Well, there I was in a waiting room…waiting. And waiting. Luckily, I did not enter it empty-handed. I grabbed a James Patterson – Andrew Gross thriller called Judge & Jury and took it along for the trip. Like many of the books that James and his colleagues churn out, this one was a #1 New York Times bestseller. Well, Shakespeare has nothing to worry about, but I will say this for our boy Jim: he knows how to write a page turner. This started me pondering on what his MO is and why it works so well. Here are a few tools of the trade he’s really mastered:
Strong opening: The novel’s told in first person and hooks you from the first page by taking an event we all know well — a wedding — and giving it a snappy twist. What should be a joyous affair turns out to be a mob-fest and quickly turns into a shootout. As readers, we’re in: we need to know why and how all this happened.
Strong characters: Jim keeps his cast of main characters small and they are delivered straight up — nothing complicated. We’ve got Nick, the good guy FBI agent; Andie, his love interest; Dom, a ruthless mobster; and Remi, his ruthless henchman. That’s about it, except for a few bit players.
Really bad bad guys: Our authors pull no punches when it comes to delivering antagonists we love to hate — and yet, they give at least one of these bad boys a redeeming character trait: he loves his son. But overall, we have no problem choosing sides. There’s no moral ambiguity to muddy the waters: we’re with Nick, the white knight in the story, all the way. This makes for a relaxing read because you don’t have to sort anything out on the ethical front: it’s all done for you by the authors.
Strong plot and pacing: Again, the plot is simple: it revolves around the mobster’s trial and his efforts to break free. Nothing fancy, though it does take some twists and turns. And Jim is masterful when it comes to pacing: he switches back and forth among the characters to keep us intrigued and moves the story along with relentless energy.
Amazing what you can do with a few basics: a good opening, good plot, clearly defined characters, and brisk pacing. Hey, if Jim can do it, so can we. Write on!