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Customer Review

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A pedestrian return to psychological thrillers: 3.5 stars, August 12, 2009
This review is from: The Spire: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Richard North Patterson has written some truly gripping thrillers in his day. The compelling Eyes of a Child springs to mind immediately as an example of what this writer can do when he's on top form -- a rollercoaster ride, where the reader never really knows which way is up and who to trust. Unfortunately, in this return to the genre (after recent books that have too often been tedious reads set in the world of presidential politics and the supreme court, where Patterson allowed his passion for causes like gun control to take priority over the telling of a great story, a big no-no in my opinion), the bad guy was obvious to me from very nearly his first appearance on the scene, long before the commission of any crime. (I can't say why without a giant spoiler, alas.) So my only question revolved around the specifics of 'how', and a bit of the 'why', rather than the 'who'. The result? A disappointing book.

The plot revolves around Mark Darrow, a lawyer who owes his current life and career to his football scholarship to Caldwell College and, especially, to his mentor, philosophy professor Lionel Farr. Now, Farr calls on the recently-widowed and directionless Darrow to give back to his alma mater, asking him to return as the college's president and rebuild its reputation in the wake of an embezzlement that the last president seems to have orchestrated. Together with the murder of a young African-American female student in Darrow's final year, a crime of which Darrow's best friend was convicted, this scandal leaves Caldwell College vulnerable, and Darrow accepts the challenge.

It's an intriguing premise, but it never really pans out. The characters' relationships (with the exception of those between Darrow and Farr and his daughter) are very sketchily developed and never really convincing. The plot twists were modest and telegraphed in advance, and the whole book felt rushed. Patterson himself has tackled this theme -- that of a man going back to the place where he came of age, solving a contemporary crime as well as one in the hero's past -- before in one of his best books, Silent Witness, and did it again with a female protagonist in the book now titled Caroline Masters. One of the strengths of those two books were Patterson's courtroom scenes, which are typically fabulous -- and which are absent in this book, which wraps up not in a trial with Perry Mason-style fireworks but in a series of sudden revelations that appear suddenly at the end of the book.

This is a ho-hum effort by Patterson, and I'd recommend it only to the author's die-hard fans who have already read his other books. For those new to Patterson's works, by all means seek out -- as rapidly as possible -- books like those above as well as Degree of Guilt or Dark Lady. Generally, I'd advise getting this from a library, and turning to other thrillers, like those by Greg Iles or Thomas Perry, if you're in search of some real dramatic tension.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 29, 2009 11:10:42 PM PDT
Brian Baker says:
Really good and helpful review. I'd given up on Patterson some time back because he'd become a preacher rather than a storyteller. Same reason I gave up on Grisham.

I certainly agree that Iles and Perry are terrific writers.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 3, 2009 9:13:50 AM PDT
If memory serves me correctly Silent Witness and Caroline Masters is the same book. Don't know why it was released with the same titles.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 13, 2009 4:07:25 PM PDT
S. McGee says:
Caroline Masters was released under a different title, but it wasn't Silent Witness. The latter is the story of football star-turned-lawyer Tony Lord, who goes back to Ohio to help his friend Sam Robb, accused of murdering a young student. The case has echoes of the murder of Tony's high school girlfriend in his final months in his hometown. It has uncanny plot parallels to this book, but is exponentially better.

Posted on Sep 17, 2009 1:02:57 PM PDT
Kelly Fenn says:
I am a huge fan of Robert North Patterson, but I agree -- the villian's identity was patently obvious very early in the book.

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 7:44:46 AM PDT
I think that McGee was very generous to give this book three stars. Richard North Patterson is high on my list of favorite authors. This reviewer covered my criticisms but was far too kind. I cannot believe that Patterson wrote this banal book! I have only read half of the book, but I will probably write it off and remember to read reviews before I order books. The premise is trite, the characters flat, the mystery already solved for me in the first half of the book. I would not recommend this book to ANYONE. I agree with the advice to read Isles and Perry. I would also recommend John Lutz for thrillers. This book certainly did not fit that category. What a disappointment!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 30, 2010 10:10:46 AM PDT
S. McGee says:
Yvette, I have just finished the new Patterson novel, which will be out in May, I believe, and I'm just as disappointed in it as with this one, albeit for slightly different reasons. It's at least a return to a courtroom mystery, but everything is very flat and dull. I'm going to stick to re-reading his older books in future, and not bother with the new ones. That's three strikes in a row for Patterson, IMO. I do tend to be kinder to authors who've had a streak of good books, because even a book that I didn't enjoy much, like the Spire, still has a nostalgia appeal of sorts to m any readers. Had it been a first book by an author, I probably would have been more harsh. Oh well, must write the "three strikes and out" review for In the Name of Honor...

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 30, 2010 10:30:18 AM PDT
Thanks for the heads up! I think part of the problem is that authors are not making as much money as they used to and are, therefore, going towards being prolific. I loved your review. Although I have a master's degree in English, I don't have the time to write a thorough critique. I edit an empirical research journal. After doing that all day, I want my novels to be engaging, stimulating, and well-written. I look forward to your other reviews. We are definitely on the same track.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 7, 2010 7:39:54 PM PDT
S. McGee says:
Yvette, just posted my review of In the Name of Honor, FYI. I waited a few days to be sure I wasn't be hyper-critical and decided that it was actually even more disappointing than I had originally felt... Oh well, thankfully I now have an advance copy of the sequel to Olen Steinhauer's marvellous The Tourist to sink my teeth into. True, it's not a courtroom drama, but I have high hopes for it.
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