Author James Patterson’s name evokes a sense of nostalgia for me. As a middle school bookworm I’d stay up late at night, voraciously flipping through the first few releases of his “Maximum” series under the glow of my dollar-store book light. This is the only reason why I gave his novel “Private: #1 Suspect,” the fourth installment in a crime series, so many second chances. But by the book’s anticlimactic end, I had learned two very important things: one, that I had wasted $8, and two, that the mind-numbing experience of reading “#1 Suspect” was not worth my pity.
Co-written with Maxine Paetro (“Women’s Murder Club”), the basic premise of the story’s muddled plot is this: Jack Morgan, a CIA agent/billionaire/ex-Marine, arrives home to find his ex-lover’s bloodied body on his bedspread. As a victim of circumstance, he is framed for her murder and must prove his innocence with the help of his investigation firm, which is imaginatively named Private. Meanwhile, two teams of Private agents attempt to solve a string of hotel murders and 30 million dollars of stolen Oxytocin. The only goals of these unrelated plotlines are to divert the reader’s attention and add to the novel’s 432 pages of forgettable bunk.
Morgan tries his very best to be a sleuth with a dark past. “If I never saw Carmine Noccia again, it would be way too soon,” he says. So edgy. When Morgan’s cheap noir tone grew stale after page 16, I cut Patterson and Paetro some slack. Maybe the novel is set in the ‘50s, I reasoned—but no, every Private agent drives modern Benzes, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, which sets the story firmly in the present. At one point, two undercover agents try to look inconspicuous driving through a seedy part of Los Angeles in a high-class Mercedes Benz, which is mind-boggling logic. In any case, Morgan’s tone does not match the time period, which makes his narrative sound forced, fake and annoying. But I kept reading.
When a barrage of names were introduced within the first half of the book, like character descriptions in a screenplay, I hoped that the style had relevance. It didn’t. Cruz, one of Morgan’s agents “was a good-looking guy of twenty seven…Former middleweight boxer. Former cop and investigator for the DA. Currently a senior investigator on the fast track at Private.” Some may argue that the style of these character introductions fits the moody noir vibe Patterson and Paetro try to impart, but those people are wrong. None of these characters resonated, because their entire background and implicit emotional significance was thrown away in a few short lines of backstory. I know everything about Cruz by page 65, which means that I no longer care about him.
As the novel plodded onward into oblivion, I grew increasingly frustrated with Patterson and Paetro’s decision to use chapter breaks as moments to add drama to a scene. Oftentimes, the action continues through the chapter break, rendering the scene’s dramatic pause as a clear sign of forced tension and weak writing. From its blatant explanation and sloppy perspective shifting, I initially thought “#1 Suspect” was a young adult novel. But nay—it is classified as adult mystery fiction, even though its narrative reads like a moody teen who thinks he’s on the set of “The Big Sleep.”
But the final straw came about a quarter through the book when the narrator’s brother, Tommy Jr., is literally identified as “my evil twin.” At that point, I put my Nook down and hoped that this novel was a work of satire. After all, what author can hope to pull off a plot device as cliché as “the evil twin” and maintain any sense of plausibility? I figured that the authors in question were either absolutely brilliant or terribly disillusioned. Unfortunately, this book is 100 percent serious. This is plainly obvious when the narrator is pushed to finally confront his evil twin brother, and without giving away the lackluster ending, I’ll just say that Tommy and Morgan act completely out of character, random chapter breaks continue to happen in the middle of scenes and Morgan makes a complete fool of himself.
And as a final kick in the groin to the reader, the novel’s final pages feel like the resolution to an entirely different story. Patterson and Paetro’s editors must have looked at the title, skimmed a few pages and decided, “Meh, it looks good. Send that baby to print.”
As much as I disliked the story, its central plot finds some shaky footing and maintains an iota of intrigue about halfway through the book—but by that point, even the most diehard Patterson fans will have moved on to something with more literary merit, like the ingredients list on the back of a shampoo bottle. At the end of the day, “#1 Suspect” isn’t worth your time. If you’re really interested in the frustrating adventures of Jack Morgan and company, look for “#1 Suspect” in its future destination: at the bottom of a dollar store bookshelf, next to the book lights.
Rating: 1 star