Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: The Warning

The Warning - James Patterson & Robison Wells
Grand Central Publishing
336 Pages

They say the third time's the charm. Or the fourth. Or fifth. Or more. When it comes to James Patterson, I simply cannot find much to curry my favor. In my book reviews, I always want to publish a review that will continue to promote reading. Every so often, I find a book that swings my opinion so far into the other direction that I have no choice but to write a review about it. Reviews are supposed to show the good, the bad, and the ugly. Unfortunately, this one is ugly. Also, it’s James Patterson. Again.

Of course, you’re probably asking why I would even venture to read another book by Patterson after my previous reviews of his books. The foremost reason for me reading this book is because it looked different than anything else he had written. Because of that I felt there was a possibility of redemption. Secondly, after a long run of reading or researching heavy tomes, I sometimes need a mindless book to reset. And that right there exemplifies Patterson’s books -- mindless.

Reading the summary of The Warning, this was in a different genre than Patterson typically writes. I figured I could give it a quick read (all his books take no time to read.). I had just finished a three month project researching cemetery indices and this might be what I needed to get that blessed reset.

The Warning takes place in the small southern town, Mount Hope. A year ago, an accident at the local power plant forced the evacuation of the town. As part of the evacuation the residents were put into quarantine camps and not allowed to leave. Meanwhile, some loved ones were left behind in Mount Hope to maintain the operational remains of the power plant and to clean the town of any debris or contamination. After one year, a group of residents are permitted to return to their homes, passing the National Guard roadblocks to go home.

Everything is not what it seems when they return. The military is stationed everywhere, keeping a close eye on the residents. Something sinister lingers over the town even as life is supposed to be returning to normal. For teens Maggie and Jordan, the change is palpable. And they’re going to get to the bottom of it, even when it threatens their lives. Families and friends are almost unrecognizable, and the teens aim to get to the bottom of it.

On the surface, The Warning seems like it could be something in the vein of Stephen King. Instead, we get, not only typical Patterson tripe, but a very subpar knockoff of a King novel. The characters are flat and uninspired, and the plot tedious without much substance. Patterson is a very formulaic writer and it’s painfully obvious with this book. It’s like he took an outline and put the barest of meat on those thin bones to make it a novel. 

This is my biggest problem with books by James Patterson. Within the first twenty or thirty pages of his books, I have figured out the whole story because nothing changes. Ever. He “writes” at least a dozen books each year. They are all virtually interchangeable. With a minimalist approach to writing his novels, he seems more apt to write screenplays where the actors can fill in the details that he is too lazy to fill in. He doesn’t need to be a George R.R. Martin or an S.M. Stirling in his detailing, but it would be nice to have some. And to have some actual human emotion in his characters.

In my opinion, James Patterson is a slap in the face to struggling authors everywhere. With his dozen books crowding out the New York Times Bestseller List week in and week out, month after month, far more deserving writers never get a chance. Let’s not let the New York Times off the hook here, either. They blindly put Patterson’s books on their list simply because of the name recognition. Again, doing a disservice to far more deserving writers who are struggling to be discovered. The New York Times has helped James Patterson corner the market on schitky, pulp fiction. No one else really gets a shot after this double barreled attack on reading lists.

Frankly, James Patterson doesn’t care what I think of his books. That’s okay. I just wish he cared about the artistry and craft of writing. It should be quality over quantity. This guy doesn’t care about that. He barely cares about the readers while he laughs all the way to a billion dollar check. 

I guess if there was a bright side to this “popularity,” it would be that reading a James Patterson book would get people engaged and interested in reading. Maybe Patterson books are a gateway to better, deeper, more provocative reading? We can only hope that’s the case. Reading books has been a dying genre, but it doesn’t have to be. Books are where dreams are born. The question is: do you want to dream of the mundane, or do you want to dream of the grand?

Craig Bacon really, really, wants to like the books he reads. He also thinks local bookstores would help authors a lot.