I have a man crush on James Patterson. Not because he’s super-talented but because he isn’t. Sure, compared to the average person, he’s James Joyce, but compared to Stephen King, he’s Jimmy from 9th-grade remedial English.
Here’s the thing, though: I always finish his books. No matter how silly the plots (“dopey” is King’s apt description), laughable the dialogue (“We’re right on your sorry mythical ass”), or jaw-dropping the twists (maybe I’m wrong but doesn’t the villain die, like, twice in London Bridges?), I always finish the books—which cannot be said for Stephen King’s cinderblocks.
So if you can’t wait out that month or two before Patterson’s next book comes out, take a gander at this list. Each of these 6 stories shares basic Pattersonisms—wall-to-wall action squeezed into bite-sized chapters—that we’ve all come to know and love.
1. The Postman Always Rings Twice—James M. Cain’s 1934 potboiler makes even the most succinct Patterson novel read like Remembrance of Things Past. How streamlined is Postman? Boy meets girl on page 1; by page 10, they’re planning to kill the girl’s husband.
2. The Running Man—Before Stephen King began in midlife to contemplate his navel, he was writing action stories, and this novel of a homicidal game show is one of his best. Imagine The Hunger Games if it’d only left the kiddie sandbox and force-fed a sumo helping of kick ass.
3. The Boys from Brazil—Ira Levin is most known for Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, but this lesser-known work is a gem. What starts off as a standard Nazis-planning-some-bad-shit plot slowly shifts into something altogether bizarre with a most satisfying and ironic climax.
4. And Then There Were None—Agatha Christie’s most famous work and deservedly so. Everything is sacrificed to the plot and pace. Long descriptions, deep characters, normal human behavior, logic, gravity. What replaces them is ceaseless momentum. Imagine sprinting on a hamster wheel—one studded with knives and cyanide tablets.
5. The 39 Steps—John Buchan’s 1915 thriller about a lone man against a vast conspiracy is the ancestor to today’s thrillers, the Cro-Magnon to the Homo Sapiens Pattersonus. Indeed, the story is sillier than anything Patterson has come up with. How does our imprisoned hero get of his cell? By finding dynamite in a drawer, of course!
6. The Jazz Cage—Ray Chen Smith’s . . . okay, okay, I’m a schmuck. I wrote this. A mob bounty hunter is hired to track down two runaway slaves during the Roaring Twenties, sixty years after the South had won the Civil War. Think of it as Uncle Tom’s Cabin meets The Untouchables, and if that ain't worth the price of a bag of Fritos, I don't know what is.