Book Review: James Patterson – 21st Birthday

I must open my review of the latest instalment of James Patterson’s hugely successful ‘Women’s Murder Club’ series with a disclaimer. I don’t read these books because I love them and can’t wait for the next one. I read them because I’ve read all of them, and I have an interest in how the characters are doing and what they get up to next. But the stories? God no. They stopped being good years ago.

Until this one. Here, Patterson and similarly prolific co-writer Maxine Paetro have actually come up with the most entertaining plotline since ’14th Deadly Sin’. Maybe the last six books of varying drivel were not worth it for this, but ’21st Birthday’ is actually exciting. The execution, however, stops from being a great book.

Paetro’s writing (because we all know Patterson doesn’t actually write 30 books a year) is at its finest when describing moments of high action and of great peril. The action scenes throughout this novel are the best, as are the courtroom drama. However, her insistence (and probably that of several other interested actors) to write this like a weekly show, such as CSI, make this heavy work at times.

Simply put, this novel could have been 400 pages had consistent repetition of the facts not been made. Also, when I’m reading about interviews with key witnesses and suspects, I want to read what is said. I want to look for clues in the dialogue. I don’t want an abbreviated synopsis which looks like it came off a wiki page. Writing it how she has, it should have been 600 pages with this storyline, but the last ten pages manage to fit about 100 worth of content, and it feels extremely unfinished. Planned better, they could have turned the next book into a sequel. At the very least, if ’22 Seconds’ doesn’t see Cindy working through what she now knows as a main plotline, there is an unforgivable loss of potential here…

Kathleen Wyatt goes to Cindy Thomas in her office at the Chronicle, shouting, screaming and crying. Cindy has removed a post from Kathleen on her blog because it could be libellous – Kathleen has identified her son-in-law, Lucas Burke, as being abusive to her daughter Tara. The reason for her sudden decision to kick off? Tara and her young daughter, Lorrie, have disappeared, and she is convinced that something terrible has happened to them. Shocked, Cindy puts her in direct contact with Lindsay Boxer, where things begin to escalate very, very quickly.

21st Birthday is without a personal life plot, beyond a few words about Claire’s return to work following illness. For that, we can be grateful. Sadly, there are no fewer than six meetings in a restaurant, each complete with extensive details of what everyone ordered and ate. I’m not sure what the meetings could be replaced with, but it gives me the same feeling that I get when Catherine’s beachside bar turns up three times every ‘Death In Paradise’ episode. The difference is, DIP is fun murder mysteries in a Caribbean setting, designed to warm up cold January nights. The Women’s Murder Club is trying to be a serious thriller series.

It’s a shame that the proof reader or editor didn’t like the story enough to read the last hundred pages. Not only did they miss out on some exciting plot twists (if slightly convenient) which make this book worth reading, but they missed out on several distracting grammatical errors and some pretty horrendous repetition of an entire paragraph, less than two pages apart. I’m not normally a fiend for stuff like this, but I expected better. Maybe they want to hire me to proof all of the James Patterson empire? I could do with the money, for sure…

If you’re still plodding along with this 21 books in, you’re either like me and dogged enough to keep reading them ad infinitum, or you really need to improve your standards of writing. This is the most exciting for a while, and unlike the last few, I was wishing it was longer and not desperately begging for the final page to come. But having been let down many times by this series, I’m not holding out hope that this provokes a third wind of brilliance. Still, you can bet on the fact that I’ll be reading ’22 Seconds’ next Christmas regardless.

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