Book Review: James Patterson – 20th Victim

I’m fully aware that this is the seventh review of this book series on this blog, and as a result I may be becoming as much of a broken record as the series itself. Which is why I’m going to change tack slightly here, and talk about the shining star of this series.

Cindy Thomas is the best character that James Patterson has ever created. From my perspective, anyway. Yeah, there’s Alex Cross, and yeah, Lindsay Boxer is the lead in the Women’s Murder Club, but something about Cindy makes me really root for her in a way that I struggle to for the others in this series. I’m not going to say that I’m so sick of Lindsay that I wouldn’t be sad if she died… but you get my drift.

I relate to Cindy’s drive to uncover the truth, and use whatever sources she can to get to the bottom of the story. I can relate to her thought processes, especially as to how she thinks about a story and writes it at the same time, at breakneck speed. She’s got a fiery but kind personality, and that also shines through, and in a way, I guess I could be quite similar to her too. Which is why, despite being positioned as the co-main character in ‘1st to Die’ all those years ago, I feel aggrieved that she has been largely underused in the majority of the last twenty books; especially the last few.

Which brings me onto ’20th Victim’. Cindy finally has a story! And, to give credit to Maxine Paetro, who lets be honest would have written virtually the entirety of this book, she does give plots also to Claire (AT LAST) and Yuki. However, there is one underlying fault with this book. Despite, at 398 pages, it being the longest book in the series for a while, it needs to be longer if it wants to do the stories justice. It needs to be a two parter, or a 700 page epic. The execution here is absolutely horrific.

Lindsay does not get involved in police work for twelve chapters. All in all, she has a lovely weekend spa break with Joe, her husband, which although being little more than filler, does set the scene for Joe’s own storyline. However, when she returns, she enters a shitshow. An American Football player has been shot dead through the window of his car by a sniper, and the word ‘rehearsal’ has been painted on his car. Then, at 8:30am, simultaneous murders take place in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco, all linked to the original death. A relatively original and intriguing plot.

It develops further, with more and more police officers getting dragged into it, another triple homicide in various locations etc. However, the break for finally catching the killer, after 350 pages, is (spoiler alert) – he logs onto a laptop which just happens to be being watched by an FBI agent and signs into a terrorist site with a known name, who has taken credit for the murders. Oh dear. That seems a little… convenient?

A similar thing happens with Joe’s plotline. His friend Dave’s father Ray has recently died at a local hospital, and Dave is convinced that foul play took place. After the usual god knows how long of moral pondering by Joe, they decide to lay a trap. Somehow, with no explanation, they know who killed his dad, and trick her into giving herself up. A nurse who doesn’t notice that someone is in the process of faking his own death; who conveniently drinks drugged wine; caught by trying to find an imaginary painting in the boot of a car, which she would have noticed not being there when she sat in said vehicle.

Sweetie, did someone tell you that the book needed to be shortened? And, so, you completely abandoned all of the logic which had allowed you to quietly murder patients in a hospital for a period of time – although there was no explanation as to why you ever did that. Nor was there proof before the ridiculous confession you made. I would also love to know how a wheelchair bound character was able to get out a passenger seat of a car, change into a wheelchair and block off the entrance back to the doctor’s surgery within a matter of seconds without opening or closing any doors. Again, logic seemed to be abandoned with this one.

Yuki too had a plot, which served as nothing but an excuse to add a few pages. She spent her entire case (which was, admittedly, two chapters before page 350) trying to get out of prosecuting her client, however, again, the laws of convenience came together once more to magic up a way of her managing to do so. It turned out that the drug lord her client was so scared of (and murderer in his own case) just so happened to be operating as a bodyguard and got killed in one of the simultaneous murders which Lindsay was investigating. I don’t know too much about the intentions and lives of people occupying the #3 position on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, but I’m sure they don’t hang around jazz centres in broad daylight. Especially when they just murdered a cop. Anyway, so that happened, and the client starts talking, scared for his life. And that gets dealt with neatly too.

Cindy was a big character in this story, having a work rivalry with Jeb McGowan, an up and coming reporter. Several things happen in this one, but it should really have been properly developed. As a result, when he sexually assaults her in the car park, and she tells him to not do it again, before he tells their boss that she started it, the overarching question is ‘why?’. Not as in, ‘why did he do it?’, but ‘why was this crap ever thought of in the first place?’. Anyway, evil Jeb is dealt with too, as when Cindy is called to the office she says that Jeb did it and Jeb is sacked. No investigation, no evidence, and leaving the San Francisco Chronicle open to an unfair dismissal lawsuit. Which won’t ever happen, of course.

This book could have been way longer (and better) if it’s stories were developed. However, it’s increased length from previous installments are simply due to filler. I counted THREE chapters devoted to articles which Cindy wrote, all of which was unnecessary. Claire’s story was there to fill time and to make it look less like the authors were sidelining all of the ethnic minorities in favour of giving white characters all the stories; and we really did not need another horrendous sex scene courtesy of Joe and Lindsay. As to what else to say about this book?

Pretty much like the last five. It was going through the motions to the extreme; abandoned the show not tell rule and flipped it on its head; didn’t materially develop the characters at all; every other sentence is either an in-joke or a metaphor; and the series really should have ended a while ago. If this book was a loaf of bread, it would have gone stale in 2014.

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