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