So, I finished Along Came a Spider, which I enjoyed very much. It wasn’t my favorite book ever, but it was by no means the Hacksville one might have expected after hearing how other mystery writers talk about James Patterson.
One of the things that really makes it work is the trail of tension Patterson lays out for us. I don’t just mean that the scenes are tense, I mean that whenever they aren’t, there’s a little bead of tension drawing us forward, making us read just a few more pages.
One example is when the protagonist, Alex Cross, begins his relationship with the love interest, Jezzie Flanagan. They swim in a hotel pool, chat, and begin to get to know each other. It’s not uninteresting, but neither is it particularly tension-fraught.
But the reader already knows that when Alex gets up the next morning, he’s going directly to the ransom payoff. So if you think you can put down the book during that pool scene, think again.
This happens over and over again in the book, turning it into something you’re not too unlikely to read in one go. It may be an event we know is coming up, like the ransom payoff, the trial, or the hypnosis of the kidnapper. Or it may be an unanswered question: “What did she see that freaked her out?”; “Is someone working with the kidnapper?”; “What’s his long term plan?” Patterson lets us know that there are things worth knowing, which he isn’t telling yet.
And for me, at least, that’s enough to keep the pages turning.