Thursday, March 20, 2014


I'm always ambivalent about writing a "bad review."  Why bother?  And how does it fit in with what the dharma teaches us about "right speech"?  Better to remain silent, perhaps, than to tell what I perceive to be the truth.  Still, we're also taught to avoid doing harm, and my small voice will certainly not prove harmful to this best-selling giant of the publishing world.  Besides, right speech surely does not mean to be uncritical.  What if one sees a friend behaving badly?  Is it not an act of friendship to let him know?

These thoughts arise as I close the last, disappointing page of a book by James Patterson.  Double Cross was published in 2007 (I come to it late, obviously) and was sold at the time for $29.99, hard cover.  I picked up my copy for 25 cents at the used bookstore down below the Laguna Beach public library, where I often go when I'm looking for a few hours of escape reading--and regular readers know that I love the mystery-thriller genre, and have even written a couple of them myself.

I should have known from the first couple of pages that this was a badly written book.  I correct myself: I did know it.  I recognized the false note from the start.  It's best described as an absence of authenticity, a dishonesty in the writing of which it can only be said, in the cliche used by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stuart when speaking of obscenity, "I know it when I see it."  There's something in the way a paragraph is written that tells me whether it actually needs to have been written.  Do you know what I mean?  You can sense when a writer is simply going through the motions to churn out another book--or make another million.  The thing is market-driven, rather than coming from the heart and mind.  It's brain stuff: how do I put this thing together?

So why did I read on?  Because I'm a sucker for a story, even a bad story.  I keep turning the pages, and I suppose that Patterson gets (reluctant!) credit for keeping me at it.  I want to know how it all turns out.  Still, to be truthful, his story strains credulity beyond the breaking point.  It is, frankly, not only unbelievable, it's absurd.  Impossible to believe that his "characters"--poor cardboard creatures that they are--would behave in the way they are required to do by his authorial manipulation.  Impossible to conceive of law enforcement "experts" so naive, so readily deceived, so incompetent, unless in the service of a crime writer's "story."  And the lead character, this Cross, whose insights into his patients' neuroses are so uniformed and crude, is supposed to be a knowledge practicing psychologist?  And this is not to mention the dreadful, embarrassingly coy love scenes, the phony suspense, the stilted dialogue, the cliches...

Ah, well.  But the crowning insult, for me--as I say, I always want to know the end of the story--was to have allowed myself to be conned into tolerating all this, only to reach the final pages and find myself betrayed on the conventional agreement between author and reader to provide a satisfactory resolution.  In this case, a sub-category of evil-doers was indeed revealed and dealt with; but the plotter-in-chief, whose pawns they turned out to be, was allowed to escape the clutches of our heroes--presumably to allow the author to write a sequel "bestseller," one which I do not plan to read.  It's the reader of this book who ends up feeling "double-crossed."

Let that be a lesson to me.  Remember that name, James Patterson.  Do not pick up another book of his at the second-hand bookstore.  If you happen to do so, in a mindless moment, return it at once and pick up another thriller by someone else, no matter who.  It surely won't be quite as bad as this one, for which my 25 cents was too great a price.

There.  To satisfy my respect for the dharma, I send out goodwill to James Patterson, the author, along with my wishes that he find true happiness in his life.  And I mean it.  Really.

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