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James Patterson has crime fiction down to a science. He’s carefully worked out his tried-and-true formula: super-short chapters, plenty of cliff-hangers, a troubled hero or two, and a ruthless criminal (sometimes even more than one). When you read a Patterson crime thriller, you know what you’re in for—but it works (almost) every time. In Private, though, Patterson’s latest thriller with frequent collaborator Maxine Paetro, he changes things up a bit—not by changing the formula but by tripling it.

Just before he died in jail—where he was serving time for extortion and murder—Jack Morgan’s father asked him to take over Private, his high-end investigation company. Five years later, Jack has made the company an enormous success. He employs a team of brilliant investigators using the latest technology—and they work for A-list clients.

  
 
Unfortunately, Jack’s job means that he’s often surrounded by the worst of humanity: the secrets, the lies, and even the heinous crimes. Just as Jack is starting to investigate the murder of his dear friend, Shelby Cushman, his team begins closing in on the murderer of thirteen teenage girls (and counting). At the same time, Jack’s uncle comes to him with yet another case—this one involving an NFL gambling scandal that the team owners want stopped before the league finds out.

In a way, the multiple plotlines running through Private make the story more realistic. After all, no multi-million-dollar investigation firm could survive by handling just one case at a time. They have to juggle a number of cases, constantly prioritizing and shifting gears as needed. While the frequent juggling and gear-shifting will give readers a feel for the agency’s hectic day-to-day schedule, though, it also makes the development seem somewhat haphazard.

You see, generally, Patterson gives a single crime (or a series of related crimes) his full attention for 400 pages. He explores the characters, the motives, and the various suspects, developing everything just enough to tell the whole story without getting too bogged down in details. In Private, on the other hand, Patterson and Paetro tackle three unrelated crimes in the same number of pages—before further seasoning the story with a few minor cases, some problems with the Mob, and Jack’s personal issues with his past, his romantic entanglements, and his evil twin brother.

There’s so much going on in Private that none of the cases really get the attention they deserve. And Patterson’s usual practice of jumping from character to character and frequently switching points of view feels less like a suspense-builder and more like a distraction. Just when things are picking up in one story, the focus jumps to something completely unrelated, forcing you to pause to remember which case it’s jumped to and where that particular plotline last left off.

The frequent skips and jumps may be distraction, but they’ll also keep your nose in your book, anxious to find out how Jack and his crack team of investigators, geeks, and scientists will be able to solve each case. The remarkable (and often eccentric) characters—from thoughtful and conflicted Jack to tough and determined Justine to tech-savvy Sci—give this fast and frantic crime thriller plenty of personality. And if the novel’s conclusion is any indication, they’re primed and ready for a sequel. I just hope that the follow-up takes place on a slow week at the agency—so these intriguing investigators can focus more of their attention on just one major case.

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