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I, Michael Bennett On Autopilot

  • Glenn McCarty Contributing Writer
  • 2012 25 Jul
<i>I, Michael Bennett</i> On Autopilot

Author: James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Title: I, Michael Bennett        

Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.

James Patterson's Michael Bennett books may not have the history or name recognition of his Alex Cross or Women's Murder Club series, but as another entry in the blockbuster author's mystery catalog, it's been equally successful. I, Michael Bennett marks the fifth installment in the series - co-written with Michael Ledwidge, and all bestsellers- which focuses on the exploits of the titular cop, a quintessentially Irish member of New York's finest.

Conceived as Cheaper by the Dozen meets Die Hard, the series is as blue-collar as they come, with Bennett - the adopted father of 10 children - hanging out at the local Irish pub for a pint, mourning the loss of his wife Maeve, and crushing on his children's au pair Mary Catherine. These are all attempts to paint Bennett as the quintessential everyman, but the resulting thriller is a mixed bag: chipper and sentimental, despite its noir vibe and scenes of gang warfare.

This time out, Bennett gets mixed up in cartel turf warfare after an attempt to capture Mexican kingpin Manuel Perrine fails on the novel's opening pages. When Bennett's partner and besty Hughie McDonough is gunned down during the ensuing chase, Bennett takes Perrine's capture beyond personal. Unfortunately for Bennett, so does Perrine. And with 10 children and an au pair he's falling for as potential collateral damage, the possibilities for retribution are sky-high.

The plot takes a left turn into warm and fuzzy territory when Perrine is captured and put on trial, and Bennett and his brood head north for summer vacation at the family lake cottage outside Newburgh. Here, Patterson and Ledwidge insert the obligatory idyllic descriptions of summer in the Catskills. Inexplicably to Bennett - but convenient for the plot - Newburgh's not the town he remembers from his youth, the streets overrun by gang violence. At the heart? The drug trade. So, instead of Bennett escaping the media crush of Perrine's trial, the violence finds him.

Many of Patterson's trademarks are here - sliver-thin chapters, a crisp, witty narrative voice, and of course, a rocket-propelled plot. But there's an unexpected amount of winsomeness, bordering on sentimentality, and it makes for an odd contrast with Perrine's brutal tactics. He's less a character than he is a type, cut from the pages of a Don Winslow novel and pasted here, the standard cutthroat Mexican drug lord. By the way, have the cartels officially taken over from the Middle Eastern terrorists as the villain du jour in thrillers? I missed the memo. Bennett responds so glibly to everything in the book that it takes some of the bite out of the snake that is Perrine.

The plot sails along precisely as expected, and barring one jarring third-act surprise, ends up about where you'd expect. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the story is a conflict so completely devoid of resolution, it can only be explained as a naked advertisement for the follow-up book.

This book came off the presses at the top of the bestseller list, so Patterson and Ledwidge obviously have this formula down. But it's that notion - formula - that makes I, Michael Bennett a bit too hard to swallow. Despite the guns and chases, it's hard to grab a stake in Bennett's struggle, and the execution is so passionless, it almost seems like autopilot. Next time, let's flip the switch for manual control.

*This Review First Published 7/25/2012