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Not Such a Merry Christmas
on 22 November 2012
James Patterson has written a pacey action-packed book with no co-writer mentioned. The author throws Detective Alex Cross into a frenetic 24 hour period over Christmas, a period normally a happy family get-together. Cross is the ultimate in maintaining high standards. His dedication to his service commitments are unquestionable. On Christmas Eve, Cross and long-term friend and colleague John Sampson apprehend a known repeat offender attempting to steal church moneys' to feed his drug habit. Returning home to his family for a festive, relaxing Christmas Eve, his phone rings, calling him urgently to a hostage scene.
Henry Fowler, a once rich and successful attorney, lost his job through malpractice.His life rapidly took a nose-dive into bitterness and substance misuse. He is holding his ex-wife, his three children, her new husband and a congressman's wife (a neighbour) prisoners. He is heavily armed and is threatening the lives of his captives. The hostage negotiator has upset Fowler and Cross is brought in to sort out the potentially explosive scene. In a bold manoeuvre and using his experience of the 'psychological approach', Cross finds himself in a courtroom scenario in the house with Fowler. He is curious to know the reason behind the drug-fuelled hatred of his family, the circumstances of his downfall and hence how best to tackle the problems in front of him with a view to solving the crisis
Meanwhile his family sit at home worrying about the danger he has again exposed himself to. I wonder how families cope with these sudden and often prolonged absences, particularly at Christmas, with a wife or husband and children involved. Their own commitment seems the old cliche, 'marry the man (or woman) ,marry the job', yet there has to be a break even relationship that Cross has achieved. He goes home to his family whenever he can, even for short bursts. He is always at the end of a telephone, however. No apparent 'time-off' for Cross! Other professions (medical,nursing,firefighters, police,servicemen & women) come to mind yet shifts are at least predictably structured.
With the Fowler situation cleverly resolved one way or another, Cross settles in with his family for a relaxing Christmas Day having spent Christmas Eve 'convincing a crazy man not to kill his family'. That afternoon, his cell phone call propels him into a further, even more potentially dangerous and catastophic dilemma. Hala Al Dossari is a member of a terrorist organisation Al Alya, rooted in Saudi Arabia but active in the USA. Known to Cross through previous acts of treachery, she is part of a team who are hell-bent on a mass act of killing on a dreadful scale. Aided by fellow members of the Al Alya 'Family', the plot involves sabotage of a train and a cunning, evil plan to carry out their orders in the name of Inshallah, the Will of Allah, even if martyrdom is the eventuality.
Cross and trusted colleague Ned Mahoney throw themselves into an action-packed counter-attack on the terrorists using their police skills and aided by specialist colleagues and the snow and icy weather. The eventuality hangs on a thread with suspense and surprise. Al Alya operatives do not fold easily even under extreme means, driven by religious fervour, making their apprehension and stopping a major tragedy difficult to avert. The methods used to do this may be disturbing, and not in Cross's comfort zone, but gaining knowledge of the movements and intentions of the fanatics is imperative. The chase is on leaving the reader following a maze of activity until the end.
Patterson's latest Alex Cross novel is full of action and suspense. Situations that Cross plunges into are inevitably perilous. His decisions need to be made on the spot inthe face of adversity. He shoots, talks or intuitively and skillfully finds a way out with his colleagues. He is, after all, a survivor. It is a relief to have him back. The read is shorter than the pages indicate and some of the situations are predictable but don't detract from the book. I found the novel an exciting and enjoyable read. Really, these are two stories linked by Christmas and Cross's family.