James Patterson – When The Wind Blows

I read this book on a recommendation from both my mother and my sister-in-law, and I’ve come away questioning their sanity. This is without a doubt the worst book I’ve read in the last year, and ranks very highly in my all-time awful league.

I had never read anything by James Patterson before this, but I had high hopes going in: the film “Kiss the Girls” (based on his book) was great, and I was looking forward to an exciting thriller with a touch of darkness to it. No such luck.

The main characters are flat and remain undeveloped throughout the book. Dial-a-stereotype must have been having a clearance sale: a maverick FBI agent (handsome, of course), whose wife and two sons died in an air crash, and who now fears flying; a talented veterinary surgeon (beautiful, of course) whose husband, a medical researcher, was murdered; a genetically modified young girl (spunky, of course) who has escaped from a top secret research institute. Yawn.

The only conflict between the characters stems from the initial meeting between Kit Harrison (Fed) and Frannie O’Neill (Vet), when Frannie takes an instant dislike to Kit because he is incognito, and looks like a hunter. It’s beyond obvious and well into blatant that they’re made for each other. And the only character development that takes place is Frannie overcoming her initial misgivings about Kit, swiftly followed by the two of them jumping into their first relationship after the deaths of their spouses.

If the plot had been better, I would have forgiven the characterisation. But it isn’t. A decent plot leaves some mystery, takes a few turns, builds up through some action and setbacks for the hero(es), then reaches a climax. Instead, this book takes the shortest route from point A (the girl’s initial escape from the evil institute) to B (I’d better not say, but it’s really no surprise).

The prose is leaden and unimaginative, but at least it flies by–small mercy. I normally read at 60-70 pages an hour, but I was doing 150 most of the way through this book. I had to ask myself every few pages why I was still reading. The only answer I could come up with is that I just couldn’t believe how bad it was. I kept hoping that something interesting would happen, that the genetic engineering would be given a stronger basis in reality and science, or have some kind of a neat twist to is. As it stands, though, the only scientific backup is provided in the author’s notes at the start of the book: Patterson boasts about the real doctors and geneticists who have read it, and claims the story is “tomorrow’s headlines”.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled. I read a lot of science fiction, and the underlying themes of this tale (the future shape and genetic possibilities of mankind) have been explored extensively and to much better effect in books like Greg Bear’s “Darwin’s Radio”, Nancy Kress’s “Beggars in Spain”, and many others. “When the Wind Blows” doesn’t examine the characters’ reaction to the genetic experiments going on, nor does it *glance* at the potential impact on society. As a thriller, it doesn’t satisfy my expectations of how the police or the FBI would react, or even common sense: why don’t they go to the media straight away?

I’m baffled by how this book managed to reach bestseller status. It reads more like a first novel dredged up out of the author’s trunk and dusted off after he’d reached stardom. I can only assume that Patterson’s other novels are substantially better, because this one is appalling.