Michelle Levigne

A recovering Trekker and Cleveland Indians fan, Michelle Levigne works full-time as a freelance editor. Current projects include the upcoming print version of her SF series, “The Chorillan Cycle,” from OakTara, Arthurian fantasy, “The Zygradon Chronicles,” at Uncial Press, and the YA fantasy series “The Hunt,” at Writers Exchange, Australia. Heavy influences in her life include Bill Cosby, Isaac Airfreight, and Marvel Comics. Website: www.Mlevigne.com.

7th Heaven

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Remember the TV commercials for James Patterson’s The Women’s Murder Club series? Did anyone assume that because it was Patterson, the series would be uber-fantastic? How many people reacted with, “Duh-ang, when is this guy going to slow down? How many books does he write with other people? How does he do it? Does he really do it? And how do I sign up with my favorite writer and get my name on a book?”

I wanted to see what helped the books endure to volume seven, and then prompted the network to make it into a TV series. (I mean, honestly, don’t we have ENOUGH crime dramas?)

Spoiler alert: I expected a whole lot more just because Patterson’s name was on the book. That may have spoiled it for me. Maybe I’m just picky. Is it a full moon? The book reminded me of those Chili’s commercials where the rival restaurant, PJ Blands, serves cardboard food. Filling, but no reason to go back for a second helping.

First, the title has nothing to do with the two storylines. I got irritated waiting for them to intersect: psycho rich kids killing for fun and profit, and the trial of a moron hooker for murder when the only evidence was the stupid confession she recanted. If the two storylines coincide, could the authors make it believable? That had more suspense than the race to identify the firebugs before they barbecued another wealthy-and-unworthy, uber-consumer couple.

I hate to use stereotypes and cardboard (see PJ Blands), but the roster of characters have appeared (and will again) in dozens of books, movies, and TV shows. Yes, Solomon said nothing new was under the sun, but how about some quirks, people? The tough female cop attracted to her hunky male partner while trying to decide whether to commit to the “perfect” man. (If the guy was perfect, he wouldn’t be available, now would he? Hmm?) The driven prosecuting attorney who goes up against the vicious, condescending defense attorney who gives everyone warm, fuzzy feelings for F. Lee Bailey and Johnny Cochrane. Then there is the hooker with the heart of gold, being pimped by her scumbag (alleged) boyfriend. Seen it before, will see it again.

Then we have the asocial, amoral rich kids who consider themselves smarter than everyone around them. Can we say Murder by Numbers? I bet that storyline was used a couple dozen times before Sandra Bullock took it to the big screen.

However, the pregnant coroner blithely works on burned corpses and matricide victims without getting sick up to the moment her water breaks. Okay, I admit, that’s unique, but she doesn’t have much to do in this book, except to provide the “celebrate new

life in the wake of solving the murders” moment. No characters had enough to do so that I could really get to know them.

Okay, the true crime writer who seems so charming and then goes nutso when the lawyer isn’t willing to be a one-night stand—and then decides to manufacture the “killer” ending of his book by faking her suicide—that’s original. I think.

Of course, she’s wearing a wire when he goes into the standard villain’s diatribe: “Hey, I’m going to kill you to manufacture a blockbuster ending because I gambled away my advance and I have leg-breakers on my case and you really hacked me off when you wouldn’t sleep with me so I’m justified in drugging you and telling everyone you were talking suicide. Thanks for providing the gun.” And of course, the cop pal is frantic to catch up with them, and there’s the not-quite-terrifying moment when the gun goes off and you don’t know who got shot.

What really irked me is something worse than head hopping: Too many POV characters. The cop is first-person POV. The lawyer is third person. Then you have limited third person watching the firebug snots as they play their sick games. You look through the eyes of some of their victims just before the flames engulf them. Then the very last chapter is through the eyes and thoughts of the hooker.

The four friends—cop, coroner, lawyer, and reporter—probably have a lot in common, but I kept thinking, “Don’t you know anybody who isn’t in law enforcement?” It wasn’t that I didn’t buy the friendship, but they weren’t three-dimensional for me. Maybe because there were so many characters—whose story is this supposed to be? I might like these people if I had gotten to know them through the first six books. I would probably know more about their lives. And care. (Umm, that’s a rule for writers—make your readers care about somebody in the story, or else they have no reason to keep reading.) I love picking up a book in the middle of a series and discovering the people are real and intriguing. I have to buy the other books to catch up with their lives.

If I really cared about these characters more, I’d probably be writing a different column because the pacing is good, the description is good, the science seems sound (but then, what do I know, besides CSI?) and the story works.

So, class, what have we learned today?

A cardinal sin (right after: the only answer to the question “Why did the character make that bonehead move?” is “Because it moved the story along.”) is to have your readers read the last page of the book and think, “I’m done. Let’s go to Chili’s.”