Normally I'm content to live and let live where author James Patterson is concerned. Sure, I think he's an unbelievable hack and all that is wrong with the state of American fiction and consumers' current reading habits. But, as he typically writes (or contracts with others to write) thrillers, which are not my cup of tea, I don't tend to think much about him at all. I don't, for example, hate him with the heat of a thousand white-hot suns, the way I hate Thomas Friedman. Thomas Friedman is special for me that way.
But now the man is starting to come out with nonfiction titles, which is where I'm going to have to draw the line. His first title was a "medical thriller" titled Against Medical Advice (co-authored with Hal Friedman), which I glanced at but didn't read. I did note, however, that it was at least superficially a book that could pass for adult reading--more than twenty words on a page, chapters that were sometimes longer than 2 or 3 pages, and at least a half-hearted attempt at putting together a cohesive medical tale. But now? Now he's come out with something called The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King--A Nonfiction Thriller (it's co-authored by Martin Dugard). I thought, well, I'm interested in Egypt. I thought, I should really keep up with what Patterson is doing, because readers do seem to love him. So I checked it out.
And, much like Jodi Picoult, I find that nobody can illustrate quite how bad James Patterson is better than Patterson himself. I submit, from the second chapter:
"'This is James Patterson calling. Is Michael around? I have a mystery story to tell him.'
As most people would expect, I love a good mystery, and I thought I might have unearthed a real doozy to write about, which was why I had put in a call to my editor at Little, Brown, Michael Pietsch, who is also the publisher.
As I waited for Michael to come on the line--he usually takes my calls, night or day*--I looked around my second-floor office. Am I completely mad? I wondered.
The last thing I needed right now was another writing project. I already had a new Alex Cross novel on the fires, and a Women's Murder Club brewing, and a Maximum Ride to finish. In fact, there were twenty-four manuscripts--none of them yet completed--laid out on the expansive desk surface that occupies most of my office..."
The mystery that Patterson was calling Pietsch about was a book about the life and supposed murder of King Tut, with alternating chapters from 1300s BC, and the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Howard Carter was excavating Tut's tomb. Even a cursory glance at his book indicates something is slightly off. If your third-grader brought this book home, you would look it over and say, "Honey, shouldn't you be reading something harder than this by now? Where are my tax dollars going?" It literally looks like an easy reader for kids just out of picture books.
I should have put in the half hour it would have taken to read the whole thing so I could critique it properly, but I'm now getting to an age where I am too protective of each of my half-hours. Fie on you, Patterson, and your book assembly line.
*I'll bet he takes your calls, since I'm assuming you've made him massively rich and he is, in fact, probably contractually obligated to kiss your ass at all times.