21st Birthday (Women’s Murder Club #21), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The latest in this long series by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro offers readers something intriguing and somewhat unique, though twenty-one instalments can sometimes breed repetition. Full of minor character development and some fast-pace criminal work, the Women’s Murder Club has a new case that will pull all four of them in, using their specific skillsets, to catch a serial murderer. When a young woman and her daughter are reported missing, the husband is the prime suspect. While he has an alibi, others in his circle also turn up dead, leading the DA to move ahead with charges. The suspect decries his innocence and points the finger at another man, who apparently has a long history of murderous behaviour. It’s up to Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to turn over every rock to see if the lead comes to fruition. A decent addition to the series, which has surely shown its ebb and flow, though fans of the Club may want to check it out.

Cindy Thomas noticed the post on her news blog and knew it would be trouble. Even after taking it down, Cindy thought about the disappearance of Tara and Lorrie Burke, a 20 year-old and her infant daughter. When Tara’s mother arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle to follow-up, Cindy cannot shake the distraught woman’s pleas for help. Tara’s husband, Lucas, is the prime suspect and appears to have quite the hold on his young bride. Trying to appease the woman, Cindy calls in a favour with SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer, who agrees to poke around a little.

With little to go on and no sightings of either Tara or Lorrie, Boxer must bide her time. Her background into Lucas Burke shows a reputable English teacher with no criminal history, though there were a number of calls to the police, which Tara dismissed as soon as anyone arrived. Still, Boxer has an itch that there is more to the story. She learns that Burke may have been stepping out on his wife with a teenage student, which does raise a few flags, but nothing criminal, yet.

When the body of Lorrie Burke is found along the shore, the case gains some momentum, especially when it appears the infant was smothered. However, Tara remains missing, which only adds to the mystery. A few more bodies emerge, all tied to Lucas Burke in some way, and the case begins to build. It is only when Tara is found murdered in her car, which had been dumped in the ocean, that Lucas Burke’s guilt appears all but certain. Even with an alibi, this is not something that can be dismissed as coincidence.

While Lucas Burke is brought it for questioning and arrested, he makes an explosive accusation, that his father is likely behind the murders. Evan Burke is a former Green Beret and may have been behind the disappearance (and murder?) of his own wife and daughter, as well as a string of others over the years. Lucas is certain he has resumed hunting for victims, but with little to substantiate it, the DA moves ahead with murder charges.

When the case goes to trial, ADA Yuki Castellano is set to take first chair. She has her own theory, one that she has shared with fellow Women’s Murder Club members, Boxer and Thomas. Still, Yuki will do things by the books and try to get a conviction on the evidence she has before her. Boxer works the Evan Burke angle, which has her racing to Vegas to track down the man and investigate the accusations. While there, things get dangerous for Boxer and her temporary partner, as they corner the elder Burke as he works his magic on a young woman.

With Yuki forging ahead in court and Boxer gathering evidence, it will only be a matter of time before Lucas Burke’s fate is determined. It will take all members of the Women’s Murder Club working together to solidify the truth, however murky and convoluted it might be. Then again, the Club has never sought to do things the easy way. An interesting addition to the series that reads well and shows that the collaborative effort of Patterson and Paetro appears to work well.

I have been a fan of the series from the start. This is one of the few Patterson collections that has been able to stand the test of time. While I am coming to see that some of these series may have lost their earlier momentum, there are moments of brilliance here, even as things wane. I have always wondered about rejuvenating things with a crossover between Alex Cross-Michael Bennett-Lindsay Boxer, still feeling it might do something for all three protagonists. Still, this book works well and could be read as a standalone, though I never counsel that in a series, as the reader misses so much peering only at a snapshot.

Lindsay Boxer’s character development ended long ago, even though motherhood always adds a new layer to her backstory. She is gritty and shows that she is able to work in any environment, something that is changed throughout this piece. Adapting as best she can, Boxer never loses sight of what matters, justice for the victim, and makes her mark repeatedly throughout the book. While the series may be getting a little old, Boxer’s abilities remain on point throughout.

