Written by James Patterson and David Ellis — After three weeks, James Patterson’s serial thriller comes to the end with a double-whammy of installments released via eBook just a few days apart. If you’ve downloaded parts one, two and three of Murder House (all reviewed on CFL), you’ll almost certainly keep reading to find out where this Gothic mystery set in the Hamptons is heading.
There have been eight grisly murders by a serial killer associated with No 7 Ocean Drive, a forbidding house that’s now abandoned but was once occupied by the same sinister family line for almost two centuries. As you might expect, there are plenty of revelations about these creepy ancestors and their connection to the modern-day murders in the final chapters. DI Jenna Murphy’s hazy memory of a childhood trauma at the house finally comes back to her when she descends through a trapdoor into the basement, as she gets closer to finding the killer. Patterson does create tension over which characters Jenna should trust, though my early suspicions about the killer proved accurate. Murder House might tease you with twists, but any experienced crime reader will probably work out whodunnit before the end.
Even though Murder House was written as a complete novel by Patterson and his co-author David Ellis, the episodic style lends itself to the serial format. Yet it also feels as if potential themes get dropped just to allow Patterson to focus on his plot-heavy story. Looking back to the first installment, it appeared as if they might combine a serial killer with social satire about the economic divide in the Hamptons. Yet that was soon forgotten as the sequence of accusations, cliffhanger endings and lingering suspicions were set in motion.
The fact Murder House was already written – the complete novel is published on the same day as part five – meant this was not quite the gripping serial it might have been. In the 19th century, you can imagine Dickens writing each instalment of his serial stories as the deadline approached and being bombarded with letters from readers, who cared deeply about his characters (many urged him not to kill off Nell in Old Curiosity Shop). Patterson is no Dickens – his characters can’t tug at the hopes and fears of the reader in the same way. But it would have been intriguing to experience a social media response to a serial whose characters’ fates were still to be decided by the author.
At least Patterson tries a new approach for the release of his standalone crime thriller. Murder House comes to an oddly abrupt end after its 121 chapters – the authors clearly don’t have anything more to say after the standoff that settles matters at No 7 Ocean Drive. But despite characters uttering clunky lines like: “…you’ll never get away with this” and a frequently creaky plot, it is a diverting Gothic thriller and it kept me reading. When you try one of his books, you may not become a fan of James Patterson but you do begin to understand how he became such a sales phenomenon.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars