On a cruise ship books can make the rounds, passing from one reader to another fairly quickly. Two others in my group read Step On a Crack by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge before I did. They both agreed that the book was not very good (to paraphrase their summaries as gently as possible), so it’s fair to say that my expectations were low when I picked up the book.
My expectations were met. Had I something else to read, I would have put this thing down around chapter four and never looked back. (The chapters are very short). The first sentence is a confused and awkward bit of imagery (the back of a jacket turns away…) and that sets the tone for the whole book. We start with a murder, the untimely demise of one of the finest people the world has ever known. Her highly-trained bodyguards, who have been protecting her for several years now, are apparently unable to respond to what should be a routine medical emergency. It seems no one told them that their charge was deathly allergic to peanuts so they weren’t able to do anything about it. Oops! (The bad guy knew about her allergy, however, well enough to execute a months-long plot to infiltrate a fancy restaurant in order to put peanut oil on her dinner. Wow.) On top of that, somehow on this particular night the woman forgot to pack her own medicine. And so begins the work of the greatest criminal mastermind of the century.
But wait! Before we go any further with tales of murder and mayhem, it’s time to meet a whole bunch of Perfect People. These people do nothing to influence the plot of the story; they’re too busy being perfect. Perfect children. A perfect stranger to take perfect care of the perfect children in the time of crisis. Perfect people everywhere, doing the perfect things with perfect consistency. Bleeargh. Did I mention they have nothing to do with the plot? They are there, in fact, to perfectly NOT encumber the detective we will be following as the threadbare story develops.
Begin the crime of the century. A crime so big and so audacious it must be the work of a criminal genius. How do we know? Because the authors tell us so. With exclamation points! And occasional nonsensical italics! The NYPD is starting to look like a bunch of incompetent fools, and the press is going to have a field day. If hostages are killed, the press will rake our hero over the coals.
Only, hostages die, and for a long time it looks like the bad guys are winning, but the authors can’t be bothered to portray the actual coal-raking. In fact, the stakes for the good guys never escalate. There is no heat. (One reporter does criticize our hero in her paper, but then immediately expresses remorse and stops her persecution — taking her own step toward perfection before she can cause too much trouble for the authors.)
Then there’s the time the detective walks in and finds his grandfather dressed as a priest! (That’s their exclamation point, not mine.) Wow! what a shock! Only, it turns out that Grandpa has been a priest for years, everyone knows it, and seeing him dressed that way was no shock to anyone. The authors were just yanking our chain a bit. Whee.
Meanwhile, most of the hostages experience life-changing revelations. The perfect hostages become perfecter(!). The imperfect ones get better! For instance, the ‘fashionista’ resolves to go to rehab and stop being such a bitch all the time. Once she makes that decision, that’s it for her in this story. She makes a promise to herself to undergo a complete personality realignment and we believe her and move on. Well, the authors seem to believe her. I’m skeptical.
I hate to spoil it for you, but the good guys win in the end. In fact, they don’t have to work very hard to defeat the brilliant criminal mastermind. Sure, the bad guys got away at first, but just a little routine investigating and bam, there you have it. To avoid the authors having to get too clever, the criminals conveniently explain all the loose ends for us.
I finished the book. It didn’t take long; the type is big and there’s about fifty pages worth of blank space between chapters. One-third of what is left is a sentimental parade of sap that does nothing for the story. I set the book aside and decided not to review it here. There’s plenty of awful prose out there; you don’t need my help finding it. Then I read the back cover. “THE STUNNING #1 BESTSELLER” it says right across the top. Then it lists several newspapers who listed the book as a top-seller. What!?! This book?
I’m stunned, anyway. I decided to write a little review after all, not so much to criticize the book as the system that allowed it to attain such stature.
Usually, even with books or authors I don’t like, I can understand at least to a certain degree how they became successful. Dan Brown’s not very good but he has excellent pacing and managed to anger the right people. This book leaves me baffled.
Some guy at Booklist says, “Totally gripping and downright impossible to put down.” Gripping? No. No it isn’t. The characters are boring, there is no escalation of the stakes (unforgivable in a thriller), no character growth, not a breath of humanity anywhere to be found in these pages. The criminal plot depends on the incompetence of the good guys. Potentially gut-wrenching scenes are glossed over so we can get back to the Perfect People for another dose of sentimentality. Not gripping. USA Today chimes in as well, along with Publisher’s Weekly and a handful of book-review Web sites. Did they read a different version? One without so much suck in it? Are these people even literate?
Don’t waste your time with this book. In fact, just to be on the safe side, stay away from Patterson entirely until he proves this was just a fluke. Probably best to stay away from books published by Little, Brown, and Company (responsible for the hardcover version of this fluff) or by Vision. Somewhere there is an editor who approved this book, and I want to make sure I never encounter anything else that crossed her desk. As long as we’re learning from the mistakes of others, it’s time to take Booklist a lot less seriously as well.
The only explanation for the sales that I can come up with is the name: James Patterson. Apparently he’s pretty famous. Bookstores will pre-order a lot of copies, which drives the rankings up, which drives sales by people who won’t even read the first sentence of the story before taking it home. If it weren’t for the big name, not many people would have read the second sentence of this thing. The few that were carried through the first part by the suggestion of sex would have bailed out soon thereafter.
Is Mr. Patterson concerned about protecting his name? It doesn’t look like it. This book can’t be good for his reputation, no matter what the sales were. (I am assuming that at some point he wrote good books to establish his reputation.) He can read, I’d be willing to bet; he must know this novel is junk. Eventually, people are going to hesitate to pick up his next title, after getting insulted by a previous purchase.
Ooo! Or maybe — just maybe, mind you — Michael Ledwidge knows something. Something James Patterson would rather not become public. You see where I’m going with this? Ledwidge wrote the book but somehow coerced Patterson into putting his name on the thing as well. Farfetched? It’s a lot more plausible than the story in Step on a Crack.
And can someone tell me what that title had to do with anything?
Note: if for some reason you ignore my dire warnings and use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.