Book Autopsy: James Patterson's "Cross the Line"

Alex Cross chases a cold-blooded killer...with a conscience.

Shots ring out in the early morning hours in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. When the smoke clears, a prominent police official lies dead, leaving the city’s police force scrambling for answers. Under pressure from the mayor, Alex Cross steps into the leadership vacuum to crack the case. But before Cross can make any headway, a brutal crime wave sweeps across the region. The deadly scenes share only one common thread—the victims are all criminals. And the only thing more dangerous than a murderer without a conscience, is a killer who thinks he has justice on his side. As Cross pursues an adversary who has appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner, he must take the law back into his own hands before the city he’s sworn to protect descends into utter chaos.

Book Autopsy: James Patterson “Cross the Line”

To remind everyone; the purpose of this article is to dissect what makes a book a bestseller. I picked a book from the New York Times top ten list in the first week of January. I had all month to read and take notes. 

Being me, I ended up reading the book in one night because I procrastinated. I started the book earlier in the month, but couldn’t seem to get hooked. I set a timer for twenty minutes. After several intervals, I got lost in the book and forgot about time. There are good reasons this is a bestseller. 

While I have tried to stay away from spoilers, there are hints. If you want to read this for yourself, please stop reading. Come back after you finish, and let me know what you think makes this book a hit! 

·      Alex Cross is a beloved character in a series. Built in audience.

·      Short Chapters. I like longer chapters with 3 scenes a pop. Patterson uses short chapters. There are 105 chapters in this book. Action oriented. Loved this. 

·      Every chapter ends with a hook. Without fail. He’s brilliant at it. I will have to try an emulate this in my writing. Because you are unable to put the book down. You must turn the page.

·      POV changes. Patterson uses 1st person from Alex’s character, but he uses 3rd person when the emotion or hook comes from another character. You would think it would be jarring, but it isn’t. This is genius.

·      Personal internal arc layered with external arc and a sub plot or two. We see Alex’s personal life married to the external mysteries. You are living the everyday. With this kind of organic weaving of give and take, you find yourself compelled to find out what happens.

·      Fabulous description. A reader can’t mistake the world Alex runs around in. It’s Washington D.C. with all the foibles of politics, crime and hope. Patterson doesn’t take pages to set the scene. He intertwines short descriptions in every few lines. You inhale the world building and never get lost.

·      He uses overarching cultural references. As an example, I have never watched Breaking Bad, but because of it’s insane virility, I know the who and what about Walter White.  I’ve always been told not to use cultural references because when you are lucky enough to have a backlist, you don’t want to age your book. Patterson doesn’t care. He does what he does well. When you are big enough, you can do as you please. 

Perhaps the most defining explanation for why this book is a bestseller is reader enjoyment. About 4 or 5 chapters in the tension pulled at me. I hovered over my ipad into the wee hours while everyone snored around me. When I came to the end, I wished for more. 

My critique partners are always encouraging me to put more description in my writing. I paid special attention to how Patterson made scene building so real. Sometimes author’s make description feel rather flat. Patterson writes in 3D. Something for me to strive for. 

Will I buy the next Alex Cross novel? Yes. Because I want to know what happens to the kids, Nana Mama, Bree, Sampson and the rest of the characters. I’ll read for the mystery, but the connection to the characters makes me hungry for the next book.  

If you’ve read this book, what do you think makes it a bestseller? Leave a comment below with your thoughts and questions. I would love to hear from you.  

P.S. I hear Morgan Freeman's voice as Alex Cross. Oh that voice!