Wednesday, September 1, 2010


THE POSTCARD KILLERS by James Patterson and Liza Marklund (Little, Brown, 2010)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

You know the raging success of Scandinavian crime writing is permeating the wider books world when prolific #1 bestseller James Patterson decides he wants a piece of the action. More than a year ago news started filtering through that Patterson was looking to hop on board the Schwedenkrimi bullet train by pairing up with acclaimed Viking Queen Liza Marklund, one of the most popular authors across major European markets herself (#12 overall, according to the 2008/2009 Wischenbart survey).

And now, the fictional love child disgorged from the literary loins that sired Alex Cross and the Women's Murder Club, and mother and tabloid crime reporter Annika Bengtzon, is on show for all the world to see; POSTCARD KILLERS was recently released.

In POSTCARD KILLERS, touted as "the scariest vacation thriller ever," NYPD cop Jacob Kanon has been chasing a pair of vicious killers across the capitals and holiday hotspots of Europe. Killers who kick-started their murderous spree by butchering his beloved daughter and her fiancé in Rome. Before each murder, a postcard is sent to a local newspaper, but the police remain largely clueless as the murderers run free. When Stockholm-based crime reporter Dessie Larsson receives the latest note, she and Kanon eventually team up to try to stop the killers once and for all.

Since he began co-opting co-authors to help accelerate his sales juggernaut, Patterson's tales have become mixed, at best (but bestselling regardless) – often formulaic, and never really scaling the heights of his earliest works. Unfortunately for readers hoping that Marklund's input would add some of the depth and substance apparent in many Swedish crime novels, Patterson's paint by numbers style filled with relatively thin characters clearly dominates the partnership here.

While you'll want to know what happens, there is far too much telling rather than showing; everything is spelled out for the reader and there is little subtext, resulting in an insubstantial feeling. What passes for attempts at character development are generally clumsy or clichéd, and the authors' hand is often far too obvious. The characters say things for the benefit of the reader, rather than their growing organically from the story or character. Likewise, it seems incidents and moments are tossed in in a gimmicky way, perhaps in an attempt to shock the reader or to allow the boxes to be ticked, like the script of a bad Hollywood movie that thinks having a sex scene instantly makes the storyline 'sexy', or having a car chase or shootout instantly makes it 'gripping' or 'thrilling'.

Patterson (and Marklund, though you wonder how much she contributed) fill what is a very 'thin' feeling book with distractions, rather than depth. THE POSTCARD KILLERS is very much style over substance, and the style isn't even as unique, clever, or interesting as the authors seem to assume it will be. While Patterson still has some talent for creating some page-turning momentum (the ultra-short chapters help with that too), there are many other thriller writers out there just as good - in fact, many who are much better - at plot, while also providing much, much more when it comes to character, setting, social issues, and dialogue.

Some readers and critics have begun referring to Patterson as something of a 'McDonald's of crime writing' - his conveyer-belt publishing of recent years seemingly akin to the fast food giant. Unfortunately this latest effort, despite Marklund's involvement, does nothing to dissuade such a view, and in fact strongly reinforces it. Because like fast food, the page-turning POSTCARD KILLERS may appeal to the masses, and even briefly sate your hunger while devouring it - if there's nothing better on offer - but soon afterwards you'll be left feeling hungry again, unsatisfied and wanting something more.

Something different, and better.

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