Book Review: Guilty Wives by James Patterson and David Ellis

Guilty WivesTripe.

Page turning, but tripe.

I know thrillers aren’t known for developing three-dimensional characters, but the main characters in this book have two dimensions if they’re lucky, and then it’s only a sudden glimpse or two.  (Having just read The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard with its finely drawn family and beautiful prose, it was probably a mistake to start reading Guilty Wives, which was loaned to me by a friend, as the contrast in style, depth and pace is almost laughable.)

The premise: Four well-off women go to Monte Carlo for the weekend to misbehave and do so splendidly, drinking so much booze I’m surprised they can stand up, especially in heels. They get set up and arrested for murdering the President of France.

I haven’t finished reading this book. I’m half way through, but have read enough to know that I’ll finish it, because as a page-turner it fills that purpose albeit as word wallpaper. It’s rare that I don’t finish reading a book; the exception is The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, which put me to sleep by page ten, night after night, until I had to give it back to the library.

The book is written principally in the first person with scattered chapters written in the third. This can work if it’s done well; if the chapters which differ from the main narrative have a heading “XYZ’s Story” or “Part three – XYZ” you expect to see a narrative from a different character’s perspective. However, all perspectives are bundled in together, so you can see how and why things are happening; it makes me think the book would have been better written entirely in the third person as it interrupts the lead character’s narrative with scenes and information she couldn’t have been aware of.

This is the first James Patterson book I have read, and the only thing that intrigues me about this author is that the majority of his best-sellers are co-authored with someone else. In this case the co-author is David Ellis who has a legal and legal thriller background, which comes in jolly useful for the courtroom chapters. Why, if Patterson is ‘the world’s bestselling thriller writer’, as the blurb on the book’s cover says, doesn’t he write books by himself? Time? Can’t be arsed researching so bring in a subject matter expert to co-author? Apparently, “he has often said that collaborating with others brings new and interesting ideas to his stories”. Maybe he’s like me and gets plot-block.

I used to enjoy reading thrillers; I guess I’ve grown out of them. I love well-written mysteries – and yes, there’s quite a difference between a mystery and a thriller. I’m finding it hard to engage with Guilty Wives. I feel sorry for narrator Abbie, but the one-dimensional characterisation leaves this book lacking for me. I shan’t be seeking out any more James Patterson novels, with or without co-authors.

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