Saturday, June 13, 2020

“1st to Die” by James Patterson – Friendship Forged in Crime

1st to Die by James Patterson (Book cover)
James Patterson might conceivably be one of, if not the most prolific author of thriller literature in the modern era. The Women's Murder Club is one of the many series he has running, and the title which kicked it off, 1st to Die, takes us to a San Francisco shocked and reeling from the recent crimes of a serial killer.

In the midst of widespread fear and panic, four crime-solving friends bond together to find the culprit, each one holding part of the key to the solution.

James Patterson Sends his Sleuths for the First Hunt

Murder mysteries have become so profoundly-entrenched in our culture it's become virtually impossible to make your way through life without coming into contact with them, and as is the case for most people, develop a certain fascination for the enigmas they present.

While we all understand a murder mystery implies, well, murder, I think most of us would still love, on some level, to put on our sleuth uniforms and solve one for ourselves.

Perhaps thankfully, this isn't a realistic dream for most of us, but not the four crime-solving friends in James Patterson's 1st to Die, the start of the Women's Murder Club Series.

The idea behind this story is quite simple, taking us to a San Francisco stunned and terrified by the recent actions of a serial killer whom the police can't even begin to get close to.

While most people prefer to stay within the safe confines of their homes, four lady friends decide to take matters into their own hands, forming the Women's Murder Club to begin a collaboration outside the box.

These four women in question aren't just anyone. Lindsay Boxer is an actual homicide inspector for the San Francisco Police Department, Jill Bernhardt is an assistant District Attorney, Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, and Cindy Thomas works for the crime desk of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

In other words, they're much better-equipped than any average sleuth could hope to be, but even their combined powers might prove insufficient in capturing perhaps the most dangerous serial killer the city has ever known.

The Investigative Alleyways of San Francisco in 1st to Die

If you're already familiar with James Patterson's works, then I think you already know more or less what to expect from this novel in terms of pacing and structure. As is traditional for the genre, the chapters are very short and go straight to the point, sustaining a very high pace from start to finish, leaving the reader with almost literally no room to get bored.

At the same time, events still follow a very clear, linear and logical progression which makes them very easy to keep up with and remember, regardless of how quickly they tend to go by. In other words, I think it's safe to say Patterson has mastered the thriller structure as much as humanly possible, with even the nature of his prose being moulded around it.

Anyhow, let's move past the technical details and look at the main attraction of this novel: the murder mystery. James Patterson hasn't developed his reputation out of nowhere, and once again the actual mystery, full of convincing red herrings, twists to anticipate, and is air-tight in its structure.

I found the plot was exceptionally strong when it came to misdirecting my train of thought and defying the expectations it itself set before me. Additionally, the investigation itself is done through many different venues as you can imagine, with our heroines all working in different fields (legal, medical, judicial and law enforcement) which are relevant to the crimes at hand in one way or another.

I think the ways in which the different fields interacted and complemented each other was fascinating to observe and played a major role in making the investigation feel lively and, for lack of a better word, simply fun.

Bound by Ruin

I did say this book was very fast-paced and straight to the point, but it certainly wouldn't be a typical James Patterson gem if he didn't manage to somehow also fit in a good amount of character development.

Now, don't get me wrong: most of the people we meet are described only to the extent the story requires them to be, forever retaining the roles of nebulous extras on a stage with much more important characters. However, when it comes to our four protagonists, it's an entirely different story.

Patterson does give us a few brief descriptions here and there as well as short expository glimpses into their inner worlds, but I feel he most heavily ascribes to the character development approach which pulls more towards the realm of cinema: show, don't tell.

Indeed, we learn quite a bit about these women from simply watching how they react to the developments in the plot, how they interact with other people, with each other, and so on and so forth.

While not every author can pull off this type of character development, I feel like this specific aspect of writing is something Patterson perfected to such an extent I felt it was a book about people as much as a murder mystery by the end of it.

1st to Die by James Patterson (Book cover)
Thankfully, I found all four of the characters to be likeable in their own ways, but also realistic when it came to their flaws and personal goals. Also, I feel I should mention it's not every day you're going to find a male author who can write a convincing and natural cast of all-female characters, so hats off to Patterson in this regard.

The Final Verdict

1st to Die is a high-quality James Patterson murder mystery novel, with an excellent and twisted investigation which defies our expectations at many turns, led by a group of interesting protagonists I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of (this is the first book out of twenty in the Women's Murder Club series).

If you enjoy murder mystery thrillers to any extent, then I believe it's a no-brainer to say you will very much enjoy the experience this novel has to offer.

James B. Patterson (Author)

James B. Patterson

Personal site

James Patterson is an American writer who has dedicated a large part of his literary career to writing murder-related thrillers, inventing in the process two memorable character-based series in Alex Cross and Michael Bennett.

His most prominent works include Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.

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