Written by James Patterson and David Ellis — Four weeks, five parts, one gripping story is how James Patterson’s latest standalone novel is being sold. It’s a bold move to release a serial as an eBook and audiobook (featuring bonus audio content), though it’s not been without teething troubles (see our review of part one, as well as some disgruntled readers on Amazon). Perhaps it would have been more daring to delay the full release of the complete novel for a few months, rather than immediately after the serial.
There isn’t much to savour in Patterson’s prose style, though I did find myself looking forward to this second installment. Predictably, he laces part two’s plot-heavy narrative with more sex – this time a lesbian encounter between two students – and more fight scenes, which can be just as mechanical and tiresome (Lee Child is better at this orchestrated violence). Co-author David Ellis also brings his legal background to the courtroom scenes.
It’s tricky to review a serial without resorting to spoilers, but so much happens in this installment it’s impossible to give too much away. Detective Jenna Murphy, who’s moved to the Hamptons after being drummed out of the NYPD, is still investigating the double killing at the so-called ‘murder house’ at No 7 Ocean Drive (it already has a dark history). The case has become personal for Jenna, who’s still boozing and clearly unsuited to her Wall Street banker boyfriend.
Meanwhile, roofer and Matthew McConaughey lookalike Noah Walker suffers more physical torment and mental anguish in 80 pages than most characters have to endure in an entire sequence of novels. He seems destined to team up with Jenna on the case, or he may have a more sinister role in the story – it’s a mystery the authors maintain quite effectively.
Part one of Murder House ended with a major revelation, though it wasn’t quite the skillful withholding you get from the finest crime writers. Still, Patterson and Ellis keep you gripped and there’s no let-up in the narrative, though part two doesn’t conclude with such an obvious cliffhanger.
“No one ever leaves alive/The house at 7 Ocean Drive,” is one character’s not exactly poetic description of the house in the Hamptons. It seems to be true when we meet the novel’s sadistic serial killer, who refers to his ‘Fun Bag’ containing the tools of his trade. He’s named himself Holden, presumably because of an obsession with the main character in The Catcher in the Rye.
Intriguingly, there are dark references to a former owner from more than 200 years ago, though it’s not quite clear why the empty property is so stuck in the past that its décor is described as “Henry VIII meets Count Dracula”. The story jumps around a few years – perhaps it’s going to go back a few hundred.
Murder House is a heady mix of serial-killer procedural and creepy Gothic mystery. Despite some misgivings about Patterson as a writer, he’s keeping me reading.
Part Three of Murder House is available on 14 September. The complete novel is published on 24 September.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars