A little truth in marketing, first of all. CRADLE AND ALL is based on VIRGIN, an earlier James Patterson novel, his second, I believe. Patterson and Little, Brown are upfront about this, noting the fact on the inside front of the dust jacket. So if you have been reading Patterson since Hector was a pup and parts of CRADLE AND ALL seem familiar, that is why. Don't worry about it. Just keep reading. CRADLE AND ALL will scare the hell out of you, anyway.
CRADLE AND ALL takes the incidents at Fatima, just after the beginning of the last century, makes a couple of twists, and runs and runs for daylight. For those of you who have made it this far in life without the benefit of an old school Catholic education, herewith a quick recap. Mary, the Mother of Christ, appeared on at least three occasions to some shepherd children at Fatima (and no, I don't know where that is, either).
Word of the sightings spread and by the time of her final appearance there were thousands of the faithful present, many of whom apparently witnessed a vision of the sun falling into the earth. Mary also gave one of the children a message to pass on to the Pope. The contents of this message have never been revealed, but supposedly it has been passed on to each Pope since that time. Legend has it that the message is of such malignant portent that it caused the heart attack that killed Pope John Paul I. Maybe it was "You get killed in Godfather III!"
The message, or at least one version of it, is revealed in CRADLE AND ALL. There will be two virgin births; one will witness the birth of the Savior, the other the birth of the spawn of Satan. And, as events kick into gear, the Catholic Church finds two girls who are both virgins, yet pregnant. One is a 14 year old Irish girl living in poverty; the other is a 16 year old girl living in Boston (how she escaped the unwelcome attentions of the Kennedy lads is never explained). There is one problem: there is no way to determine who is giving birth to whom.
Naturally, the Church wants to protect the birth of the Savior. Satan, naturally, wants to thwart the birth of the Savior and preserve his (or her) own offspring. The Church is accordingly attempting to watch over both girls. Someone --- or something --- is after both of them. Anne Fitzgerald, ex-nun turned private investigator (and this is not as improbable as it sounds), is initially retained by the Church to investigate the virgin pregnancies, but soon finds herself guarding one of them as well as her own virtue. But is she guarding the Savior, or protecting the Satan-spawn? Don't think for a minute that you'll be able to guess. Even if you're right, you'll be wrong.
Patterson has demonstrated before that he is an absolute master of pacing and diversion, and he demonstrates it yet again with CRADLE AND ALL. It begins with a bit of mystery, lets a little intrigue in along the way, throws in some unrequited romance, and mixes it all with an undercurrent of creeped-out thriller. The ending --- make that endings, enough for three or four books --- has more twists and turns to it than an 80 m.p.h. trip down the flower section of San Francisco's Lombard Street. You'll wish you could read with your eyes closed. And, if all of this were not enough, Patterson leaves the door of the possibility of a sequel open a crack or two. Whether he chooses to follow-up on CRADLE AND ALL or not, Patterson has given us a story that will have everyone reading and talking for some time to come.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 1, 2001