Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review: 1st to Die by James Patterson (Women's Murder Club #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Strong plot; interesting main character
Cons: Weak supporting characters; bad ending
The Bottom Line:
Yes, several flaws
But I found myself pulled in
To book and series

Forming the Women's Murder Club

Given my general dislike of graphic violence or sex, I have avoided James Patterson.  Still, I was curious enough when his Women's Murder Club novels were turned into an ABC show several years ago to watch.  I found myself enjoying them enough that when a friend offered to loan me the novels, I took him up on it.  1st to Die, the first in the series, was a mixed bag.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the books revolve around four women who have banded together to share clues and brainstorm about big cases behind the backs of their male co-workers.  Lindsay Boxer is a homicide inspector with the San Francisco Police Department and our narrator for most of the book.  Claire Washburn has been Lindsay's best friend for years and is a medical examiner.  Cindy Thomas is the third member.  She's just gotten promoted form the lifestyle pages to the crime desk of the San Francisco Chronicle.  Round out the group is Jill Bernhardt, the assistant D.A.

The day started out bad enough.  Lindsay has been given the news that she has a serious and rare health condition that might be life threatening.  But that's nothing compared to what comes next.

Even for a seasoned cop the crime scene was grisly.  David and Melanie Brandt were killed on their wedding night.  And the crimes were bloody and brutal.  Yet there is very little left behind in the ways of clues for Lindsay to follow.

When things heat up with a second killing a week later, Lindsay begins to think outside the box.  That's when she pulls together Claire and Cindy to help her come up with a new angle.  As things progress, they bring Jill into their group as well.  Can these four women catch the killer?

This is one of those books where, a few days after I finished it, I still can't quite decide what I think of it.  As I expected, the book was much more gruesome then I normally like.  The crimes have a sexual nature to them as well, which doesn't help my feelings about them at all.  And the ladies' discussions about their sex lives or the pointless scenes about Lindsay's love life didn't help.  But again, I knew these would be issues going into the book and was more than willing to overlook them.

So, really, the flaws with the book come from the standard plot and character levels.

The main mystery plot is very strong with a couple good twists along the way.  On the other hand, the dust jacket gives away a key plot point before you even read page one.  Without that, I think the twist it spoiled would have taken me by surprise.  As it was, there were other twists I didn't expect.

On the other hand, the ending was extremely weak.  Out of left field weak.  Tacked on to the end of the book weak.  I really expected better of someone of Patterson's stature.  And the sub-plot about Lindsay's health crisis was completely pointless.  It slowed things down.  Frankly, this is the kind of thing that would have worked better several books in when we already know the characters.

Lindsay is the only character I felt was a fully form character.  Maybe it was because of the health issues, but I think it was because she is the narrator and real main character.  The other three woman aren't nearly as well fleshed out.  Jill especially is a cardboard character.  The villain is memorable and well developed, however.

You do have to suspend disbelief to swallow how quickly these women bond, especially with Cindy.  But I do like this aspect of the book, so I was willing to do just that.

The book is written mostly first person from Lindsay's point of view.  The occasional chapter is written from the killer's point of view or one of the other women's in third person.  These are always easy to follow.  There are lots of chapters here.  I would guess the average chapter length is 5 pages.  Whether it makes the book easier to read or not, I did fly through the book very quickly.

I will admit I probably wouldn't go out of my way to continue the series, but since I do have easy access to the books, I'll keep reading them.  1st to Die isn't bad, but it's not great either.

Here are the Women's Murder Club Mysteries in order.

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