Merry Christmas, Alex Cross
As one might expect, the title of James Patterson’s new thriller is laden with irony. It foreshadows the contents of the book, which concerns an extremely busy and exceedingly dangerous 24 hours wherein the famous police psychologist is exposed to the worst actions of humanity while (most of) Washington, D.C. celebrates one of the world’s highest holy days.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS begins, fittingly enough, in a church early on Christmas Eve, where Cross is on a stakeout that has been put in place to prevent a heinous but relatively minor crime. Cross’s plan is to apprehend the doer, go home, and spend the remainder of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his family. Almost immediately after wrapping up one crime scene, though, he is called to another, this one of far greater import. A once-successful attorney named Henry Fowler is holding his three children, his ex-wife, and her current husband hostage. What makes matters even worse is that the wife of a Congressman has inadvertently stumbled into the scene. Fowler is heavily armed and is threatening to kill everyone in the house. The hostage negotiator has inadvertently angered him; as a result, the situation is hanging by a thread.
"MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS may have a holiday backdrop, but it is a thriller novel for all seasons.... The contrast between the gritty reality of combating terrorism and the close relationship among the members of Cross’s family makes this one of Patterson’s best books to date."
Cross is brought to the scene and interjects himself into the proceedings in a last-ditch effort to resolve the situation without loss of light. Fowler’s fall from the spotlight --- from being one of the nation’s top litigators to a disbarred drug addict --- is well known, but his actions on this Christmas Eve night could never have been predicted. Cross is curious as to what caused Fowler to break, not only on this holiday night, but also professionally, years before, when he began a downward spiral that has caused him to bottom out. Cross has a daring plan that puts him at great risk, even as his own family waits and worries.
Once the Fowler situation is resolved, it appears that Cross will be able to enjoy a long-delayed Christmas Eve dinner with his family. And indeed they do. However, the aftermath of the feast is barely cleared up before Cross is again summoned to another crime scene, one with the potential to send shockwaves throughout the nation. Hala al Dossari, a known terrorist and a past nemesis of Cross’s, has been spotted inside Union Station carrying a suspicious package. Union Station is packed with holiday travelers, and for someone like al Dossari, it constitutes a target-rich environment. No one, though, knows her better than Alex Cross; the two engage in a cat-and-mouse struggle that is played out in the early hours of Christmas morning. What Cross doesn’t know is that al Dossari’s actions are part of a larger plan that he has no chance of stopping. That is, until fate --- and the weather --- intervene.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, ALEX CROSS may have a holiday backdrop, but it is a thriller novel for all seasons. The second half of the book contains one of Patterson’s most ambitious plots in recent memory and is frightening in its scale. If a similar terrorist act was to occur in reality, it is highly likely that it would follow a scenario such as the one presented here. The contrast between the gritty reality of combating terrorism and the close relationship among the members of Cross’s family makes this one of Patterson’s best books to date.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 16, 2012