cover image Cat & Mouse

Cat & Mouse

James Patterson. Time Warner AudioBooks, $32 (399pp) ISBN 978-0-316-69329-5

Always a generous author (lots of plot and intrigue) if not a stylish one, Patterson now gives his fans two thrillers, loosely linked, for the price of one. The first features convicted mass murderer and prison escapee Gary Soneji, returning from Along Came a Spider. The second focuses on Mr. Smith, a fiend who performs live autopsies on his victims and who boasts to one, ""Gary Soneji [is] a pussycat compared to me."" Both benefit from the humane presence of Patterson's popular black Washington, D.C., detective/psychologist Alex Cross, who sweetly romances a school principal when not hunting down the villains. There's action aplenty here, beginning with Soneji's rampage in the famed train station, intercutting with Mr. Smith's diabolical handiwork and peaking with a nighttime assault on Alex and a cruel conclusion. There's much mystery, too, as Patterson--writing in the third-person as well as through two first-person voices--lays down the games suggested in the title. The many puzzles--who is Mr. Smith? why is Soneji possessed of bloodlust? etc.--and their solutions are on a Hardy Boys level, and Patterson's prose is equally rudimentary, littering the narrative with as many exclamation points as dead bodies: ""Rush hour! Eight-twenty A.M. Jesus God Almighty, no! A madman was on the loose inside Union Station""). With his trademark short chapters, cleanly delineated characters and flair for cheesy melodrama, however, Patterson again delivers the sort of undemanding, swiftly paced fare that has made him a champ of the charts. 500,000 first printing; Literary Guild main selection; author tour. (Nov.) FYI: Paramount Pictures promises a ""multimillion""-dollar campaign to promote the release of Kiss the Girls in September. Warner will publish the mass market edition of Jack & Jill in October.