16th Seduction (Women’s Murder Club #16), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

Another piece that shows that Patterson knows how to choose some of his co-authors to produce entertaining writing. Working alongside Maxine Paetro to craft sixteen novels in the Women’s Murder Club, Patterson has been able to present high-impact writing peppered with some interesting legal and criminal angles. The world is beset with a new terrorist organisation, loosely called GAR, the Great Antiestablishment Reset, happy to wreak havoc at every turn. San Francisco is not immune, which leaves Sergeant Lindsay Boxer on high alert. After agreeing to see her estranged husband, Joe, they take a stroll close to Sci-Tron, the city’s science museum. An explosion rocks and destroys the building. Soon thereafter, Boxer overhears a man claim responsibility, almost unable to believe her own ears. After arresting him, this Connor Grant denies ever saying anything about being culpable and he is sent to trial for murdering twenty-five innocent people and injuring many more, including Joe. While Boxer braces for what is surely a major situation, Yuki Castellano, the lawyer of the Murder Club, assumes second chair in this major trial, pitting the wily District Attorney against Grant, who has chosen to represent himself. The trial is harrowing and far from a slam-dunk, leaving the verdict in the hands of the twelve-member jury. Meanwhile, Dr. Claire Washburn, the city’s Chief Medical Examiner (and, of course, another of the Club’s members) contacts Sergeant Boxer about a mysterious string of deaths, originally attributed to heart conditions. Further investigation shows that the deaths are connected by a strange injection in the buttocks that each victim exhibits. Could there be someone in San Francisco injecting people with some unknown narcotic? As the reader discovers, one Neddie Lambo is on the loose, playing up his detention in a psychiatric facility, but actually plotting a number of these random killings to feed his need for control. All this while Cindy Thomas is getting the inside scoop and reporting the news garnered from her fellow Club members, sometimes without their knowledge and consent. How will San Francisco survive all this and can Boxer rise above an Internal Affairs investigation for her actions as they relate to the Sci-Tron bombing? Patterson and Paetro offer an explosive ending to this sixteenth instalment to the series. A great story for series fans and sure to attract some new readers who have a penchant for quick read stories.

There is something about the Women’s Murder Club that has always kept me on the edge of my seat. While Patterson has stumbled at times, even with key authors around him, the annual return to this series keeps me believing that there is something worthwhile left in the author (the least of which is surely not Paetro’s involvement). The stories are poignant and while the mysteries are not always complex or psychologically thrilling, they move at a quick pace and keep the story from going stale. The strong central cast of characters continue to evolve and there is always a interesting flavour to the one-offs, particularly the criminal element. Patterson and Paetro always leave room for ‘just one more’, be it a chapter before bed or a new book in the series, fostering an ongoing hunger in the reader. Those short chapters propel the reader forward and can, like me, leave them wondering how they polished the book off in a single day. Surely not foundational work in the genre, but a wonderful escape that keeps pace with the swiftness the outside world has to offer. 

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madame Paetro for another great novel. I always look forward to what the annual revelation of the Women’s Murder Club will bring and you have not let me down.

The Black Book, by James Patterson and David Ellis

Eight stars

James Patterson has again teamed up with David Ellis, offering a wonderful standalone thriller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats and up late into the night. In a narrative set in the ‘past’, Billy Harney and Kate Fenton are hardworking members of Homicide in Chicago. While tailing a suspect, Harney makes the decision to raid a brownstone, which opens up a new and troublesome revelation; this is a brothel visited by the city’s rich and powerful men. During the raid, a ‘little black book’ goes missing, with names that could bring even more of the rich and famous to their knees or serve as strong blackmail fodder. All eyes turn to Harney, who must try to clear his name, when it is presumed he pocketed it. As Fenton begins a power struggle with her partner, Harney must find out who is trying to frame him, adamant that he knows nothing of the book. With the case against the defendants caught in the raid fast approaching, Harney works with a hot-shot prosecutor, Amy Lentini, to ensure his testimony is flawless. Her icy exterior soon melts and she turns up the heat with Harney, which only clouds both their judgements. In a parallel narrative, set in the ‘present’, Harney is found naked, in bed with Lentini, while Detective Fenton lays on the floor. All three have been shot and the two women are dead, with Harney clinging to life and a bullet lodged in his skull. As the story continues, it appears Harney is being blamed for the murder, unable to remember anything from the past as it relates to the lead-up to the shooting or anything he may have learned about the black book. As the reader braces for an ever-evolving rollercoaster ride, the story takes twists and turns with everything centred around a list of names and the people will do anything to hold all the power. A powerful thriller that shows Patterson has the ability to rise to the occasion, with the right author at the helm. Highly recommended to any who enjoy losing themselves in quality writing.

