Hope to Die: The Return of Alex Cross
James Patterson didn’t get around to introducing Alex Cross, his most popular character (to date), until 1993. Since then, Patterson and Cross have become household names. Cross is an interesting character, not so much because of who he is or what he does as the type of villain he attracts. You can talk about Patterson’s strengths and weaknesses as an author, but no one has created as many truly frightening, over-the-top villains as he has. The worst of them, alas, seem to go after Cross, with varying degrees of success before succumbing to failure. Sometimes.
HOPE TO DIE, the newly published novel in the Cross canon, begins immediately after 2013’s CROSS MY HEART. That worthy book featured Thierry Mulch, an adversary as frightening and dangerous as any that Cross has ever faced. While other criminals have threatened his family before, none have done so with the effectiveness and cold-blooded intent of Mulch. CROSS MY HEART chronicled Mulch’s success in abducting Cross’ entire family --- all three generations of it --- and taunting him with a photograph that purported to show their dead bodies.
"HOPE TO DIE is full of surprising revelations, twists and turns, as well as heart-stopping suspense and sharp-edged violence."
Mulch’s purpose was twofold. One was to reduce Cross to a ruin of a man. He succeeded in this, but Cross reached down and came back. In HOPE TO DIE, Mulch ups the ante. His goal is to turn Cross into a cold-blooded killer, using the lives of his family as the detective’s motivation. He uses a variety of electronic methods and media to communicate with Cross, prodding, goading and leading him from one part of the country to the next. Cross, though, is not one to be led by the nose. When ordered off the case by the Washington, D.C. police chief, Cross takes off on his own, pursuing a separate investigation while being assisted along the way by a series of unique and occasionally unlikely allies.
The storyline proceeds along three narrative tracks: Cross’ own first-person narrative; the official investigation, which uncovers some startling information about the man who calls himself Thierry Mulch; and Mulch himself, who is both more and much less than what he seems. Cross finds that his reputation as the top detective in the Washington, D.C. Police Department precedes him, as does his unfortunate notoriety as a man whose family has been kidnapped and threatened with murder. He follows a slim evidentiary trail from Maryland to Nebraska, and from Texas to Louisiana, always a step or two behind his dangerous adversary as the lives of his family --- at least those who remain among the living --- hang in the balance. By the time the book reaches its startling conclusion, Cross’ life, and those of his family members, will be changed forever.
HOPE TO DIE is full of surprising revelations, twists and turns, as well as heart-stopping suspense and sharp-edged violence. There is something for nearly everyone here. Those who haven’t picked up an Alex Cross book for a while by all means should read CROSS MY HEART and HOPE TO DIE, both of which demonstrate that Patterson, notwithstanding his prolific ways, retains the ability to surprise, excite and scare the heck out of you.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 26, 2014