Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
At the risk of receiving hate mail from his legion of fans, I have to admit that it’s been some years since I last read a James Patterson novel. I think I fell behind with the sheer volume of his output.
Worst Case, his latest novel (one of them this year, at least), and co-written with Michael Ledwidge, is the third in the Detective Michael Bennett series. Bennett is an unusual cop; he’s a good catholic, a widower, and a sometime basketball coach for the Holy Name varsity squad where he has two sons on the teams. The unusual bit is that I’ve never come across a crime-buster with ten kids before. This might make for a questionable scenario if you’re a reader and single working parent with even two or three growing yelpers on your hands, but Bennett seems to manage somehow, albeit with the able backup of Mary Catherine, a live-in helper with a hint of secret, unrequited passion between them.
Tasked with investigating the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy and well-connected company CEO, Bennett is joined by FBI agent Emily Parker, who has been called in after a show of ‘juice’ from the victim’s influential father. The two are led a merry chase by the kidnapper who, it soon becomes clear, seems to delight in taunting the police until finally allowing them to get the victim back. Cruelly, he’s also been teasing the victim, who has to answer a number of tough questions on the state of the world and corporate America’s place in ruining it. When the boy cannot answer them, he discovers the ultimate penalty for failure, and by the time our two cops get to him, he’s been brutally executed.
Bennett is stunned by the death. But almost before he and Parker can draw breath, another person goes missing, this one a college student and also the child of wealthy parents.
Bennett and Parker are led yet another dance, hoping against hope that they find the victim before she ends up dead. Unfortunately, they have no idea of what the killer’s real motives are, or what drives him. All Bennett knows is that the killer now has him as a primary contact and a focus for his relentless taunts against the police and the state.
Set against the background of Bennett’s busy job, internal politics and his hectic if un-partnered family life (although, as is made clear in the storyline, he’s not blind when it comes to Emily Parker’s finer points, and she clearly finds him an intriguing figure, boisterous coop of kids or not), it’s rare enough in American crime fiction for a cop and an FBI agent to get on without moodily biting chunks out of each other, let alone having mutual feelings. But these two make a good-natured and attractive pairing.
That aside, this might be seen as fairly standard fare as the serial killer toys with the almost-there-but-one-step-behind genial and sympathetic law officers. And so it is, to an extent. But with strong overtones of corporate greed gone mad, and one man’s insane desire to make ‘them’ pay, it’s the killer with a raging conscience who fairly bounces off the page, whereas the others do not in quite the same way. Maybe it’s because his motivation is unusual enough to be intriguing, and the contrast of the two other main characters are likeable enough to lift this above the ordinary.
There is clearly potential here for a series, although it remains to be seen if the authors will bring Bennett (and maybe Parker) back. They’ve given them a good line in easy humour, the background cast of characters is strong and Bennett’s desire to fight evil is evident, even if over-egged by his words: “I only want what all parents want, a nice place for their kids to grow up in.” Oh, dear.
My only quibble was that I found the ending a little sudden, as if someone had decided the page count had been reached, so let’s wrap it up. That said, it will please Patterwidge fans and it will be interesting to read more of Michael Bennett.