I have often said that James Patterson’s writing has waned in the past few years, his lustre buried under many mediocre novels. However, when David Ellis comes to partner, their cooperation produces stellar writing and offers the reader a literary treat. While it may be a standalone, the novel offers an array of superior characters, wonderfully crafted to push the narrative forward without getting caught up in the minutiae. Working with the parallel narratives, Patterson and Ellis keep the reader guessing, while forcing a constant mental gear switch as the story develops, layering a revealed past with a present that is just as murky. If the reader can handle this mix, they are in for a punch to the gut during the numerous plot twists, which only adds the the overall flavour of the piece. Dark, but peppered with some dry humour to keep the reader smiling, Patterson and Ellis know the perfect recipe for a fast-paced thriller.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Ellis for joining forces again and showing that there is never an end to your abilities. I know I am in for a treat when your names grace the cover and hope to see more of your collaborative efforts soon.

Private Delhi (Private #13), by James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi

Six stars

In the latest Private novel, James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi take the action back to India, this time focussing their attention on Delhi. Jack Morgan arrives in country for an international security conference, taking some time to check on Private Delhi and its head, Santosh Wagh. After a number of near-death experiences working for Morgan in Mumbai, Wagh quit his job and returned to drowning his sorrows in a bottle of booze. However, Morgan saw much in this man and convinced him to give things another chance. Soon thereafter, Private Delhi took shape and had been thriving for a time. When a number of bodies turn up in large containers, dissolving in acid, whispers about a new serial killer emerges with the posh community on the southern part of the city. However, upon further inspection, this is not a private residence, but a house owned by the state government, which only adds to the rumours and gossip. Morgan agrees to have Private handle the matter when approached by a high-ranking member of the government, even as Wagh warns that this is solely a political competition between two powerful men. Reluctantly, Wagh leads his team into a case that has many nefarious layers in a country where nothing is clear-cut. The bodies found in those containers are missing organs and new victims soon emerge, political figures with sordid pasts. Once there is a connection between the deaths and organ procurement, Wagh can focus the investigation and limit the number of suspects, or can he? With an investigative reporter out for political blood, the investigation takes new and curious spins, which might cost Wagh everything all over again. A culturally interesting addition to the Private series, Patterson and Sanghi entertain the reader who might not be familiar with the practices in this populated portion of the world.

The advantage of the Private collection is that Patterson is able to tap into cultural and geographic nuances by engaging authors around the world to keep things fresh and spot-on. While some past novels have missed the mark, I quite enjoyed this one that seemed chock-full of cultural aspects and local customs not seen in the novels I tend to read. While I cannot speak confidently about how realistic the narrative tends to be, certain areas about organ procurement and the vast economic diversity within India seems to match information I have previously learned about the region. The array of characters keep the reader on their toes and trying to keep track of the entire cast. Wagh’s struggles do not take centre stage throughout the novel, though there is limited time to see much character growth with the purported protagonist. The plot remains rich and multi-faceted, choosing to hang on the theme of healthcare availability and how there is a significant chasm between what the members of various castes can access. Patterson and Sanghi have done well scripting this story and keeping it short enough that the reader could tackle it in a short period of time, while still leaving them wanting more. Impressive for what it is, this book remains at the top of the Private collection to date. 

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Sanghi for entertaining and teaching me much about India in short order. I am curious to see if you two will come together again for another joint venture before long.

The House Husband: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Eight stars

With a new author pairing, Patterson brings Duane Swierczynski into the BookShot mix to show off his abilities, and what a debut venture this has become. There is a killer about, targeting families whose strains outweigh the connection they have together. What makes it all the more mysterious is that said killer by night is a house husband, most bland, during the day. When Teaghan Beaumont returns to the Homicide Squad after having her first child, everything seems out of whack; her partner is acting off and her fellow detectives handle her with kid gloves. However, when Beaumont and her partner respond to the scene of a potential familicide, she cannot help feel chilled to the bone. While trying to juggle her job and a six-week old baby, Beaumont’s mind is always racing, yet tired as ever. Doing a little work on her own, Beaumont soon realises that there have been other such crimes while she’s been away, all chalked up to strain within a family unit. But, when another such event occurs, Beaumont is sure there is a killer on the loose, setting the scene and trying to deter the authorities. What she discovers next will not only blow the case wide open, but no one will see it coming, even the reader. A wonderful story to appeal to those BookShot fans who seek a gem and have toughed it out with less than stellar pieces in the past.

As I have mentioned many times before, BookShots are truly a gamble to the avid reader. Short enough that anything disappointing has not wasted too long of the reader’s time, but fast-paced at times that the reader can devour a few in one afternoon. Patterson’s introduction of Swierczynski into the family proves to be a wonderful addition and has offered new hope for fans of this short story grouping. With little time to waste, Patterson and Swierczynski develop strong characters and a story that is second to none. Short chapters force the reader to grab on and get hooked or drop everything as the plot moves at an alarming pace. A few key twists within the story act as major pivot points and the reader is left to wonder what’s just happened, hopefully in a good way. I do hope to see Swierczynski again soon in either BookShot or full novel format, as he surely has a mind for this sort of piece.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski on a wonderful piece. I can only hope there are more BookShots to come from this entertaining duo.