Written by James Patterson and David Ellis – Even though it’s a week between installments of Murder House, it’s easy enough to get back into this serial thriller following part one and part two earlier this month (both reviewed on CFL). Although the prose is merely serviceable it does have an immediacy thanks to the use of the present tense, while the plotting is busy enough but never overwhelming. Murder House is a grisly, Gothic story about an old house in the Hamptons with a sinister past, alongside the more recent activity of serial killer with a fixation on impaling his victims. By part three, it’s clear there’s a connection between the current killer and the evil residents of No 7 Ocean Drive over the last couple of centuries. James Patterson knits the past and present day together in a novel that’s lurid, shocking and sometimes silly – yet undeniably readable.
By the time I reached the halfway point of this five-part serial, I had a pretty good idea about the identity of the killer who’s claimed eight victims (less than two weeks to wait to see if I’m right). James Patterson and co-author David Ellis have a few neat tricks: the connection between the killer and The Catcher in the Rye seems to have been a red herring, while there’s a teasing scene that, by chance, gathers the detective and various suspects in a seafood restaurant and then switches the perspective to that of the killer without revealing which of them it might be. In the main, though, it’s a straightforwardly gory thriller with a series of chapter cliffhangers to keep you reading.
The downside of Patterson’s undemanding style is that the seasoned crime and thriller reader can often see what’s coming (assuming the authors play fair). It was always clear that the rebellious detective Jenna Murphy would end up teaming up with former suspect Noah Walker. Then there’s the creepy history of the house and its former inhabitants – all conveniently available to Murphy in a book entitled Winston’s Heirs: A Haunted House in the Hamptons – as well as the childhood trauma that No 7 Ocean Drive dredges up for the detective. The connections between the characters and the house that emerge over the course of the story can only feel contrived.
The other problem with Murder House is that it’s not a serial in the pure sense – it’s a novel chopped into five parts just a few weeks ahead of full publication (24 September) and delivered to your chosen device each week along with additional background material. While the bonus content in part three – ranging from a radio news report on the discovery of a finger to some intriguing natural history about a carnivorous bird that impales its prey on thorns – gets a bit forgotten at the back of the Kindle edition, it’s a nice addition to the audiobook, which also features a rich, resonant narration by Jay Snyder. Some bleary-eyed commuters might well favour the Murder House serial on their headphones, rather than reading James Patterson’s workmanlike prose on the screen.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars