Today’s best thriller writers on one hundred classics of the genre…
My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider.
It begins with the double kidnapping of the daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and the young son of the Secretary of the Treasury…. Gary Soneji is a murderous serial kidnapper who wants to commit the crime of the century. Alex Cross is the brilliant homicide detective pitted against him. Jezzie Flanagan is the female supervisor of the Secret Service who completes one of the most unusual suspense triangles in any thriller you have ever read.
Mary SanGiovanni has this to say in her essay on Patterson’s novel: “The true mark of a magician is to make the magic look easy and effortless. And the mark of a good thriller is to make readers forget that they are reading a story…” I absolutely agree, and many of my favorite books have done just that. But, did this one?
One of the quickest ways to remind me that I’m reading a story is inconsistent storytelling, and one of my biggest pet peeves involves switching point of view. I’m not talking about jumping around from one character to another; many (maybe even most) thrillers do that. What really gets me is when one of those character POVs is told in first person, with all the other characters in third. It’s confusing, and it’s ruined many a book for me. And though Patterson chooses to use this bizarre technique — I still don’t understand why Alex’s chapters couldn’t be told from a close third person — the story was strong enough to eventually break through my bias.
SanGiovanni mainly focuses on Alex Cross as a larger-than-life hero, but to be honest, the villain of the story made much more of an impression on me. With so many stories, villains are made to be noble in their own way, staunch supporters of whatever their cause is. I’ve heard time and time again that a villain who believes he’s in the right is much more interesting than one who’s evil just for the sake of being evil.
Soneji falls much closer to the latter than the former… but we can see almost from the beginning how disturbed he is. This kidnapper knows what he does is wrong, and yet he still manages to make himself the hero of his own story. It’s his combination of brilliance and insanity that makes him such a danger… and, in an admittedly twisted way, a thrill to read about.
I avoided James Patterson for a long time, just on principle. It doesn’t seem right to become such a huge name, while your co-authors get minimal credit, and no one knows the details of how much work each of you actually puts into these books that roll out every month. But, he obviously started somewhere, and I think even now he does actually write the Alex Cross novels himself (though I might be wrong on that).
When I saw the first in the series on the ITW list, I knew I’d have to give it a chance. And it ended up being better, much better, than I’d anticipated. Whatever his career has become, his reputation as a master of the genre is well-founded.
Four down, ninety-six to go…