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Author Topic: The Midnight Club - James Patterson  (Read 2279 times)
delboy
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« on: January 25, 2011, 04:18:56 AM »

The Midnight Club - James Patterson

What they say: "From the bestselling author of Along Came a Spider and Cat and Mouse, a mesmerising tale of non-stop action and suspense. Nobody knows the underbelly of the city like New York cop John Stefanovitch. He's out to get Alexandre St-Germain, the most powerful member of the Midnight Club -- a secret international society of ruthless crime czars, all of whom are 'respectable' businessmen. And Stef's the ideal man for the job -- until he's levelled by a blast from St-Germain's shotgun and left for dead. Now, Stef is back, wheelchair-bound, yet sworn to destroy St-Germain. With the help of a beautiful journalist and a Harlem cop, Stef is determined to crack the Midnight Club. And he's up against odds that are as unknown as they are deadly!"

'I really like James Patterson's novels! Now comes The Midnight Club and it just might be his best ever.' Larry King, USA Today

This isn't the sort of book I read very often. But a couple of times a year I'll read a best-seller as I feel I owe it to myself to understand what's out there and what's selling by the million. When I read this about James Patterson: "The world's best-selling author, his novels account for one in 17 of all hardcover novels sold in the United States; in recent years his novels have sold more copies than those of Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined" I figured I ought to check him out (again) and see what I can learn.

Anyway, this time last year I read what was probably the worst book I'd ever read (not a James Patterson, I hasten to add). This year, maybe the second worst... That could be a little harsh. There are some redeeming qualities - there's enough evidence here that Patterson can really write when he chooses to, but doesn't often do so.

To link in to the discussion on plot going on elsewhere this is formulaic writing - the outlandish plot is carefully constructed with the necessary prelude where we see the hero receive his required injuries (both mental and physical) from a villain who is so strong and powerful we wonder how our hero will ever overcome him - especially in his new weakened state. We witness an early antagonistic meeting between the hero and the woman who will obviously become the love interest. We witness the growing strength of the opposition. We have a seemingly standalone scene that shows our hero's prowess with a wheelchair and yet we know it's setting us up for something. When the villain is apparantly killed early on we suspect that there's more to it than meets the eye - and indeed there is. Love blooms and, surprise surprise, the love element becomes our hero's weakness, and on it goes...

But the funny thing is, I'm okay with all of that. I've come across the same basic plot pattern in many other books and have suspended my disbelief willingly. Later in this book, there are some actual bad plotting errors, not in the logic of the plot, but in the thing the characters do and don't do - or ought to if they were being true to themselves and the situation, but the overall the plot is a good solid framework that I'm happy to work with.

Here's the rub. In this story the characters simply aren't real. There's no sense of development, or depth. Little thought or attention is given to making them, or the over-the-top world in which they are existing, real. And it is this lack of atmosphere and detail and touch and insight that means the plot simply doesn't hold up. And in this type of writing the plot is all there is, so when that fails you have nothing.

But there's more. The suspense is non-existent. Patterson gives away the wrong things at the wrong moments. He openly reveals things that, had he kept them hidden, would have kept the reader guessing longer and built up more mysterious and foreboding. The pace is off. I've read other Patterson books and they speed along and are unputdownable. Not this one. The descriptions are dull and trite, dialogue poor, character viewpoint changes midscene - almost mid conversation etc etc.

In fact, I literally couldn't reconcile this book with the facts I've quoted at the top of the page about how successful Patterson is.

Then came the good news. A little bit of research and it appears that this is an early Patterson. Maybe his third book. Certainly before he became a best-seller. Probably before he even became a full-time writer. With this information I looked at the novel slightly differently. Here's a guy learning his trade. I can see all the elements there, the knowledge of what needs to be done, the plot elements are all in place (formulaic plot discussions notwithstanding), the stuff that will make Patterson by far the most successful writer of our age is all there - it's just he hadn't quite figured out how best to use it all.

And with this knowledge comes hope. I'm not sure a book such as this would get accepted in today's market, but that's almost irrelevant. We can see here (when compared to, say, his Alex Cross novels) how someone has taken this stuff, worked with it, come up with their own voice / style, and ultimately made it successful for them. If Patterson can do it so can anyone else. For all my criticisms I'm sure The Midnight Club is way better than any thriller novel I could write at this point in time - so it's a good lesson to learn from. Even the best selling author in the world, at a time when he was already publishing mass market novels, still had to work hard to get from A to B, from where he was, to where he needed to be.

In short, it's a masterclass, but not in writing, but in how much work we all need to put into our writing.

Derek



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delph_ambi
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« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2011, 05:47:31 AM »

Excellent and thought-provoking review, Del.
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« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2011, 09:20:48 AM »

Cool review, Del!  afro

I believe I picked up a Patterson exactly once. After my grandmother gave her copy to me.... I believe my eyes started rolling up in the back of my head around page thirty, and that was it... grin not my thing I'm afraid.
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« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2011, 06:15:25 PM »

Interesting review, Del -- thanks for that smiley
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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2011, 06:18:49 PM »

Hope is something we can all use! Thanks for the post, Del!
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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2011, 06:34:29 PM »

Thanks for that, Del. I read Along came a Spider when it came out and enjoyed its fresh writing style and inherent tension. Further novels of his paled until I could read no more. Same with Patricia Cornwell and Kellerman. Patterson makes no secret of his use of 'collaborators' in his more recent novels. I understand he sketches out the plot and character and the ghostwriters flesh out to his formula. Sadly, it shows and I've stopped reading them.

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