The other members of the Women’s Murder Club also have their own moments of glory, though Boxer does rise to the protagonist role with ease. Each has a backstory and some development to offer, complementing the SFPD sergeant throughout. The handful of other key characters emerge throughout the story and offer the reader something intriguing to enjoy. There is no lack of action and suspense woven into the characters or their actions, though few standout as being remarkable.

The story was decent, as many have been in this series, though there was no shock factor. It’s a race to find the truth, muddled with accusations and false leads. Boxer and the rest of the Club try to work their respective angles, sometimes stepping on one another’s toes, but always able to find something worth discussing at their regular meetings. The story flowed well and the narrative kept its momentum throughout. Patterson’s trademark short chapters keep the reader pushing through, as I did yet again. Decent characters, believable scenarios, and the trademark connection to a specific number from the title, this is a series that has lasted over the years. I just wonder if the zenith has been surpassed and it’s time to sail into the sunset, making way for something fresh… or at least the aforementioned crossover.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another decent addition to the series. While I know you are likely a novel or two ahead in the series, I would suggest heeding my idea. I know other series fans have echoed what I said… and it could really inject something into all three series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

20th Victim (Women’s Murder Club #20), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro are back with another instalment of the Women’s Murder Club, keeping fans entertained throughout with their insightful plots and character development. San Francisco is buzzing with an odd series of sniper murders, which forces Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to take notice. What’s worse is that these sniper killings seem to be happening all over the country, timed to occur simultaneously. While Boxer and the SFPD work to track down a killer or at least a motive, Chronicle reporter Cindy Thomas is contacted anonymously by someone with information about the crimes and predicts some of the future attacks. While she runs down her own story, Boxer seeks to better understand the victims, soon learning that they are all small-time (and somewhat secretive) drug dealers in their own right. Boxer’s husband, Joe, has his own plate overfilling when a best friend has some information about a local doctor that could have large implications. While all this is taking place, one of the cornerstone members of the Club receives horrible news that could derail her and cause the four central members to fall apart. With a killer communicating through an interesting fashion and calling soldiers to arms, Boxer and her team will have to work quickly to shut it down before the blood keeps flowing. A well-crafted piece that will have readers eager to race through to the end, where truth is apparent. Recommended to series fans, as well as those who need a lighter crime thriller.

I have often struggled with Patterson’s work, as many will know. I find that too often he sees to churn things out too quickly, leaving his collaborators to suffer my wrath as well. After a less than stellar 19th novel (many felt the same), these two have been able to redeem themselves and put on a wonderful instalment of the Women’s Murder Club. The stories were well developed and kept the reader’s attention, which makes the book flow all the better. Countless sub-plots keep the reader entertained, even when there was little movement on the main murder theme. Patterson and Paetro use some of the backstories of these core characters to their advantage, allowing for a little growth or at least some advancement in ongoing plots, without bogging things down too much. I would love to see something truly earth shattering that would force the group to rethink their place and how the Club works, though I am not sure if the authors are ready to pull out such a major event quiet yet. With short chapters and a story that has no time to catch its breath, this book serves as a treat for those who are dedicated to the series, as well as potentially making new fans want to go back and piece this complex web together for themselves. I cannot wait to see what else is on the horizon for this series, and yet would love to see Patterson meld his three great series (Boxer-Cross-Bennett) into a well-timed crossover. That may be too Herculean an effort, but I am hoping.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for a great piece that adds to this series that has been part of my reading experience for many years.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

19th Christmas (Women’s Murder Club #19), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

The Women’s Murder Club is back with another thrilling tale set in the days around the holiday season, headed by the great collaboration of James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. While out shopping with her family, Detective Lindsay Boxer encounters a man who is disrupting holiday shoppers as he flees in a panic. Once in an interrogation room, the man spills that he has news of an upcoming ‘big event’ that is set to happen on Christmas Day. Not wanting to take any chances, Lindsay takes up the case, looking for a mysterious ‘Loman’ who might hold all the answers. While following leads, Boxer and her SFPD Homicide team are pushed in many directions, some red herrings, while others seem to point to a major heist only a few days away. Meanwhile, while working on a Christmas story, Cindy uncovers an undocumented man who has been sitting in prison for two years, charged with a murder he says he did not commit. Working her angle, Cindy soon pulls Yuki in from the D.A.’s office and tries to bring a little holiday cheer to a family that has been frazzled for the past few years. When Boxer and her crew feel they may be close to an answer, all things go haywire at the airport, on Christmas Day no less, forcing everyone to take drastic actions in order to save the general public. Well into this series, Patterson and Paetro still have a great handle on the series that does not show signs of letting up. Recommended for series fans looking to augment their holiday season, as well as those readers who enjoy the quick pace of a well-written Patterson novel.

This book is a true gift and will likely be one that series fans have been hoping to receive. While there seems to have been some confusion with readers who were baffled throughout the eighteenth instalment, Patterson and Paetro were forced—silly, as it is—to explain the flashback they used in the past novel and promised that this instalment was entirely present-tense. The returning characters proved highly entertaining, not least of which Lindsay Boxer. She has left her character development and backstory behind, but is ready to tackle anything set before her as she hunts down a man keen on causing trouble at Christmas. Others characters will be familiar to many who are well-versed in the series, as well as adding a few new faces. The story ran well and sped along with quick chapters that push the reader to ‘try a few more pages’. At a time when no one can be sure what Patterson will do with the books bearing his name, this was a refreshing return to his strong skills, alongside the equally capable Maxine Paetro. A great stocking stuffer, if the reader can wait that long. If not, pull out the apple cider or eggnog and offer up a cup as the reader devours this treat!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another great book in the series. I hope you two have the collaborative stamina to keep going.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

18th Abduction (Women’s Murder Club #18), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

I always look forward to my annual exploration of the Women’s Murder Club, one of James Patterson’s strongest series alongside Maxine Paetro, who is a stellar collaborator. While many series lose their energy after so long, the eighteenth novel in this collection remains fresh and poignant, perfect for the series fan. After a preface in the present day, the story goes back five years, where Detective Lindsay Boxer finds herself in the middle of a baffling query. Three teachers from a prestigious preparatory school have gone missing while out together. There are few clues as to their whereabouts, which makes it all the most confusion. While Boxer is out handling this, her husband, Joe Molinari, comes across a woman on his way home. She tells a story of having seen a war criminal from her native Bosnia, a man who tortured her and her family years ago. Thought rumoured to have drowned, Slobodan Petrović May still be alive and has the glint in his eye made infamous when he held the moniker as the Butcher of Djoba. It perfectly describes the brutality to which he subjected his victims. Molinari is eager to help this woman, but must cut through her determination to take action on her own, while also working with his FBI contacts to bring Petrović to justice. Living under a pseudonym, Molinari will have to approach Petrović closely and ensure that this was not a case of mistaken identity. Meanwhile, Boxer begins to piece together some early clues and one of the victims turns up brutally murdered. Could there be a deeper connection to these three women, outside their teaching together? The rush is on to find the other two women before they are too long, though they are being mocked by the purported killer, Bloodsucker. In a case with more brutality than any Boxer has seen since she joined SFPD, this may be one killer whose determination to eviscerate their victims has deeply psychological ties. A wonderfully dark thriller that takes series readers on a journey with which they are familiar. This deep into the series, I would strongly suggest readers start at the beginning, allowing them to discover some of the character developments and nuances.

