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Step on a Crack    by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge order for
Step on a Crack
by James Patterson
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Step on a Crack, James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge introduce a new series hero - a cross between Alex Cross and a Brady Bunch dad. Irish American NYPD Homicide Detective Michael Bennett is the adoptive father of ten kids aged from three to twelve. Though his beloved wife Maeve 'fought for her life and dignity like a banshee', she's dying of cancer. Christmas is coming, and Michael's about to deal with the most challenging set of criminals encountered in a long career.

It all begins with the death of former First Lady Caroline Hopkins, while dining on foie gras at an elegant French restaurant in New York City. The reader learns well before the police do that there was nothing accidental about it, and that the Neat Man has even bigger plans, his masterpiece in the making, for the inevitable funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He observes as limos disgorge dignitaries to fill up the pews - actors and politicians, music and sports stars, the well-known and the wealthy, soon 'the gang's all here' along with contingents of Secret Service agents, cops and private security personnel. Should be safe as houses, shouldn't it?

Of course it's not safe at all, and soon a set of villains hold VIP hostages inside, besieged by the FBI, the Army, and New York's finest including - as interim hostage negotiator and media spokesman - Michael Bennett. As people across the country scramble to collect millions in ransom demands, there are deaths - of hostages and commandos sent in after them. The hijackers always seem one step ahead of law enforcement officials. Then the ransom is wired and the cathedral emptied. Michael wonders how the shooters can possibly expect to escape - and he soon finds out in scenes and maneuvers that could segue into a James Bond movie!

Step on a Crack is as slick and catastrophic as an oil spill, featuring Patterson's trademark short chapters and regular plot shockers. And the authors milk every iota of sentimentality possible out of Bennett's perfect - though tragic - family life, from Maeve's organization of chores on her deathbed, and young Brian's assurance to his dad that 'We've got your back', to spunky Irish Mary Catherine (a modern Mary Poppins who's the au pair), and Michael's grandfather Seamus, a priest whose gruffness and blarney overlays 'a heart of pure gold.' I'm sure we'll soon see more of all of them - on paper and on the big screen.

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