Walk into any establishment that sells general fiction, and you’re apt to find at least one or two books for sale that prominently display James Patterson’s name, either singly or in combination with a co-author. It’s easy on one level to understand why: he gives folks what they want. Mysteries, romances, thrillers, books for children and young adults --- he does it all. While it could be said that his literary style runs long and not necessarily deep, his audience does not necessarily want “deep,” at least from Patterson. They want to be entertained by a story that picks them up and carries them along. And that he does.
For me, Patterson’s draw is the bad guy who propels each and every book he writes. Call me a mark, but Patterson creates some of the best (meaning worst) villains out there, from novel to novel. And he does so again --- more than ably assisted by Michael Ledwidge --- in WORST CASE, the third thriller featuring NYPD Detective Michael Bennett. Bennett is an interesting although improbable character: a widower who is raising 10 adopted children and is absolutely clueless when it comes to women. Nonetheless, he is a dogged investigator with solid instincts. And WORST CASE brings him up against a kidnapper who isn’t interested in ransom money. No, this is someone who is kidnapping the children of New York’s wealthiest families right off the street and putting the fate of each victim in the victim’s hands.
The deal is this: answer questions concerning how the victim’s life of wealth and privilege has been paid for by the less industrious and fortunate, and the victim goes free. If the questions are answered incorrectly, the prize is death. This guy is not kidding, and it’s a bit shocking --- no “don’t kill the cat” rule in play --- when he actually carries out his threats. Bennett is initially upset when the FBI is brought into the case by the parents of one of the victims, but he warms to Agent Emily Parker rather quickly.
Parker, the Bureau’s top abduction specialist, is intelligent and possessed of a sharp tongue with a sense of humor to match. She is also extremely attractive, and as Bennett, somewhat slow on the uptake, gradually begins to notice the growing attraction that is taking place between Parker and himself, he gets into a spot of trouble with his children’s nanny, who has her own designs upon him. But the fact remains there is a killer loose, and this dangerous fiend brings a plan decades in the making to a horrifying conclusion.
WORST CASE is a one-sit read with a villain who is as current as today’s headlines and as dangerous in the real world as on the printed page. And Bennett, unlikely a character as he is, is ultimately very likable. It’s the latest installment in a Patterson series that one may enjoy without guilt.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011