the mortals in the book spent a lot of effort trying to get rid of. I can understand authors who pull out deities with shaky theological foundations or ones that you begin to suspect are written by evangelical atheists, but this was the first time I saw a writer produce one who couldn't earn the respect of the average preschooler.

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