PATTERSON, JAMES and MICHAEL LEDWIDGE. Now You See Her. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-316-03621-4. Pp. 383. $27.99.
That's odd. Wasn't I just reading a James Patterson novel whose cover is adorned with a blond woman in a bikini?* I'm referring, of course, to the unimaginatively named novel Swimsuit, which I reviewed here back in February. This week's Patterson novel is totally different. First of all, it's co-written by Michael Ledwidge instead of Maxine Paetro. Secondly, the bikini-clad woman on the cover of the earlier novel is facing the reader, her face obscured by bad lighting. In the latter, the woman has her back to us. I think our inability to see their faces is supposed to indicate that something awful is going to happen to both of them. Something awful happens to both of them.
I enjoyed Now You See Her better than Swimsuit. The heroine, Jeanine/Nina, is ditsy and charming, although her ethical judgment (and, I'm guessing, Patterson's) is appalling. The novel begins with her getting into a drunk driving accident in which she runs over a man walking his dog. The man, we are told, was a drug addict recently released from jail. So when the cop lets Jeanine off the hook, we don't have to feel bad. The man deserved to die anyway, right? At least, that's the reasoning we are given and are obligated to accept. But just in case we can't, however, Jeanine gets off the hook at the very end of the novel, eighteen years later. She didn't kill the drug addict/ex-con after all. He had already been fatally shot by the time she hit him. Problem solved!
As far as a bestselling novel goes, Now You See Her isn't too terrible, perhaps because Patterson borrows so many plots and tropes from other, more masterful, sources. The base of the narrative is akin to the 1991 film "Sleeping with the Enemy," (starring Julia Roberts' hair) in which a woman fakes her death to escape her marriage to a murderously violent husband. There's also a wink to John Grisham's The Confession (which in turn was based on the memoir of David R. Dow, The Autobiography of an Execution). There are also elements taken from "The Shining" ("Heeeere's Johnny!" to be exact), "Psycho," and "American Psycho". All in all a good puzzle of mismatched horror and thriller references to put together. Patterson makes it easy in that he mentions almost every source he uses. Jeanine is a Hitchcock fan; her friend Charlie wants to be the next John Grisham, etc etc. I had fun putting the pieces together. Now that I've given you the parts, I won't need to sum up the plot. You can figure it out on your own!
So, for his next novel, I suggest Patterson incorporate these sources: James Joyce's Ulysses; Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, all of William Shakespeare's historical plays, and, finally, the masterpiece science-fiction film "Soylent Green".