James Patterson can be hit and miss for many readers, churning out books faster than many can list them and leaving his name to sell copies. This inconsistency with the quality of writing has soured many and thereby left books like this shunned, forcing new fans not to see that there are still great JP books. Teaming up with Maxine Paetro, Patterson develops this wonderful story that builds on many of the past novels in the series, while adding some new and international flavour. Lindsay Boxer has become a strong character within San Francisco’s Homicide community, working diligently to solve any crime tossed her way. While there is little backstory left to reveal, the reader is always able to see small bouts of development within her work and personal relationships. Her marriage to Joe Molinari has long been a hot/cold situation worthy of exportation, though this book, which flashes back, dodges some of the bumpier parts of their relationship. While the other three ‘Club’ members receive their due mention, there is little the Club does to solve crimes as a unit, as has been the nature of the latter novels in the series. With Patterson’s great use of short and teaser chapters, the reader is pulled into the middle of this thriller in short order and left to explore all aspects of this multi-pronged story. Series fans will likely enjoy this book, as will those who are always looking for strong writing by Patterson and his collaborators. Definitely a series worth exploring for those who have time and are not being drowned by a TO BE READ pile.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madame Paetro, as you continue this well-established series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Medical Examiner (Women’s Murder Club #16.5), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

Continuing a mini BookShots binge, I found myself gravitating to another piece that links one of James Patterson’s long-running series, The Women’s Murder Club. Working in collaboration with Maxine Paetro, Patterson has been able to keep these stories entertaining and usually of high quality, amidst a number of hit and miss attempts at writing. With Detective Lindsay Boxer on a much needed vacation, the Club is down to three active members. Dr. Claire Washburn arrives to work on Monday and finds herself scanning the weekend carnage that’s made its way into the Medical Examiner’s Office. When she hears a sound within one of the shelves, Claire discovers that one of the dead bodies is anything but deceased. After a time, Joan Murphy is able to explain that she has no idea how she was shot or who might have been found in bed with her. The faux death can be explained by catalepsy, a rare condition but one that has many people still confused. Claire is baffled by the entire experience and when the SFPD are called in, they begin trying to decipher what happened. News leaks to another Club member, Cindy Thomas, whose crime beat with the San Francisco Chronicle is sure to reach a number of people. Detective Richard Conklin discovers that the mystery man is a second-rate actor, but still Murphy denies knowing anything. When approaching the husband, Conklin learns that he and Murphy have a loving, but distant relationship. Further investigating reveals that Murphy and her ‘man’ were likely part of a hit deemed complete, so there may be someone out there waiting to kill Murphy once and for all. Cindy and Claire both make their way to Murphy’s home, independently, where more trouble awaits. With Lindsay out of the picture and the pieces not fitting together nicely, Claire and Cindy will be forced to turn into sleuths before the killer re-emerges. A great story that never loses its momentum and shines the spotlight on another of the Club members. Series fans will likely enjoy this bridge as they wait for the next full-length novel.

I am a fan of some of Patterson’s series and this is surely one that I have followed from the get-go. Paetro brings an interesting flavour to the writing and the stories are usually fairly well-crafted, full of humour and intrigue, even when the characters step aside and allow Lindsay Boxer to get much of the development. I applaud Patterson and Paetro for placing Boxer on the shelf and turning the attention to other Club members. While Claire’s backstory is not fully developed here, the reader can see some progress and curious nature in her personality, taking her out of the ME’s office, yet still on the job. I can only hope that future stories (BookShots even) will allow Cindy and Yuki to receive much of the attention, as it proves highly refreshing. The story itself worked well, introducing the reader to catalepsy and turning the tables on what was an expected double murder. While things sped by in this short piece, the reader is kept informed and forced on a quick adventure as the story develops. Told with the traditional short chapters for which Patterson is so well known, things come to a swift end with most of the threads tied off. Well presented and whetted my appetite for another Women’s Murder Club novel. Bring it on!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another great piece of collaborative work. I am impressed to see that the momentum has not waned and your work keeps readers interested.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons