Friday, November 13, 2009

Cross about Cross Country

I waited impatiently for Cross Country to go paperback or for a hardcover edition to turn up at my local thrift store. No offence intended, Mr. Patterson, it's just that I'm retired on disability and have a limited income. Finally I saw the paperback at Costco and snagged it as a treat to myself.

Patterson's Alex Cross mysteries are among my favorite popular novels and if things were different I'd have a complete hardcover collection of them to read again and again. I've found an Alex Cross novel to be the ultimate brain candy, a guaranteed good read.

Like all Patterson novels, the Cross series novels are action packed page turners. But it's really the character Patterson has created in Alex Cross that causes me to wait impatiently for the next novel. Cross is a man I'd like to meet and be friends with . Trained as a clinical psychologist, Cross is intelligent, analytical, and gifted in terms of understanding the abnormal behavior of criminals. But more than that, he is warm, a loyal friend, a devoted family man of solid values, but no saint. I enjoy the interaction of Cross with his friends and family, especially Nana Mama who reminds me of my paternal grandmother.

So I was disappointed to discover several elements of Cross Country that made it a poor read. First, Cross has always done his best to guard his family against the dangerous types he comes across in his work. In Cross Country, Alex Cross has an agenda that bumps "family first" off the top of his priorities list. A murder occurs in D.C. and Cross decides to track the killers) back to Africa. A most improbable scenario to begin with. He ignores his family's pleas and disregards their safety as he takes off in pursuit of the killer. Soon the reader is adrift in the nightmare Cross walks into when he arrives in Africa.

Not only have we lost the Alex Cross we thought we knew, but we're plunged into the atrocities Cross finds everywhere he turns. The novel becomes seriously depressing and gruesome as Patterson recreates brutal crimes that have become a part of daily life in numerous areas in Africa. While I'd be the first to agree that novels can inform and educate, can help us understand and develop empathy for others, I've got to say that if that was Patterson's goal here, I think he failed to achieve it. Most readers who pick up Cross Country are looking for a typical Cross novel in the sense of the protagonist being the Cross we've come to know and love. I doubt anyone picked it up for a political lesson. I've heard from a number of Cross fans they they just couldn't finish the book; they found it too disappointing in terms of their expectations and too gruesome. I read through to the end, determined to get my $7.00 worth. While I was sick reading about the horrific crimes in Africa, this novel did not educate me further and did little to gain my empathy for the victims. Rather the bloodbath was just "action" around Cross. If Patterson is interested in gaining sympathy for the victims of such crimes and support for changes then he'd be better off interviewing some victims and telling their story, first making the readers care about the victims as people.

Cross in Cross Country wasn't as intelligent, as analytical, as clever, as caring as the character I longed to read about. I missed the easy banter with the wise and opinionated Nana Mama. And I thought Alex Cross and his girlfriend Bree lost a little of their appeal as they acted more like teenagers on a hormone high. How about giving Alex Cross a good whack up side the head and a good talking to with his therapist to help him get himself back together?

There's a new Alex Cross novel out on he shelves and it's calling my name but now I'm hesitant to heed it's call. I might just wait for that one to turn up in the thrift store rather than waste my money on another disappointment.

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