The Stack-Up: Along Came A Spider

Patrick Ullmer | Photo Courtesy

Novelist James Patterson has amassed a seemingly endless plethora of books covering various genres. Among his most recognizable works is the series of mystery novels featuring the brilliant African American detective Alex Cross. The first of these books is “Along Came a Spider” published in 1993 and adapted to film in 2001.

The Book
Homicide investigator and forensic psychologist Alex Cross investigates the murders of three individuals as well as the kidnappings of two rich, young children at a private school. The perpetrator is Gary Soneji, a serial murderer with split personalities who has just turned his hand to kidnapping hoping to commit the crime of the century similar to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh child. Cross begins a relationship with his female partner, Jezzie Flannagan, and things take a darker turn when he suspects she has something to do with these crimes.

Patterson tends to be brutal in his descriptions of violent and appalling acts to the point of overkill (in more ways than one). So abrasive can his descriptions thereof be, that I wonder what his family life is like. Does he greet his relatives saying, “Hey nephew. Today I wrote a chapter where a young boy your age gets kidnapped, buried alive and killed before his corpse is molested by the killer and dumped in a river. Want to play basketball? How about we order Chinese for dinner?”

Patterson is a writer you either love or hate, and his books are likewise. He is a skilled storyteller who makes good prose. The plot of this story is intriguing with one plot twist after another. The action never stops, and you have to suspend your disbelief to enjoy this book. However, as I said earlier, I am not a fan of his grotesque descriptions of pedophilia and necrophilia themes, and the book would have been passable if having avoided such.

Review: 2/5

The Film
Directed by Lee Tamahori and starring Morgan Freeman as Cross with Monica Potter as Jezzie, this film steps into gear from the ominously presented opening credits. After losing his partner in a sting operation gone wrong (with likewise CGI) Cross is pulled back into action by a taunting phone call from Soneji (Michael Wincott). Cross is pulled into the deep, dark web of Soneji’s machinations involving more kidnappings. Aside from this outline, the film’s trailer is far more faithful to the book than the actual film.

The film’s plot centers around the sole abduction of Megan Rose, the daughter of a U.S. senator and how Cross seeks to rescue her. More changes include Soneji’s pedophilic history and tendencies from the book being scrapped (Thank God for that) as is Jezzie being a romantic love interest. I am not against these changes, mind you; in fact, I enjoyed this film immensely more because of them. The film is not a thickly-plotted story rife with social commentary nor deep dives into a killer’s psyche as the book is, but is instead a taut, exciting thriller and nothing more.

It was after this film that I started to think questions like, “How does the director of this competent thriller later make the ridiculous ‘Die Another Day’ (a title in the James Bond series eerily prophetic for the franchise if the upcoming entry fails to gross $900 million)?” And “How does lead actress Monica Potter go from starring alongside acting legend Morgan Freeman to vanishing from the spotlight almost entirely?”

Or “Why do people say the film is never better than the book since this certainly was?” I know these are silly questions, but as Freeman would say in his latest History Channel commercials, “Curiosity moves the world.” Now I’m curious as to whether or not I have way too much time on my hands to know all this.

Review: 3.5/5

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