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Book review: <i>1st To Die</i> by James Patterson

the cover of the book

Why do I do it to myself? No, really, why? The only saving grace is that it was over in a couple of hours... oh yes, and I get a kick out of reviewing trash every now and again.

The story

Lindsay Boxer is the lead inspector in the homicide division in San Fransisco. She is supposed to be tough—one of the best in her field. But when somebody starts murdering brides and grooms on their wedding nights, she’s not just under pressure to solve the murders. She’s also fighting for her life—having just been diagnosed with a rare blood condition. To top that off, she is given a new partner for the assignment—Chris Raleigh, a desk jockey expert in containment and political spin.

Lindsay wants the murderer badly. So badly that she decides to go against convention and share information with a small and elite group of friends: Claire, the medical examiner; Cindy, a rising star reporter for The Chronicle; and Jill, the district attorney. And so the women’s murder club is born.

The bodies are piling up fast. Can the women uncover the killer and catch the murderer before it’s too late? Can Lindsay beat her potentially fatal disease? Will her new relationship succeed? And when they catch the killer, how can they be sure they have the right guy?

The style

I don’t even know where to start. Oh, here’s where. A quote, from the Providence Sunday Journal, printed on the front cover:

“What’s not to love about a ‘club’ formed by four women to catch a psycho killing newlywed couples?”

Well I can tell you: A LOT. But let’s cut straight to the chase with my major gripe. Lindsay Boxer is the epitome of a badly written and stereotypical female cop, who does nothing unexpected and who’s creator should be taken aside and given a stern talking to. This is sad, because I have a feeling that James Patterson really wanted to create strong and dynamic women for his "Women’s Murder Club" series (probably just to appeal to the girlies and increase his readership, but maybe I’m being cynical). Sadly, I feel that he failed quite spectacularly. Now, because I have so MANY gripes about 1st To Die, let’s put it in point form, shall we? If you have a problem with a good feminist rant, I recommend skipping ahead a couple of paragraphs.

  • The male/female banter was nauseating, in that “we’re all tough cops, women cop a lot of shit so we have to take it with good grace and give it right back and all male cops ever do is make sly digs about our lack of sex life” type way. It was a bit remnicent of Tami Hoag’s A Thin Dark Line, but worse. While I’m sure there is endemic and structured sexism within the SFPD, I’m hoping that the men and women don’t all interact this way in real life. That, and Patterson wasn’t even making a statement about it... he was just writing it like that’s how it is.
  • Lindsay draws her femaleness into every aspect of her existence. While femaleness is, of course, an integral part of her existence, most of us don’t wander around wearing our complex feminine psyches all over our proverbial sleeves. Some men are heartbreakingly spectacular at writing in the first person from the point of view of a woman. James Patterson, you are not one of those writers.
  • The relationship between Lindsay and her best friend Claire is unrealistic, nauseating, and stupid. Firstly, WE GET THAT CLAIRE IS BLACK. You are SO PC for including a black chick, James Patterson. This point was made abundantly clear. This doesn’t mean she should get all Ricki Lake, calling everyone "girl". I can practically SEE her rolling her head and yelling "talk to the hand" and that is NOT where this character was supposed to be. Larger than a two dimensional stereotype of a black woman would have been a start. Just because Patterson gave her a high powered job doesn’t mean he can just slack off back to stereotypes because he’s made a striking blow on behalf of the women’s lib movement everywhere. Secondly, I don’t know about other girls reading this, but I don’t make a habit of telling my best friends that I love them all the time (while sober) and jumping up and down, giving them hugs in the morgue, having only seen them a couple of hours ago. This friendship was forced and unrealistic, from the characters involved to their interactions. And I won’t even dignify the other members of the women’s murder club with a look in. See for yourself, if you dare.
  • I suspect that one of the reasons Claire is around (aside from being the token black M. E.) is to help flesh out Lindsay’s character. However, this is done in a manner so clumsy that it is more a hindrance than a help. Claire saying things like: “You don’t sound like your usual chatty, irreverent self” are just annoying, and for pete’s sake, the book is written in first person! Lindsay should be screaming with personality from the way she’s written!
  • Cashing in on the undeserved popularity of Kay Scarpetta, Patterson puts a ridiculously boring emphasis on Lindsay’s love of cooking and her dog. I say, who CARES about her love of making Italian cuisine for one? Who CARES that she listens to the Dixie Chicks? Would we find these things interesting in a male police officer? Would they even be mentioned? Sheesh.
  • While I don’t wish to ruin the book for anyone (ranting aside, obviously) it’s patently obvious that Lindsay is going to hop into bed with her new partner. This also irritated the hell out of me. I’ve NEVER read a book where the male protagonist cop “gives in” to the “irresistible urge” to have sex with their hot new female partner, and then gets all angsty about it. It was just so... cliched. Grrr.
  • Final issue. Use of italics. Yes, Lindsay, as we have established, is female. I know this may come as a surprise to many, but we don’t all have epiphanies in breathless italics... and Lindsay has just a few too many of them. Italics are all very well in their place, but they are REALLY overdone here.

But what about the plot? I hear you asking. So the main character and the peripherals are all duds, but does the plot make up for it? It is a thriller, after all... The plot is okay. There’s a bit of suspense, a barrage of twists at the end, and all in all, it’s okay. I didn’t discard it halfway through or anything, but that could be explained away by grim determination. And the plot and the twists certainly don’t make up for the lame-arsed emphasis on the fake feminist girlies and their club.

I noticed in the front of the book that all the other books in the Women’s Murder Club series are co-written by a lady. Hopefully, this is an improvement.

Who is this book for?

You would have to really love James Patterson. Or be totally clueless about girls, women, feminism, and decent writing. Or be stuck on a desert island where the temperature is mild and the book is not required for a bonfire.

If you like this book, you would also like...

This is very exciting, because I NEVER thought I would get to recommend The Hot Ladies Murder Club (no relation to this Women’s Murder Club, but just as much the literary equivalent of calorie free sugar) but here we are!

In short

Title: 1st To Die
Author: James Patterson
Publisher: Warner Books
ISBN: 0316666009
Year published: 2005
Pages: 424
Genre(s): Thriller, Airport novel, Crime fiction
Review Type: 


Wonderful Book! As usual, James Patterson delivers a fast-paced, easy to read novel that is thoroughly engaging!