The People Versus Alex Cross by James Patterson (Little, Brown, 2017)
Alex Cross, subject of James Patterson's 25th book in this venerable, fast paced detective series, is in big time trouble again. Even though his great nemesis is dead, Gary Soneji has a way of plaguing Alex from the grave, through his son, Dylan Winslow, and dastardly accomplices.
Using one of the major themes of today's headlines, Cross has been accused of being a murderous cop, having mowed down four innocent people in a warehouse. But Cross, defended by Anita Marley and his niece, Naomi, whom Cross had once saved in a kidnapping, knows that all four “victims” had approached him with guns in their hands. As he and his family approach the courthouse for the opening of the case, the press screams at him, “Talk to us, Cross! . . .Are you the problem? Are you and our cowboy ways what the police have become in America? Above the law?” Alex cannot refrain from retorting, “No one is above the law.” (p.17) Throughout the novel Cross goes through the excruciating ordeal of explaining how he saw guns in the hands of the people he shot; yet, a video tape of the incident that is found clearly shows, the dead and wounded are unarmed. How can Alex possibly prove that he is innocent of the crime that could end his care and send him to prison, away from his beloved wife, Bree, his children, Damon, Jannie, and Ali, and his elderly grandmother, Nana Mama?
But the trial of Alex Cross is not the focal point of this novel. The story opens with a twelve year old boy, armed with an iPhone4 camera, who is snooping on two lovely blonde teens out in the woods, making love in a car. Titillated by observing the lesbians, Timmy is startled when another vehicle disrupts the girls and suddenly he hears the blondes scream for help. He has the presence of mind to fit a doubling lens to his phone to get better resolution in order to photograph the license plate of the van that has suddenly appeared and Timmy intends to take the pictures to the police. Unfortunately, Timmy never gets to do that as the perpetrators of the kidnapping find him first and stop him.
Cross's long time partner, John Sampson catches the case and brings Cross into the mystery, even though as a defendant in a murder trial Cross is supposed to refrain from investigating anything related to an active police investigation. Although Cross has re-established his practice as a clinical psychologist to keep him busy during the period of litigation, when Sampson comes to him with a kidnapping and shooting case at Washington Latin Public Charter School, where nine year old Ali Cross attends school, Cross cannot refrain from taking an active role in looking into the disappearance of blonde girls.
And, little Ali, like the boy Timmy before him, had had the presence of mind to videotape the abduction of the girl at his school. When the detectives view Ali's video “The footage was shaky at first, but then steadied, showing three men in dark coveralls and masks dragging a screaming blond teenage girl across the terrace in front of the chart school toward Second Street. . . 'That Gretchen Lindel, Dad,' Ali said. 'She's like a junior.'” (p.30) On trial or not, Cross must get involved.
The Cross series has been a perennial favorite since the first, Along Came a Spider, because despite the fast pacing of short chapters, Patterson packs in a lot of background information on the Cross and Sampson families that keep the reader invested in the story of the characters. They all matter to us, and all of them have suffered a lot of trauma in their lives. Yet, in each book, despite many challenges they prevail, though often not without a high cost. During The People Versus Alex Cross, the detective begins to examine his life as a cop and wonders if it is time for him to leave the force. He muses, “The evening before, I'd been telling Bree that I wanted to get out of police work, away from dangerous moments like these when the adrenaline starts to drip an your senses get super-sharp and super-clear. But as I shut the door and Batra started the engine, I knew a part of me could never leave the police game. Not entirely Being a psychologist had its own deep and fruitful rewards, but it could never replace the rush of catching bad guys, ending their dark work, and seeing them get punishment.” (p. 367)
There are several parallels in this novel that make it thought provoking as well. The book begins with an adolescent boy filming an event in the woods, using the technology of the day to try and save two girls in big trouble. Later, Ali Cross, though a very young child, not only films the kidnapping of a school mate, he becomes determined to find the answer to why his father believes that he saw guns in the hands of the people he shot, yet the video of the incident no guns are visible in their hands. The theme of the power of technology, particularly in the very young, definitely provides food for thought for the reader.
Secondly, the irony of the kidnapping case of young girls is not lost on readers who remember when Cross's niece was abducted, and Alex was determined to get her home alive. In this novel, Naomi, is getting an opportunity to save her Uncle Alex by defending him in court. Clearly, she has managed to rise above her ghosts and make her life into a productive, meaningful journey, trying to come to Uncle Alex's rescue.
Patterson's Cross series never disappoints. The books are a one day read for an avid reader, and when one closes he final page, there is a sense of satisfaction, along with the knowledge that it will be about a year before Alex Cross and company are with us again.