The Barnes & Noble Review
Death Is on the Loose James Patterson, bestselling author of Cat & Mouse, Along Came a Spider, and Kiss the Girls, returns with Pop Goes the Weasel, his latest gripping dark-crime tale featuring brilliant profiler Alex Cross. While resembling the gritty psychological works of John Sandford and Thomas Harris, Patterson has firmly wedged his own easy-flowing, spine-tingling niche in the genre, and has mined an area of suspense that is clearly all his own.
A serial killer called the Weasel is slaughtering women in the slums of D.C. And family man Geoffrey Shafer is much more than he appears. Not only is Shafer a diplomat with the British Embassy and so has diplomatic immunity but he also takes himself to the edge of sanity with hallucinogenic drugs, disguises himself as a black cab driver, and rolls the dice to decide the life-or-death fates of his black female fares. Soon Alex Cross and his partner, John Sampson, are hunting the elusive killer, but before they are even able to properly begin their investigation, their racist police chief forces them to look into the by-the-numbers murder of a rich white man instead.
When the Weasel, who is also a former MI-6 agent, begins sending email messages to three of his former cohorts concerning a demented online role-playing game, the situation grows even more deranged. To make matters worse, Sampson's ex-wife is found murdered in a ghetto, and the angry detectives willingly disregard their ordersandagain return to tracking the Weasel. When Cross's fiancée, Christine, is kidnapped while vacationing in Bermuda, and Cross is emailed to quit the hunt, his resolve to continue the pursuit is reinforced. But when Shafer is caught, the real battle of wits begins as a high-profile trial puts Cross's reputation, his life, and perhaps his very sanity, on the line.
The subplots in Pop Goes the Weasel are what capably tightens the novel to the breaking point as the story quickly progresses through a series of brutal crimes, which continue to move closer and closer to home. Not only do we witness Cross's search for one maniacal killer, but three other homicidal maniacs are at work over the Internet. The mix of British charm and a cold indifference to murder brews an aperitif of bloodthirsty characterization not found in fiction for a long while. As a master of lies, Shafer can dupe a jury and also take advantage of the grief-stricken to help sway events in his favor, casting doubts not only into the minds of the police, but also into those of the readers who already know the truth of the situation.
Patterson's attention to the seamy side of Washington, D.C., is also a powerful draw, since its perverse yet politically potent aspects add credible facets to both our protagonist and our psychotic villain. The author knows how to stretch out his suspense factor his use of incredibly short chapters and increasingly taut plot elements is superior. The story flies by with such speed that you'll suffer from friction burns from turning the pages so quickly. Once again, James Patterson proves that he's more than capable of conceiving engaging, cunning stories that transcend the serial killer subgenre. Pop Goes the Weasel works as an intense character portrait that will leave readers moved and electrified.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural novel Pentacle, as well as the dark-suspense mysteries Shards and The Dead Past. His short fiction has appeared in many anthologies, including The Conspiracy Files. His two latest, an exciting mystery called Sorrow's Crown and a horror novel called Hexes, have just been released.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Patterson dedicates his latest (after 1998's When the Wind Blows) to "the millions of Alex Cross readers who so frequently ask 'Can't you write faster?'" Those readers won't be disappointed: the successful formula is in high gear, with the Washington, D.C., psychologist/homicide detective up to his ears in unsolved murders. This tale features a duplicitous villain, a glut of dirty office politics and the inevitable threat to someone Cross just can't live without. A highly moral character, Cross is now firmly rooted in many imaginations as Morgan Freeman, who played him in the film version of Kiss the Girls. When he's not caring for Damon and Jannie, his two young children, Cross takes boys to visit their fathers in prison and works in a soup kitchen. After his boss, Chief Pittman, refuses to believe that a serial killer is striking in the neglected Southeast section, Cross and four other officers work extra hours on their own, the only ones who really care. Readers learn early on that the killer is a British diplomat, Geoffrey Shafer, a chilling madman ostensibly holding his sanity together with drugs. Shafer is obsessed with a real-life version of a computer game called the Four Horsemen, during which he masquerades as a taxi driver who kills his unsuspecting passengers. If Shafer is almost too good to be true--another fictional psychopath with infinite resources--Patterson is shrewd enough to show him making mistakes (like forgetting to wash) as he comes apart at the seams. The killer is caught in the middle of the narrative, setting the scene for a bold courtroom drama. Even the disappearance of Cross's new lady love (his wife was killed in a previous book) is less of a clich d device than a ritual sacrifice as Patterson's well-oiled suspense machine grinds away with solid precision. