I will state at the outset that I am thoroughly enamored with the concept that drives James Patterson’s Private Investigation series. The firm, created by the driven and visionary Jack Morgan, is an international go-to investigative agency used by governments and the rich and famous when there are walls to break through and corners to cut. PRIVATE L.A., co-authored with Mark Sullivan, is the sixth and latest installment in the series and my favorite to date, primarily because it focuses on two cases out of Private’s L.A. office (with a brief but important foray into Mexico) while touching convincingly on some real world issues as well.
"PRIVATE L.A. is one of the more cinematic of Patterson’s books --- fittingly so, given at least part of its subject matter --- and, as a result, the story is an easy and compelling one-sit read."
The novel opens explosively with the unprovoked murder of four surfers on a Malibu beach beneath a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes. The only clue to the carnage is a piece of paper left at the scene and bearing the message “NO PRISONERS.” A second mass killing soon follows, with a demand for ransom money from the City of Los Angeles. Morgan and Private are brought into the investigation by the mayor, on the basis that Private is not bound by the same restrictions as the police. However, subsequent events make it clear that ransom money is not necessarily what No Prisoners and his team are after. The plot gradually and violently unfolds, as the group of terrorists continue to strike, seemingly at random, resulting in Los Angeles being under a frightening and bloody siege while the Private team tries to track the doers to their lair with some help from a surprising and unusual source.
Meanwhile, Justine Smith, Morgan’s de facto partner in Private, takes over a hush-hush investigation concerning the sudden disappearance of two of Hollywood’s brightest stars. Thom and Jennifer Harlow are the “It” couple, as well known for their philanthropy as for their acting. The pair and their three adopted children are household names in the United States. So when the family suddenly disappears, on the eve of completing a highly anticipated film, their attorney and production company go into panic mode.
Smith must put the might and majesty of Private’s resources into discovering the why and how behind the Harlows’ disappearance and, most importantly, the where, before the press discovers that they have disappeared and a maelstrom of unfavorable publicity occurs. The investigation reveals some interesting and shocking things about the couple almost from the beginning, which in turn ultimately puts her and Morgan onto a trail that leads them to an improbable location in Mexico and uncovers a plot that is an equal mix of justice and revenge.
PRIVATE L.A. is one of the more cinematic of Patterson’s books --- fittingly so, given at least part of its subject matter --- and, as a result, the story is an easy and compelling one-sit read. The scenes in rural Mexico near the end of the book are particularly interesting, occurring, fatefully enough, during the Day of the Dead. The book also develops Morgan’s and Smith’s personal lives, separately and apart, and if what occurs in this installment is any indication, there is much that will be played out over the course of the next several books. There is plenty to enjoy here, with no question that Patterson’s regular and occasional readers, as well as those reading his work for the first time, will be fully satisfied.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 14, 2014