Do not begin Step On A Crack if you have a job to go to the next morning. This James Patterson Michael Ledwidge thriller grabs you by the balls in the prologue and doesn’t let go until the very last page. Step On A Crack starts with the murder of a former First Lady, all part of a plan to allow a guy called the Neat Man and his cohorts to hold America’s who’s who hostage in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Either James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge read an FBI, CIA, or Homeland Security case file for the premise of Step On A Crack or right now an agent at one of these agencies is reading Step On A Crack and writing a case file based on this thriller of all thrillers. Either way someone is in trouble because the scenario in this novel is extremely plausible. The agent in question is going to have a hell of a lot of fun reading this latest James Patterson collaboration.

I would have liked to have been on the meeting between Patterson and Ledwidge when they were planning Step On A Crack: Let’s make 30 some different characters hostage, throw in 3 different police forces and make them work together, add an easy to recognize bad guy and give him a corny name, the Neat Man, and let’s name two of his sidekick hostage takers Jack and Little John. Now, to top it off, the hostage negotiator is Michael Bennett a father of ten adopted kids whose wife is in the last days of a terminal cancer. If that’s not enough, let’s have the hostage takers force one of the hostages to do a comedy routine in front of an actually captive audience. That’s just the first third of the book. This may sound like the result of a drinking game or pissing contest at a mystery writer’s convention but it really, really works.

Fans of Patterson’s Alex Cross will easily recognize homicide detective and forced hostage negotiator Michael Bennett. A lot of the scenes where Bennett is home could easily have been lifted out of one of the Cross books. Michael Bennett is not very different from Alex Cross be it physically or psychologically. This does not take anything away from this thriller but the similarities are definitely there. The scenes at the Bennett home may be a bit sugary sweet, especially since this novel is set around Christmas time, but they allow the reader to take a breath between tight and tense sections of this thriller.

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge do not make the mistake of drowning the reader in a pool of too many characters. There are a dozen or so bad guys and thirty or so hostages but they pare this down to five or six hostages you can easily remember and three bad guys. The Neat Man’s plan is brilliant and this allows for this thriller to go from one surprise to another without seeming pre-arranged or forced.

Step On A Crack ends as intelligently as it began and carried through. This is one hell of a thriller. Oh well, rise and shine, time to go to work.

Step On A Crack
James Patterson
and Michael Ledwidge
Little, Brown 2007
383 pages

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