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James Patterson is a popular contemporary author, best known for his Alex Cross and Women’s Murder Club mystery-thriller series. As an accomplished writer, he has won a variety of awards including the Edgar, BCA Mystery Guild’s Thriller of the Year, and the International Thriller of the Year awards. Once dubbed ”the man who can’t miss” by Time magazine, Patterson’s books have sold over 130 million copies worldwide.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Academic Excellence in New York
James Patterson was born on March 22, 1947, and grew up in Newburgh, New York. As a child, Patterson envisioned himself as a writer but his interest in literature did not fully emerge until his late teens. In school, Patterson excelled as a student; he graduated from Manhattan College summa cum lade with a BA in English in 1969. In 1971, he again graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University.
Successful Career in Advertising
After graduating from Vanderbilt, Patterson built a highly successful career in the corporate sector, and worked for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. He began in 1971 as a copywriter and climbed the company’s ladder until he found himself at the top, as the firm’s youngest executive. Among his accomplishments at J. Walter Thompson, his most famous is the popular tag line ”I’m a Toys R Us Kid,” a slogan he is credited with creating. Patterson’s corporate experience set him up for success as a best-selling author.
In 1976, Patterson published his debut novel, The Thomas Berryman Number. Before being accepted, the novel was turned down by twenty-six publishers. Despite this initial difficulty, the work proved highly successful and was awarded the 1977 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. In it the protagonist, a professional hit man named Thomas Berryman, is pursued by a southern journalist who is trying to thwart his attempt to kill Nashville’s revered African-American mayor.
Introducing Alex Cross
Patterson’s next literary efforts were similar to his first, a string of mystery thrillers including The Jericho Commandment (1977), Black Market (1986), and The Midnight Club (1988). However, it was his novel in what would later become the best-selling Alex Cross series, Along Came a Spider, that brought Patterson popularity and secured for him a place in the line of highly acclaimed mystery fiction writers. The success of Along Came a Spider allowed Patterson to leave his job at Thompson agency and write full-time. As of 2008, there are fourteen novels in the Alex Cross series, with the fifteenth planned for publication in November 2009. Three novels in the series, Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls (1995), and Roses Are Red (2000) have been adapted for film.
The Women’s Murder Club Series
Patterson’s second popular series, the Women’s Murder Club, began with the publication of 1st to Die (2001) and has already produced seven best-selling novels, with an eighth scheduled for release in April 2009. The series is unique in that Patterson collaborated with other authors in writing six out of the seven published works—two of the novels were coauthored by Andrew Gross and four by Maxine Paetro. The Women’s Murder Club was made into a TV series by ABC in 2007 and a video-game set.
The Maximum Ride Series
Patterson’s third and most recent series began with the publication of Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (2005), a story about a group of teenagers with superpowers, and includes four installments, with a fifth scheduled for release in March 2009. The series was originally intended for teenagers and young adults but after sales indicated that the books were extremely popular with adults, the publisher adjusted its marketing and relabeled the series adult fiction. According to Publishers Weekly over six million copies of books in the series have been sold to date. A movie adaptation of the first three novels is scheduled for release in 2010.
Popularity and Monetary Success
Patterson’s popularity is reflected in his current standing as the record-holder for most books on the New York Times best-seller list, with thirty-nine titles making the list. To date, he has sold over 150 million book worldwide and according to Forbes magazine, he ranked second only to J. K. Rowling as the highest paid author of 2007, earning $50 million that year alone. The New York Times reported that he wrote one out of every fifteen books sold in the United States during 2007. Patterson is not showing any signs of slowing his productivity and has at least four new novels scheduled for release in 2009: Run for Your Life; MAX, the latest book in the Maximum Ride series; 8th Confession, the latest book in the Women’s Murder Club series; and Swimsuit. In addition to his own work, Patterson is known for his collaboration with other authors and artists, including Michael Ledwidge, Ned Rust, Leopoldo Gout, NaRae Lee, Peter DeJonge, Howard Roughan, Andrew Gross, Gabrielle Charbonnet, Hal Friedman, and Maxine Paetro. Patterson, his wife Susan, and his son Jack live in Palm Beach, Florida.
Works in Literary Context
Patterson, one of the top-selling mystery writers of all time, is known for his novels that are regarded by fans as compelling page-turners. While there is little scholarship on Patterson’s work, his popularity and high sales place him alongside contemporaries like Stephen King and Tom Clancy. Among the authors admired by Patterson are Frederick Forsyth, William Peter Blatty, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez—he has named One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) as his favorite book.
Patterson’s work belongs in the sub-genre of crime fiction. Alex Cross, Patterson’s most famous character, is a retired forensic psychologist of the Washington, D.C. Police Department who works as a private psychologist and a government consultant. In Patterson’s first best-selling novel, Along Came a Spider, Cross pursues a psychotic killer who abducts two children. Later installations in the series follow Cross as he works to solve murder mysteries. Similarly, the Women’s Murder Club series follows the activities of four intelligent and hardworking women—Lindsay Boxer, a homicide detective of the San Francisco Police Department, Cindy Thomas, an up-and-coming reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Claire Washburn, the chief medical examiner for San Francisco, and Yuki Castellano, a district attorney, as they solve crimes in San Francisco.
Works in Critical Context
Patterson’s reputation rests on the popular appeal of his fiction, which has made him one of the best-selling mystery writers in history. Many fans of his work report enjoying the suspenseful charity in his thrillers that inspire them to faithfully follow his works. Patterson’s appeal is consistent, and he regularly attains best-seller status. Despite his success, however, many critics and members ofthe literary community remain unimpressed by his style and thematic focus.
Roses Are Red
According to Time, ”In a culture that values high style over storytelling, pretty prose over popularity and pulse-pounding plots, he’s [Patterson] at the extreme wrong end of the spectrum, and he knows it. And, yes, it irks him a little.” Critics find Patterson’s page-turner style to be lacking literary significance. David Lazarus of San Francisco Chronicle wrote in his review of Roses Are Red: ”As usual, Patterson knows how to keep the pages turning, and his short, tight chapters make for a brisk pace. They do not allow for much depth, thought, which prevents Roses Are Red from getting too far into the psychological makeup of the story’s characters.”
Kiss the Girls
In her review of Kiss the Girls, ”Thriller Built on Slice-and-Dice Female victims,” published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Patricia Holt labeled the work ”loathsome” saying that the author’s ”sloppy descriptions of people betray [his] bent for lazy characterizations.” Like some of Patterson’s other critics, Holt’s main complaint is against what she calls the Female Dismemberment and Mutilation School of Mystery Writing.”
You’ve Been Warned
One of Patterson’s most recent novels, You’ve Been Warned (2007) has attracted similar criticism to his other work. The reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that ”The Patterson bestseller factory has turned out another high-drama thriller,” but added that the narration by the character Kristen is ”breathless [and] superficial … [and] doesn’t generate a lot of reader sympathy or interest in figuring out the source of her macabre experiences.”
- Gregoriou, Christiana. Deviance in Contemporary Crime Fiction. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
- Kotker, Joan G. James Patterson: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.
- Holt, Patricia. ”Thriller Built on Slice-and-Dice Female Victims.” San Francisco Chronicle (January 13, 1995): D10.
- Lazarus, David. ”Detectives and Sleuths Need Love Too.” San Francisco Chronicle (December 3, 2000): RV-6.
- Review of You’ve Been Warned. Publishers Weekly. No. 30 (July 30, 2007).
- Zvirin, S. ”Story Behind the Story.” Booklist 102, no. 18 (2006): 54.
- ”James Patterson Gets Bestsellers but No Respect.” Time 167, no. 12 (March 20, 2006): 108-116.
- James Patterson: The Official Website. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from http://www.james patterson.com/index.html.
- Rose, Lacey, and Lauren Streib. ”The World’s Best Paid Authors.” Forbes.com Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.forbes.com.
- Thornton, Matthew. ”Patterson Aplenty.” Publisher’s Weekly. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from http://www.publishersweekly.com.
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