I was curious to read something that was really popular, a best seller to compare with other books here. Does popularity equal literature? Does it matter? Are readers the ultimate accolade?
So I turned to the “world’s bestselling thriller writer” the incredibly prolific James Patterson here working with one David Ellis. Patterson’s credits run to three pages of listed books from the 21 Alex Cross novels to the 13 Women’s Murder Club series etc…He trots them out pretty quickly, airport foyer fodder darling, “secrets, lies and deadly conspiracy”. Oohhh. Fasten your safety belts…
His web site tells me he has sold 275 million books and he holds the New York Times record for the most number of hardback books in print…
Let’s see, it goes like this:
1. Hero on secret mission in girl’s flat
2. He leaves, girl dies
3. Hero stopped by policeman for traffic offence
4. Hero was in love with girl
5. Police suspect foul play
6. Hero is very very rich
7. Hero flies own Cesna to the wake
8. We learn she was having an affair with someone else and told her friends lies about what she really did
8. On the way back, his plane runs out of fuel mid-air
9. He crash lands – the petrol tank has been tampered with
10. Whoever killed her, tried to kill him. They are out to get him too…
We are on page 50, chapter 12, big type. The blurb tells me the “the pages turn themselves”. There is certainly not much to slow you up. It is all present tense, first person stuff. It is all going off…not many adjectives, or sub clauses.
Between all this we gather that hero Ben is dysfunctional and obsessed with the kind of trivia you could use in a pub quiz. “Truman was our 33rd president but 32nd to hold the office” and flashes of movies he has seen so you feel up to date, both cute devices in themselves.
But the most jaw dropping facts, more than the shawl of skulduggery that is about to enfold him, is how rich this Ben is. “I walk over to my plane, a Cesna 172N Skyhawk, 1979 model. I bought it two years ago tapping into the trust fund…”. Oh gee, wow Ben, you are a lucky guy then…
So do we care at all? Are we engaged? It is early days but the feeling is disposable distraction, an action movie without the squeal of the wheels or the smell of the jet fuel…I am finding myself more interested in Patterson himself than Ben.
Patterson was an adman who retired and took up full time writing in only 1996 although he had been churning out the Thomas Berryman series 20 years earlier. Wiki says his current score is 95 novels and he has had 19 consecutive number ones in the New York Times. Stephen King said he was a “terrible writer” which is not fair or of it was, is not really the case now, to which he responded, “he’s taken shots at me for years. It’s fine. My approach is to do the opposite with him – heap praise.” He has been a vocal supporter of books and bookshops and denies he received an advance of $150m for his last batch of books. He lives, as they say, with his wife Susan in Palm Beach.
Patterson has also championed the idea of working in writing teams. Here with David Ellis, trained lawyer and winner of the Edgar Allen Poe award for best first novel…and has his own serial ‘edge-of-the-seat’ crimo series with defence attorney Jason Kolarich.
11. Then hero Ben goes to his secret country retreat, in case he is being followed..
12. And he is being followed – bang! bang!
13. He jumps in the lake and the best thing ever is surfacing again after holding his breath under the dock
14 He gets away by stealing a neighbour’s truck
15. But he is being followed…
16. Bang! Bang! again…
One acid test of great writing might be that it transfers seamlessly into other medium and interestingly as yet no Patterson oeuvre has migrated into block busting film mode. As yet, one supposes that Hollywood’s script departments are not unaware of him. But so far here the world is mindless. Things happens. And then something else happens. The world falls in. The girl falls out of the car. Events are unconnected and random. It is a chase of sorts but asks perhaps why we ready anyway? Just to not have to think? To let the words and characters just live out some time for us, writing as therapy, as Mills and Boon fantasy, as shoot ’em up westerns?
In that context other writers are more relevant here – David Peace for example. Or Stephen King whose Green Mile is a contender both in book and film although written in 1996.