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Alex Cross, last seen in Cat & Mouse, returns in Patterson's best book to date. With his fiancee, Christine, by his side, Alex has regained the happiness he lost. He can't stay happy for long, of course, and his nemesis this time is Geoffrey Shafer, the Weasel. Shafer is a British diplomat who lives a secret life; he murders people during a fantasy game he plays with three other men around the globe. Alex doesn't know it, but he and the people he cares about are the newest pawns in the game. Even with implausible situations and an absurdly evil villain, the book is impossible to put down. Patterson has another guaranteed best seller on his hands, and fans will be clamoring for the next Alex Cross adventure.--Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows, Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to "the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can't you write faster?" By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he'll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black-slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. "I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess," sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the "Jane Doe murderer" but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross's fiancee is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn't, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he's innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offersto help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson's fans couldn't ask for more.
Read an Excerpt
Geoffrey Shafer, dashingly outfitted in a single-breasted blue blazer, white shirt, striped tie, and narrow gray trousers from H. Huntsman & Sons, walked out of his town house at seven-thirty in the morning and climbed into a black Jaguar XJ12.
He backed the Jag slowly out of the driveway, then stepped on the accelerator. The sleek sports car rocketed up to fifty before it reached the stop sign at Connecticut Avenue, in the posh Kalorama section of Washington, D.C.
When Shafer reached the busy intersection, he didn't stop. He floored the accelerator, picking up more speed. He was doing sixty-five and ached to crash the Jag into the stately fieldstone wall bordering the avenue. He aimed the Jag closer to the wall. He could see the head-on collision, visualize it, feel it all over.
At the last possible second, he tried to avoid the deadly crash. He spun the wheel hard to the left. The sports car fish-tailed all the way across the avenue, tires screeching and burning, the smell of rubber thick in the air.
The Jag skidded to a stop, headed the wrong way on the street, the windshield issuing its glossy black stare at a barrage of early oncoming traffic.
Shafer stepped on the accelerator again and headed forward against the oncoming traffic. Every car and truck began to honk loud, sustained blasts.
Shafer didn't even try to catch his breath or bearings. He sped along the avenue, gaining speed. He zoomed across Rock Creek Bridge and made a left, then another left onto Rock Creek Parkway.
A tiny scream of pain escaped from his lips. It was involuntary, coming swiftly and unexpectedly. A moment of fear,weakness.
He floored the gas pedal again, and the engine roared. He was doing seventy, then pressing to eighty. He zigged and zagged around slower-moving sedans, sport-utility vehicles, a soot-covered A&P delivery truck.
Only a few honked now. Other drivers on the parkway were terrified, scared out of their minds.
He exited the Rock Creek Parkway at fifty miles an hour, then he gunned it again.
P Street was even more crowded at that hour than the parkway had been. Washington was just waking up and setting off to work. He could still see that inviting stone wall on Connecticut. He shouldn't have stopped. He began searching for another rock-solid object, looking for something to hit very hard. He was doing eighty miles an hour as he approached Dupont Circle. He shot forward like a ground rocket. Two lines of traffic were backed up at a red light. No way out of this one, he thought. Nowhere to go left or right.
He didn't want to rear-end a dozen cars! That was no way to end thisend his lifeby smashing into a commonplace Chevy Caprice, a Honda Accord, a delivery truck.
