<preform>Honeymoon, by James Patterson & Howard Roughan<br>The Final Detail, by Harlan Coben</preform>

Old hands deliver two American thrillers

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The Independent Culture

"Why do you Brits always pick on my short chapters?" James Patterson is apt to say in mock-exasperation to British interviewers; "nobody in the States ever brings the subject up!" Diplomatic Brits usually refrain from pithy comments about the respective attention spans of British and American readers. Even if we did, Patterson could point to the phenomenal sales for his thrillers on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Why do you Brits always pick on my short chapters?" James Patterson is apt to say in mock-exasperation to British interviewers; "nobody in the States ever brings the subject up!" Diplomatic Brits usually refrain from pithy comments about the respective attention spans of British and American readers. Even if we did, Patterson could point to the phenomenal sales for his thrillers on both sides of the Atlantic.

This author knows precisely how to manipulate his readers - and despite criticism of the pared-down chapters, that Ancient Mariner grip is precisely what admirers cite as the reason for Patterson's success. The creator of the Alex Cross novels has been besting the sales of his confrères in crime-writing for many a moon, and his finely-honed, utilitarian prose really gets the job done.

His countryman Harlan Coben is more of a succès d'estime among discerning crime readers - even if it's sometimes hard to give a damn about the references to American sports.

The new books by these crime maestros maintain the status quo. The Final Detail takes its time to deliver the more richly detailed essay in human malevolence, while, Patterson deals the usual short blows to the midriff with his tale of seductive Nora Sinclair and FBI agent John O'Hara. Is this literary namecheck an attempt to give Honeymoon extra gravitas, or does Patterson think the creator of Pal Joey is now a forgotten man?

Coben's novel heralds the return of sports agent-cum-detective Myron Bolitar, who is looking into the murder of New York Yankees baseball player Clu Haid. Haid (to Myron's dismay) appears to have been shot by Myron's friend and partner in his agency, Esperanza Diaz. Has she pulled the trigger, or is the answer closer to home, with Myron's own murky past at the heart of the killing? Coben, as ever, takes us on a gritty, pungent journey into some of the less savoury byways of human behaviour; a journey shot through with sardonic humour and trenchant observation.

Honeymoon (ominously co-authored) has all the familiar traits: satisfyingly tortuous plotting, and a narrative trajectory that never pauses for breath. Agent O'Hara is drawn with economical skill, as is his sexual obsession with the bewitching Nora Sinclair. This story has elements of Hitchcock's Vertigo, and its page-turning quality is in a class of its own.

If Patterson's book lacks Coben's pithy observation of character, that may be due to the adulterated nature of Honeymoon, which bears signs of a synopsis by Patterson worked up into a novel by Roughan. The ventriloquism, however, is still pretty persuasive.



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