Friday, 24 June 2011

Book review: "Double Cross" by James Patterson

I picked up this novel for 33 pence in a church jumble sale. James Patterson is famous as being a writer with a voracious output, someone who has had nineteen consecutive best sellers in the New York Times list. As such I really wanted to read one of his novels, especially as his forte is crime, a genre that I love.

Double Cross features Alex Cross, a retired Washington DC detective / psychologist who has been the subject of many of Patterson's previous books. The author does a reasonable job of introducing Alex Cross to a new reader, despite the obvious history that has developed in the earlier books. However, this might perhaps be because Cross is an exceptionally one-dimensional character.

My first impressions were not good. Where most writers split the actions into scenes, and then aggregate scenes into chapters, Patterson just uses chapters. Hence the 437-page book has a remarkable 126 chapters, and  feels satisfyingly weighty in the hand. Unfortunately this effect is reached by leaving lots of white space - not just at the start and end of the many chapters, but half-line gaps between each line of text.

This can, of course, be excused if the reader wants a book that he or she can dip into or out of on a train or bus - the chapters make it easy to find where they were in the book, and the large font makes it easy to scan. Unfortunately it also makes it look as though it was printed for an eight-year old to read.

The book fails in both characterisation and plotting: Alex Cross comes across poorly; perhaps Patterson felt no need to give his character any depth because his readers already knew him. If this is the case, then making all the other characters flimsy and insubstantial as well was unforgivable.

However the plotting was far worse. The main plot features a killer who kills his victims in public, an interesting idea that, for the obvious reasons needs to be handled well. It is easy to write a story where the killer performs dastardly deeds in some darkened deserted den, but much harder to write a realistic one where the murders occur in front of hundreds of bystanders. Yet it is hard to believe that the killer would escape from each of the murders described within the book.

In one scene - sorry, chapter - he kills an actor in the middle of a packed-out play. The killer jumps up through a trapdoor in the stage wielding a gun and covers the actor in a  flammable gel before giving a soliloquy to the audience. Only then does he set fire to the actor and escape backstage. None of the audience, other actors or backstage workers tried in any way to stop him either committing the murder or escaping. I would think that even the presence of a gun would not stop the many people backstage from tackling the killer. The killer is shown planning the murder in detail, yet he leaves his escape to pure chance.

And this is just one of the problems. Frankly the reader does not so much require suspension of disbelief as to put their mind in neutral. Which is perhaps the primary purpose of the book: to entertain readers without them having to really think.

Reading Double Cross was a turgid, flacid and limp experience. Where good literature should stretch the reader's mind, this filled mine with anonymous gunk. It was the literary equivalent of watching the illegitimate love-child of Big Brother and Pop Idol.

I really want my 33 pence back.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


hat-tip to my mate Neil:

This is an absolutely amazing video, an utter blast from the past. See how many of the old 8-bit games you recognise.

The only downside: There was no Elite. Then again, that had vector rather than pixel graphics...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

"for sure"

I am a great Formula 1 fan. I try to watch - or at least listen - to all of the races. Whilst on the Coastwalk I could not get Radio 5 on my radio in time for a GP. I was going through woodland near Eilleen Donan castle, frustrated by tracks that were marked on the map but did not seem to exist on the ground. Fortunately I did have a mobile signal, and I phoned a friend to see who was doing what in the race, clasping the phone to my face as low branches assaulted me.

I am that sad.

One thing that infuriates me is the way that 'for sure' has seeped into the language of the sport. There can hardly be an interview in F1 where a driver or technician does not utter the two words. This has led to a rumour that there is a bet amongst the drivers/team principles/commentators about who can say it the most on broadcasts.

The problem is that I am hearing it everywhere. I was just listening to an interview with an American political commentator who said 'For sure, Mitt Romney is the front-runner...'. Other politicians have used to recently as well.

The phrase is essentially meaningless. If you say something, you should be sure about it. If you are not sure, you state your uncertainty.

It has got to the stage where I cringe when I hear it. For sure.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

10 more walks on the website

I have been a rather busy bunny over the last month or so. These walks include some more of the Viking Way, a stroll through London, a group walk with some of my family and a brilliant few days on the North Norfolk Coast Path.

No.LocationDistance (m)Date Walked
904A circular walk between Cromer and Sheringham10.325/05/2011
903Wells-next-the-Sea to Sheringham19.824/05/2011
902Hunstanton to Wells-next-the-Sea23.823/05/2011
901A circular walk between Fulletby and Donington on Bain17.418/05/2011
900A linear walk from Woodhall Spa to Fulletby and return22.017/05/2011
899Lincoln to Woodhall Spa24.416/05/2011
898Limehouse to Hayes23.902/05/2011
897A circular walk between Uttoxeter and Denstone20.923/04/2011
896Ancaster to Lincoln20.619/04/2011
895Bottesford to Ancaster20.318/04/2011

Some brilliant walks and stunning weather. I think I am addicted to this walking lark...