He swerved violently to the left and veered into the lanes of traffic coming east, coming right at him. He could see the panicked, disbelieving faces behind the dusty, grime-smeared windshields. The horns started to blast, a high-pitched symphony of fear.
He ran the next light and just barely squeezed between an oncoming Jeep and a concrete-mixer truck.
He sped down M Street, then onto Pennsylvania Avenue, and headed toward Washington Circle. The George Washington University Medical Center was up aheada perfect ending.
The Metro patrol car appeared out of nowhere, its siren-bullhorn screaming in protest, its rotating beacon glittering, signaling for him to pull over. Shafer slowed down and pulled to the curb.The cop hurried to Shafer's car, his hand on his holster. He looked frightened and unsure.
"Get out of the car, sir," the cop said in a commanding voice. "Get out of the car right now."
Shafer suddenly felt calm and relaxed. There was no tension left in his body.
"All right. All right. I'm getting out. No problem."
"You know how fast you were going?" the cop asked in an agitated voice, his face flushed a bright red. Shafer noticed that the cop's hand was still on his gun.
Shafer pursed his lips, thought about his answer. "Well, I'd say about thirty, Officer," he finally said. "Maybe a little over the speed limit."
Then he took out an I.D. card and handed it over. "But you can't do anything about it. I'm with the British Embassy. I have diplomatic immunity."
That night, as he was driving home from work, Geoffrey Shafer started to feel that he was losing control again. He was beginning to frighten himself. His whole life had begun to revolve around a fantasy game he played called the Four Horsemen.
In the game, he was the player called Death. The game was everything to him, the only part of his life with real meaning.
He sped across town from the British Embassy, all the way to the Petworth district of Northwest. He knew he shouldn't be there, a white man in a spiffy Jaguar. He couldn't help himself, though, any more than he could that morning.
He stopped the car just before he got to Petworth. Shafer took out his laptop and typed a message to the other players, the Horsemen.
FRIENDS, DEATH IS ON THE LOOSE IN WASHINGTON. THE GAME IS ON.
He started the Jag again and rode a few more blocks to Petworth. The usual outrageously provocative hookers were already parading up and down Varnum and Webster streets. A song called "Nice and Slow" was playing from a vibrating blue BMW. Ronnie McCall's sweet voice blended into the early evening.
The girls waved to him and showed their large, flat, pert, or flabby breasts. Several wore colorful bustiers with matching hot pants and shiny silver or red platform shoes with pointy heels. He slowed to a stop beside a small black girl who looked to be around sixteen and had an unusually pretty face. Her legs were long and slender for such a petite body. She wore too much makeup for his taste. Still, she was hard to resist, so why should he?
"Nice car. Jaguar. I like it a lot," she cooed, then smiled and made a sexy little "O" with her lipsticked mouth. "You're cute, too, mistah."
He smiled back at her. "Jump in, then. Let's go for a test ride. See if it's true love or just infatuation." He glanced around the street quickly. None of the other girls were working this corner.
"A hundred for full-service, sweetie?" she asked as she wiggled her tight little butt inside the Jag. Her perfume smelled like eau de bubble gum, and she seemed to have bathed in it.
"As I said, get into the car. A hundred dollars is petty cash for me."
He knew he shouldn't be picking her up in the Jaguar, but he took her for a joy ride anyway. He couldn't help himself now. He brought the girl to a small, wooded park in a part of Washington called Shaw. He parked in a thicket of fir trees that hid the car from sight. He looked at the prostitute, and she was even smaller and younger than he had thought. "How old are you?" he asked.
"How old you want me to be?" she said, and smiled. "Sweetie, I need the money first. You know how it works."
"Yes. But do you?" he asked.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade knife. He had it at her throat in an instant.
"Don't hurt me," she whispered. "Just be cool."
"Get out of the car. Slowly. Don't you dare scream. You be cool."
Shafer got out with her, staying close, the knife still pressed to the hollow of her throat.
"It's all just a game, darling," he explained. "My name is Death. You're a very lucky girl. I'm the best player of all." As if to prove it, he stabbed her for the first time.