Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Thomas Berryman Number by James Patterson - Book Review

2.5/5 Stars

The gripping story of a ruthless assassin,

the woman he loves,

and the beloved leader he is hired to kill...


Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Chapters: 7 parts (Plus a prologue and a preface.)
Publisher: Century

Book Links: Goodreads
                      Author's Website


Conflicted and surprised, the two foremost emotions I feel right now...

2.5/5 Stars is, I think, the lowest I've ever rated a book, especially one by James Patterson. But, this is not his best, and I'm glad I've been an avid fan before picking up his first ever published piece. My rating could change, once the initial disappointment passes it might bump up to 3/5 Stars.

The Thomas Berryman Number exudes mountains of potential that the author has proved time and time again he has, but this entry in his collection can't hold a candle to his future works. I think my two main grievances are the pace and overall cohesion, with the latter being my biggest drawback.

In a small summary, the novel has an okay story, polarising characters and good writing; however, the disjointed narratives and scenes, strange structure and overall difficulty compared to Mr Patterson's later works makes it difficult to read through.

Synopsis (Not a copy from the book, but I always keep my interpretations close.)

Ochs Jones is a dog with a bone, or, well, a reporter with a story.
It starts with the murder of a prominent black mayor.
A beloved man with a mind centred on progression.
Ochs then descends into a narrative of conspiracy, of assassins, of residual racism.
But as the story thickens, and the pieces try to slot together, Ochs questions his sanity.
Is he on to the biggest assassination plot he's witnessed, or are the people in question dragging him down a jagged path of deceit...

Plot - 3/5 Stars

Pushing past the disorientating start, the premise of The Thomas Berryman Number is interesting. I was excited to dive into the story of an illusive assassin. And for the most part, the plot remains intriguing. The commentary of the time, the 70s, also helps, with racial bias still strong in society. It adds weight to Berryman's target, Jimmie Horn, a black mayor with a divisive following. 

There's also a nice dash of conspiracy to it all, adding different levels of tension and suspense. Unfortunately, it just doesn't come together.

The plot jumps around a lot, and leaves everything jumbled. I'd hoped it would pass, but the switching narratives and character viewpoints continued throughout the novel's entirety. One minute we're one character in one month, the next we're several different characters in different months. It's too sudden, with very little explanation that you're ripped from any immersive qualities the novel has.

The overall lack of cohesion makes things difficult to follow; the story's effectiveness is dulled and at some points I'd no idea what exactly was happening. The ending is also abrupt in its execution, leaving a few questions up for grabs.

Pace - 2/5 Stars

My second biggest problem after cohesion. The pace of the novel is almost non-existent. It rarely picks up, and frequently slows down.

I think, predominantly, this is caused by a lack of action or twists. From the beginning we know everything that's happened, there's no real surprise. It's just a monotonous telling of how something we've already been told of, happened. 

The frequent changes in cast and scenery also sets everything back. Just as a scene is fully forming in your mind, you're dropped into another, then another, then another, without warning.

Characters - 2.5/5 Stars

I said up top that they're polarising, and they are. The cast isn't very engaging. 

The Thomas Berryman Number is essentially a book within a book. Our 'main' character is Ochs Jones, who's recounting the story of his own investigation into the mysterious assassin Thomas Berryman. There's not much to say about Jones. There are a few nice moments of him being in supposed danger - it's not capitalised on - and the book's immediacy picks up. But, overall, and as simply as I can put it, he's boring.

The one good thing that comes from the style and structure, the book within the book, is the way it emphasises the titular character. We're watching from afar, unable to get a real feel for Mr Thomas Berryman, and that works wonders on the character's mystery. He's charming, intelligent, tough, but disarmingly trustworthy; he's good at his job. We also get the feeling he isn't as sadistic as you would assume an assassin to be. In fact, he's quite methodical, calm. 

The rest of the expansive cast are just as divided in terms of characterisation. Apart from the main two, there isn't much to focus on.

Writing - 3/5 Stars

Comparing this novel to his later ones, James Patterson's writing has improved immeasurably. 

While overall it's not so bad in The Thomas Berryman Number, the structure leaves a little to be desired. There are also a lot of off-topic descriptions within scenes that can, and likely will, catch you off guard and distract you.

Overall - 2.5/5 Stars

Reading this, and knowing the works that follow, James Patterson has grabbed his potential and perfected it. I urge you, if you're starting out with this author with this book, to not give up. Mr Patterson isn't one of the bestselling authors of this era for no reason, and the quality of the majority outweigh this single novel.

It also leads me to a question for you guys: Are you the type of reader who, if you read a bad book - taking into account subjective opinions - by an author, is that the last time you try that author?

For me I rarely ever give up on a writer, even if I don't fancy a couple of their works, but I'm interested in what you guys have to say.

For more James Patterson reviews: Index

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