Merry Christmas, Alex Cross

A Review of Merry Christmas, Alex Cross by James Patterson

Merry Christmas, Alex Cross Merry Christmas, Alex Cross, book number 19 in this series, covers an unusual set of cases that start on Christmas Eve and continue through to Christmas Day. It features all of the characters we've grown to love: Alex, his wife Bree, all of his kids, his BBF and partner Sampson, and the incomparable Nana Mama. There is one other familiar face as well, but I'll leave that for later. As with all of Patterson's books, there is a healthy dose of action, suspense and mystery. And as always, the cases are the sort that only Doctor/Detective Alex Cross can solve. But will Alex make it home in time for Christmas with his family and avoid the wrath of an angry Nana Mama?

Keep reading after the jump to find out what I thought of Alex Cross' latest installment! Warning: Minor spoilers to follow!

A Quick Overview of the "Patterson Formula"
Before I jump into this review, let me take a brief moment to explain the "Patterson Formula". This is how some people refer to Patterson's unique, but somewhat predictable, style.
  • Short Chapters: Patterson's chapters are 2-4 pages long and almost always end on a cliffhanger, sometimes major, sometimes minor.
    • This keeps the pace of his books set firmly at breakneck.
  • First-Person Perspective: The books are told from two perspectives, that of Alex and the book's villain.
  • The Layout: Each novel is split into "books", like plays are split into acts.
    • The Prologue: Sets up the book by introducing the villain, who is either committing a crime or plotting one, which will become the main case that Alex is investigating.
    • Book One: Sets up the story and ends with a discovery or breakthrough on the case.
    • Book Two: Delves further into the case and usually culminates with another big reveal.
    • Book Three: Solves the case and includes at least one major twist along the way.
    • The Epilogue: Ties up loose ends, sets up the next book, or shows Alex moving on from the latest life-altering case. Some books don't have an official epilogue. Instead, the last chapter is dedicated to wrapping things up.

Following this formula helps Patterson churn out books like no other. He has released 13 books in 2012. Very few authors can boast similar numbers. Because he uses such a specific formula, Patterson books can be a little predictable and, if you read several of them back to back, monotonous. But after 19 books, I feel so close to Alex and his family that I am compelled to keep reading them. I need to find out what happens to the characters next.

Now that you understand how his books work, let's jump right into Merry Christmas, Alex Cross!

The Prologue
In the Patterson Formula, the prologue is almost always from the villain's perspective. It is almost always bloody or grisly and action-packed. This book starts off on a slower note and is told from Alex's point of view. Alex and his childhood BFF/partner John Sampson are on a stakeout in their church on Christmas Eve. Nana Mama, Alex's 90-something-year-old grandmother, asked them to catch a thief who has been stealing from the collection baskets. They, of course, spot the thief and a little chase sequence ensues. Then, after taking the thief back to the station for booking, Alex and Sampson go home to their families for some holiday celebrating.

Book One
Book One picks back up on Christmas Eve, with Alex at home with his family, decorating their Christmas tree. Then, much to everyone's dismay, Alex's phone rings.

A man has taken his ex-wife, their three kids, and her new husband hostage in her home, along with a Congressman's wife, who happens to live next door. Henry Fowler is a former high-powered attorney. But he has fallen so far that he is now divorced, homeless and crazy from drug abuse. He blames his wife and her new husband for his fall from grace, and Alex must figure out how to defuse this hostile situation.

He manages to get into the house to talk to Henry face to face, hoping to gain some insight into his state of mind. But Fowler seems to be rambling incoherently and is high as a kite, courtesy of a steady supply of Oxycontin. He decides that his wife and kids are on trial for their crimes and appoints Alex as the jury foreman. Alex tries mightily to get to the root of Fowler's problems by going along with this "trial". But Fowler catches on and there are some consequences. Alex is forced out of the house at the end of the first Book.

Book One is as action packed and suspenseful as any Alex book. But it does differ a little from the formula. First of all, we don't get any perspective from Henry Fowler, our villain. However, we do get a third-person-omniscient point of view for Alex's family at home. This is unprecedented in the Alex Cross books. We've NEVER seen the family's perspective. It was a refreshing change!

As Patterson villains go, Henry Fowler is a rather unique one. Generally, his villains aren't as outwardly crazy as Fowler is. But, even through the madness, you can see the man he used to be. And as always, Patterson writes in such a way that you are desperate to know why Fowler has fallen so far and lost so much of himself.

Book Two
This book, in another break from the Formula, has two different cases in it. In the first part, Alex finally deduces what caused Henry Fowler to spiral out of control into a haze of shame, guilt and drugs. And, he manages to bring the hostage crisis to an end with no deaths and only a little bloodshed. I don't want to wreck it for you spoiler prudes out there, so I'll leave it at that.

