Sunday, April 08, 2007

Collaborative thrillers - Andrew Gross

The London Sunday Times this morning carries an interesting article by Alice Fordham about all the collaborating going on in the the thriller world. She notes, for example, that Clive Cussler has increased his output considerably by using collaborators.

And of course she takes a closer look at the James Patterson literary factory:

"One of Patterson’s regular co-authors, Maxine Paetro, reveales a rather different working relationship today. “Jim comes up with the story idea,” she says. “It’s pretty densely written and about 30 pages long. He sends it over to me for a month or two, while I think about it and come up with ideas. I add my two cents worth, and send it back to him. Sometimes he will say: ‘Maxine, that’s fantastic,’ which I love, but other times he says: ‘This isn’t how I tell stories’. ”

"Patterson is renowned for his “golden gut”, an instinct for what will and won’t work in a story. When Paetro receives the final outline, conceived by Patterson and worked on by her, she fleshes it out into a manuscript, which will become a 400-page book, and hands it over to him. “And it’s his book,” she says. “He runs with it from there, although he won’t usually make big changes.” When Larkin worked on the posthumous Robert Ludlum series, the brief was even more specific. The editors suggested a plot outline, and the deadline was so tight that Larkin had little time to worry too much about getting the voice just right."

I liked a number of Patterson's books before he became a bestseller and I got through two or three of his big hits before the short chapters and inane characterizations just did me in. I don't have anything against short chapters--some writers handle them skillfully--but the way Patterson's chapters end are often laughable.

Notice that I said "Patterson's chapters."

A librarian told me that some of his collaborative novels are much better than anything he's done solo. The last time I went to the hospital I took along two of the co-authored ones. She was right. If you see the names Peter deJonge or Howard Roughan you'll find yourself with some good lightweight reading. Maxine Paetro I can't tell you about. She's new to the mix.

I was curious about how Roughan would do on his own. I've now read both of his solo novels and enjoyed them. Some very nice stuff.

One other name to watch for among Patterson collaborators: Andrew Gross. His own first novel is just out now, The Blue Zone. It's a solid suspenser about a mostly innocent (Gross makes a pretty sophisticated moral judgment about this man here) businessman involved in the buying and selling of gold, among other things. Suddenly the FBI accuses him of being part of a drug cartel and it's up to his young good looking very bright and relentless daughter to save him. I don't have enough space to note even the major plot twists here. Not all of them are beleivable; a couple of them show too much debt to Patterson.

But overall I'd give this novel a B+ for its supple writing, generally well-planned surprises and it's ability to hold me, front page to last, without lag. If you like the type of suspense novels aimed at today's bestseller lists, you'll keep an eye out for Andrew Gross. And for Howard Roughan.

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