Why James Patterson is one of the top-selling authors in the world

end of sidewalk croppedDon’t overlook the obvious.



I just finished reading Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis. Wow! What a ride.

One thing that made Invisible so special was that my copy was a gift from James Patterson himself. Now I can’t get a big head over this because Mr. Patterson also gave copies to about 300 of my fellow members of Mystery Writers of America who attended Sleuthfest 2015, the annual convention of the MWA, last February. Patterson was scheduled to give the keynote address. At the last minute, he had a family emergency which required him to cancel. So he sent 300 copies of his latest book to those of us who missed him, along with a letter which said, in part, “Your support means the world to me, and I would be thrilled to say thank you in person one day soon. Until then, I hope you’ll accept this book, Invisible, as a small token of my apology. Yours, J. Patterson”

Now, that’s a class act. Anyway, on to the book.

The opening paragraph grabbed me. “This time I know it. I know it with a certainty that chokes my throat with panic, that grips and twists my heart until it’s ripped from its mooring. This time, I’m too late.” Then, Invisible goes on for 397 more pages of murders, clues, mysteries, and thrills, culminating with an edge-of-your-seat climax and an “Ohmigawd!” plot twist at the very end.

The story is told in first person by Emmy Dockery, who took leave from her job as an FBI researcher to solve her own sister’s murder. The only problem is that the authorities insist that her sister’s death by fire was an accident.

One of the many things I enjoyed about the book is the feminine voice of the narrator. Patterson and Ellis did a great job of writing from a woman’s point of view. From the catty remarks about another woman Emmy was jealous of, to describing her break-up with another of the main characters, I felt like a woman was narrating. My own books are written from the viewpoint of a male private investigator and former Special Forces soldier. I don’t think I could write from a woman’s viewpoint like that. But Patterson and Ellis succeed. Maybe that’s one reason Patterson has sold over 280 million books.

About three chapters into the book I noticed another subtle feature that I hadn’t seen before—Invisible is written in the present tense. Emmy Dockery’s narration occurs as she studies the evidence, investigates the clues, and interacts with the other characters. The present tense gives the immediacy of solving the mystery alongside the heroine. Take this pivotal scene where Emmy proves that the fire was no accident:

Lia Janus [FBI forensic pathologist] looks around the room and releases a heavy sigh…

“I’ve conducted more than a thousand autopsies…,” she says. “I’ve… seen everything, guys. It’s impossible to surprise me.”

And? And?

“After examining the bodies of [two other victims], you can put me down as surprised,” she says.

I won’t give you the rest, because I don’t want to spoil the story.

Patterson and Ellis have another big winner in Invisible.