Richard North Patterson, one of the brand names among thriller writers, with seven consecutive bestsellers to his credit, is shifting his prime allegiance from Knopf to Ballantine, which has done all his books in paperback. Ballantine publisher Gina Centrello preempted world rights in the next two Patterson books from the author's longtime agent, San Francisco's Fred Hill of Frederick Hill Bonnie Nadell Inc. The first book under the new deal will appear in 2003 and will be edited by editor-in-chief Nancy Miller. Like most of Patterson's recent thrillers, it will have political overtones, and will involve the corrupting influence of gun violence and wealthy power brokers. Centrello said the house is "thrilled and honored" to become Patterson's primary publisher, and the author, noting his long relationship with Ballantine, said his chief motivation for making the move was his "deep confidence" in Centrello's view of his work.