PATTERSON, JAMES AND MAXINE PAETRO. Swimsuit. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-446-56136-5. Pp. 404. $14.99.
There's a movie out there, written, directed, produced, and starred by the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, and he's called it "The Room". While much of the story unfolds in one particular room, the room itself plays no part in the action. It is not because of this room that anything happens. It's just a space in which to perform (if you can really call it a performance--it's really more of a debacle). But, unlike James Patterson and Maxine Paetro's Swimsuit, "The Room" offers no titillation, no promise of sex or action or violence. But like Wiseau's chef-d'oeuvre, Patterson and Paetro's novel really has nothing to do with the title they have chosen, even if it does promise something more exciting than a room.
And, like it's title, Swimsuit really is a let-down as far as mass-produced thrillers go. It got its title because two of Henri Benoit's victims happened to be swimsuit models, but they turn out to be of little import. He doesn't have a swimsuit fetish or kills swimsuit models exclusively, although he does "specialize" in beautiful women if only because he video tapes his killings for the benefit of the "Alliance," a group of absurdly rich people all over the world who happen to have a taste for watching women being raped and murdered. Pairing of extreme wealth with extreme perversity and evil seems terribly naive. But then again, so is this book.
Much of the weakness of the book lies in the fact that the two foremost characters are almost identical, while one, Ben Hawkins--ex-cop, journalist, and author of best-selling mysteries--signifies pure goodness; the other, Henri Benoit (notice their inverted intitials, B.H. vs. H.B.?) is pure evil. Still, both are white, fairly-well educated men in their mid-thirties, both having a preoccupation with beautiful women. It's just that one loves his beautiful, talented, thrilling girlfriend, while the other kills his beautiful, talented thrilling girlfriends. And because we know already who the good guy and the bad guy are from the very beginning of the story, the only real question is, who will prevail? Too bad Patterson's readers are generally too conservative in their tastes to accept anything but a happy ending, even if it is a somewhat tentative one.
Another problem we encounter in the novel's narrative is its disjointedness. We're led to believe that this is the story of Kim McDaniels, a swimsuit model who also happens to be pre-med at Columbia University. [If there does exist or ever has existed an Ivy League pre-med student who also pursued a career in swimsuit modeling, please call me. Otherwise I will continue to think that Patterson is nothing but a complete boob (pun intended?).] The plot initially involves Hawkins flying to Hawaii where McDaniels, on sight for a photo shoot, has disappeared. McDaniels's parents also show up and they and Hawkins quickly team up in their search for the missing girl. Then the McDaniels père et mère are murdered, Kim is found beheaded, Hawkins figures out who the killer is, and somehow we're only half-way through the book.
After all this, the story flags considerably. Benoit wants Hawkins to write his memoirs and threatens to kill Hawkins and his girlfriend if they try to call the cops. So they don't, even when the opportunity comes up. The action reaches its peak in Paris because Hawkins's girlfriend is foolish enough to open her hotel room door to someone claiming to be delivering flowers, even though she is well aware that she is being pursued by a killer. Sadly, Hawkins saves her without realizing that she's a moron. He is also given the opportunity to kill Benoit while saving his girlfriend, but he lets that get away. Fortunately the book was already almost over and I stopped myself from throwing it across the room.
Speaking of which, there's an unattributed quote on the DVD of "The Room," stating that it has "the passion of Tennesee [sic] Williams". In defense of a man praising his own work and trying to pass that praise off as that of someone else, Tommy Wiseau's film, while it cost him at least $6 million to make, initially only made $2,000. Who was going to praise it if no one was seeing it? On the other hand, James Patterson's Swimsuit, a bestseller, similarly has unattributed praise on the front of its paperback edition: "The most satisfying James Patterson novel since Kiss the Girls". I guess I'm not alone among the millions who have read Patterson's work and found nothing good to say about it.