After the crisis comes to an end, Alex heads home on Christmas morning through a rare Washington DC blizzard, hoping to arrive in time for breakfast. Later, after a hearty breakfast and a nap, Alex and his family are finishing up their Christmas dinner, listening to Nana Mama read when it happens again. His phone rings.

It is Ned Mahoney, a friend and colleague from the FBI. There has been a sighting of Hala Al Dossari, who is a returning villain from book number 18, Kill Alex Cross. In that book, she and her husband, along with a terrorist group named The Family, wreaked havoc on the people of Washington DC by attempting to poison the DC water supply. This time, she is in Union Station with several different weapons and another nefarious plan underway. She also has a new team of Family members assisting her inside the station and out.

As befitting any Book Two, there is a lot of action and heart-pounding suspense. This book also returns to the traditional shifting points of view. We see Alex, Hala and a third-person-omniscient point of view for Hala's henchmen. And because of this shifting perspective, we are privy to some information about Hala and The Family's plans that Alex and the FBI are not. So, at the end of this book, when Alex and company think they've captured Hala and thwarted the plan, we know there is much more to come.

Hala is quite the interesting villain. Because we get to see things from her point of view, we get some insight into her way of thinking and her background. She is an extremist without a doubt, but I enjoyed reading about her family and what she needs to accomplish to keep them safe from the "infidels". As Patterson villains go, her motivations are pretty clear. There aren't any hidden motives or agendas that some of the other villains have. But Hala is the first of her kind and a rare female villain, which makes her all the more intriguing.

Book Three
Book Three begins with Hala's arrest. Initially, she refuses to speak to anyone in English. She is then transported to the FBI offices in Alexandria, Virginia. While there, Ned and Alex play good cop/bad cop with her to try to get to the bottom of her schemes. But she draws on her extensive training and refuses to answer any questions. Then Ned takes some extreme measures to get her to tell them about The Family's plans. Meanwhile, Hala's men are desperately trying to complete their part of the plan, and the blizzard is doing its best to hinder them.  
Despite Alex's severe reservations about the things Ned is doing, he stays in the interrogation room trying to help determine The Family's plans. Eventually, Hala breaks down and gives what the reader knows to be a false confession. She is taken back to jail and Alex finally gets to go home.

In the middle of the night, Alex realizes that they were fooled and Hala's confession wasn't entirely accurate. Of course, I'm not going to tell you what the plan was. But Alex and Sampson rush to stop them before it's too late. You'll have to read it yourself to find out what the Family's plan was and whether or not Alex and Sampson stopped them in time.

Book Three has the usual twists, turns and Alex Cross heroics. It's a typical Patterson ending, which I don't want to spoil. The suspense is high octane as usual, even if the twists aren't as jaw dropping as some.

The Epilogue 
This book doesn't have a true Epilogue, just a final chapter that wraps up the story with a nice little holiday bow. I don't want to give away what happens, so suffice it to say this is a satisfying sendoff until next time.

I am a big Alex Cross fan. This book was a perfectly adequate addition to the series. It was a little like Goldilocks: It wasn't great, it wasn't bad, it was just fine. I read many complaints on Goodreads that this seems like two totally separate stories, and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. However, in researching this book, I discovered that the first half with Henry Fowler was published as a short story last Christmas. The Hala story was added this year and released with the Fowler story as a full-length novel. Mr. Patterson obviously wanted to revisit Hala, but didn't have enough story for another full book. So he sort of jammed it in with Fowler and made it fit by setting her story at Christmas as well.

Nonetheless, this is a decent addition to Alex's story and, as always, I can't wait until the next book! Fortunately, since this was only a half story, I have to wait only until February, instead of a whole year like I usually do! If you haven't read any Alex books, please don't judge them all on this book or the terrible, terrible Tyler Perry movie that has just released in theaters. I adore the Alex Cross books. The first, Along Came a Spider, is a masterpiece of the crime-thriller genre.

Official Wench rating:

So, Dear Readers, have you read any of the Alex Cross books? Do you have favorites? Mine are any of the books featuring the Mastermind! Do you prefer another Patterson series instead?

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  1. I haven't read any of his books (I don't think), but as for his "formula," there's something to be said for settling into something familiar and predictable. It's like curling up with an old friend. :)

    And, hey, if it allows him to produce 13 books a year, something is obviously working for him!!

  2. Great review Anne. Patterson must love writing to be so prolific. Amazing.

  3. I have never read his books,but I like you review,so his first Alex Cross book is on my TBR, thank you.

  4. Thanks ladies! Merit, Along Came A Spider is a great book. But, don't bother with the movie. They are very different.

  5. I have been as impressed with this book. I have enjoyed the Alex Cross series but but not this one. Although, many of his books are formulaic, this one takes the cake in my opinion.


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