James Patterson

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"The Beach House"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark JUL 02, 2002)

He clutched me for dear life, and whispered in my ear: "Jack, they say Peter went swimming and drowned. It's the single biggest piece of crap I've ever heard."

Summer season starts in the New York Long Island Hamptons with The party --- the one hosted by Barry Neubauer and his wife Campion in their $40 million beach house. It's fifteen minutes to the start of the party, which promises to kick off another glorious season, and Peter "Rabbit" Mullen is late. He toes down his new BMW K1200 motorcycle to fourth gear and clocks 90 MPH driving on route 27 from Montauk to Amagansett. Read excerptYou get the sense that he's excited about going to this party, "But don't be too jealous. I'm not on the guest list, either. I'm here to park cars." As Peter explains, he's one of the local townies who has been working at this "intimate $200,000 get-together" since he was thirteen years old. Yesterday was his 21st birthday.

It's clear that Peter is a very happy-go-lucky fellow content with his life as a townie in the Hamptons. But as charming as he is, don't go and get too attached to him, Peter narrates only the prologue of this novel in three very short chapters, right up until his murder.

The novel, itself, is actually narrated by his brother Jack Mullen, who is seven years older and an Ivy League law student. Jack is a summer associate at a prestigious New York City law firm for whom he is working on a pro bono case with the help of one of their best investigators. It's a project he's excited about and he is proving to be competent at; he's hoping to get some physical evidence reexamined in a nineteen-year-old case for a man sitting on death row in Texas.

On Friday evening, the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, Jack takes the train from the city to Montauk at the end of Long Island. When Jack gets off the train his first thoughts are that there are way too many people meeting him at that hour. He was only expecting his girlfriend, Dana Neubauer, to meet him. But his father and grandfather are there, as well as Billy Belnap --- an East Hampton cop, and a young reporter. He's sees Dana there but her eyes are red and puffy, like she's been crying for days. Then it hits him that his brother Peter is not part of the crowd.

Peter's body had washed up on the Neubauer beachfront property earlier that day. The police say that Peter drowned in the ocean either by accident or by suicide. When Jack sees his brother's body he's suspicious because of the extensive bruising; plus he doubts that his brother would attempt to go swimming in cold, high breaking water still rough from a hurricane that battered Cape Hatteras for a week, never mind how unlikely it would be for him to go swimming while on the job. But Chief Detective Frank Volpi (who wears a platinum Rolex) says it is what it is, and will not look into it further. And the Neubauers' send their condolences on the way out of town for business.

But Jack and his eighty-six year old grandfather cannot let this go. With the help of his hometown friends who regularly meet at the Memory Hotel, Jack begins an investigation into his brother's last night. They know that Detective Volpi is scared of the people who essentially own him and the town. But they are too mad and torn with grief to let this stop them or to take this as a warning.

As he runs into one roadblock after another, Jack begins to feel the injustice of the legal system. And it's not just about his brother's death. The neglect his pro bono client was given during his original trial is also discouraging his dream of justice. But Jack is relentless and soon he is butting heads with one of the most powerful and ruthless men in New York. And this man is serious; one by one, Jack and his friends are threatened in attempt to get them to shut down their campaign. So can one guy, who is still in law school, beat the rich and their control of the legal system to reveal his brother's murderer?

I was expecting a fast paced novel and this does not disappoint. However, I wasn't prepared for a good legal court drama that roots for the working class and points out the inequities in our legal system. But don't worry; it is not done in a heavy-handed way. As per James Patterson's well-known and successful style, the chapters are very short, which keeps the reader turning pages to see what will happen next. I pretty much read this book in an afternoon and evening, which I'd call the perfect weekend read.

It also is not a gory novel. Well, except for some photographs that I'm glad I didn't have to look at for real. O.K., those have stuck in my memory a bit more than I'd prefer. But like those photographs, I bet this is one of those plots that I don't forget for awhile, either.

But as much as I like this novel, it is not without a few technical flaws. You might have even caught the first flaw while reading this review. Here's a hint: it has to do with the premise that a hurricane battered Cape Hatteras for a week prior to Memorial Day Weekend -- when Hurricane season does not typically begin until June 1. But even if this fictional year is an especially active one, the likelihood of said hurricane to be called Gwyneth, is about nil. I'd buy Alice or Alan or any other "A" name. It's a small flaw that does not affect the plot line. Just pretend it was just a bad storm causing the steep waves the night of Peter's death. To be honest, because the novel is a page- turner, I almost missed this error. Just the like the one where Jack heads over to the BMW dealership on Sunday and then after finding out some shocking news, visits a bank branch manager ten minutes later. Even if she was expecting to hear from him, I doubt she would have been there on a Sunday. Comon' even the rich of Long Island believe in banker's hours, don't they?

So even if the little details don't all add up, the overall story does, or at least it does in a far-fetched kind of way that well-written fiction can make you believe that it can happen. Personally, I'd like to think that it could happen. People who think that O.J. Simpson, whether due to guilt or fear, bought his way out of a jail sentence by having enough money to really lawyer up, will like this novel. Mind you, it has nothing to do with the O.J. case -- not even close. But that trial changed how we think about our judicial system and this novel's plot is a reaction to that.

If you are a regular visitor to MostlyFiction.com, you know that I have been slow to catch on as a James Patterson fan. I tried a couple of his novels way back when and never got through the first chapters. So whereas I'm still not yet ready to read the Alex Cross series, I can say I recommend this stand-alone novel to anyone who enjoys a page-turning legal story, especially one set in a place such as the Hamptons. Though I do wonder how his regular fans will receive this book.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 106 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Beach House at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

*Sequels

The Women's Murder Club series:

Featuring Alex Cross:

Featuring Detective Michael Bennett:

Daniel X:

Maximum Ride:

More Teen Sci-Fi:

Middle School series:

Nonfiction:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

James PattersonJames Patterson is one of the top-selling novelists in the world today. His debut novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, won the Edgar Award for the best first mystery novel. It was published by Little, Brown in 1976 when he was just twenty-seven years old, after being turned down by more than two dozen other publishers.

He has since written a string of major national bestsellers that includes the seven books in the series featuring detective/psychologist Alex Cross and the two novels in the "Women's Murder Club" series.

Patterson grew up in Newburgh, New York. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Manhattan College and summa cum laude with an M.A. in English from Vanderbilt University.

James Patterson lives in Palm Beach County, Florida, with his wife and their young son.

Peter de Jonge has written several articles on golf for the New York Times Magazine and other international publications. This is the second novel that he as co-authored with James Patterson.
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