1st To Die (Women’s Murder Club #1) – James Patterson

1st to Die by James Patterson
Also by this author: 2nd Chance, 3rd Degree, The Horsewoman, 4th of July, The 5th Horseman, The 6th Target, 7th Heaven, The 8th Confession, The 9th Judgment, 10th Anniversary
Series: Women's Murder Club #1
on March 5, 2001
Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
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Four crime-solving friends face off against a killer in San Francisco in the Women's Murder Club novel that started James Patterson's thrilling series.
Each one holds a piece of the puzzle: Lindsay Boxer is a homicide inspector in the San Francisco Police Department, Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, Jill Bernhardt is an assistant D.A., and Cindy Thomas just started working the crime desk of the San Francisco Chronicle.
But the usual procedures aren't bringing them any closer to stopping the killings. So these women form a Women's Murder Club to collaborate outside the box and pursue the case by sidestepping their bosses and giving each other a hand. The four women develop intense bonds as they pursue a killer whose crimes have stunned an entire city. Working together, they track down the most terrifying and unexpected killer they have ever encountered--before a shocking conclusion in which everything they knew turns out to be devastatingly wrong.

The Women’s Murder Club began because James Patterson got tired of getting outsold by John Grisham on the West Coast. The result has been two decades of novels, a TV series, a movie, and—inexplicably—five different video games. While the Patterson formula of creating characters and an outline, then handing it off to a coauthor to do the writing dominates the series, the inaugural volume 1st To Die is all Patterson.

The series follows Lindsay Boxer, a homicide inspector for the San Francisco Police Department. 1st To Die introduces us to the Honeymoon Murderer, a serial killer targeting the just-married as they celebrate on their honeymoon. As the murders pile up, police are flummoxed. And when the pieces start coming together, the person they point toward is somebody no one would have expected.

More important (for the story) however is Lindsay’s acquisition of friends throughout the case. She develops a working relationship with reporter Cindy Thomas, deepens a friendship with medical examiner Claire Washburn, then finally brings assistant district attorney Jill Bernhardt into the fold. In 1st To Die, each character unlocks a major part of the case and it’s their coffee table discussions, not the official investigation, that solves the crime.

The characterization is about what you’d expect from a man in his fifties writing a series he’s decided to call “The Women’s Murder Club.” While the characters will eventually grow on you as the series progresses (thanks to coauthors Andrew Gross and Maxine Paetro), 1st To Die almost reads like a badly plagiarized version of the series. The characters are cardboard thin, stereotypical to the point of inanity, and it’s only the plot that makes this even a little bit bearable.

Not that the plot is much better. 1st To Die loves the twist you didn’t see coming because there was absolutely no foreshadowing for it. It also loves to untwist the twist you didn’t see coming because that’s really the only way to make sense out of most of the book. I spent most of my time just to find out how Patterson would write his way out of it.

There’s also a subplot about Lindsay’s newly-diagnosed medical condition, something that could have been a longer plot arc through the series but, nope, that all gets resolved at the end as well. There’s a very poorly done romance that seems put there for an obligatory sex scene. And that pretty much hits all the pieces of a pulp fiction novel that seems more at home in the 1970s than the early 2000s. While the series does improve to at least the level of mindless entertainment, 1st To Die is just proof that anything with Patterson’s name on it will sell. It also proves Patterson’s business savvy in using his name to market while handing off the work to more competent writers.