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The Beach House    by James Patterson & Peter De Jonge order for
Beach House
by James Patterson
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In an effective collaboration with Peter De Jonge, James Patterson takes on the Dark Side of the super-rich summer residents of East Hampton. Jack and his younger brother Peter Mullen grew up as part of the community that provides the infrastructure to support the wealthy families who summer there. Jack was the 'homegrown golden boy' who went on to study law at Columbia, Peter the handsome and reckless young athlete.

As the story opens, Peter is racing his brand-new BMW motorbike to the party that marks the beginning of the season. It is hosted by Barry and Campion Neubauer at their forty million dollar beach house, and Peter will be there to park cars. We see Peter Rabbit's point of view as he receives a note 'pickled in perfume' and ambles along to a rendez-vous on the beach, where he is ambushed and killed.

His family and friends are devastated, especially after the local police chief, despite strong evidence to the contrary, labels it an accidental death. Jack and his circle of friends begin to investigate and so are pulled into peril themselves. When the Fixer gets going, each of them discovers that 'The empire is starting to strike back.' There has been a Romeo and Juliet connection between Jack and Dana Neubauer, which her father soon disrupts, and Jack begins to make startling discoveries about his brother's life and secrets.

The Beach House is closer to James Patterson's Women's Murder Club than to his Alex Cross series, sharing with the former a team of admirable and likeable people who perform the investigation; and while it is thrilling enough, it's not at the same blood-chilling level as the Alex Cross stories. There is a strong romantic connection for the protagonist, with both Dana and with Pauline Grabowski - a competent legal investigator colleague of Jack's, who is tough only on the outside.

At the head of a long list of other colorful characters is Jack and Peter's Irish grandfather Mack, who dispenses wisdom like 'The goddamned system is a clever old whore, Jack. I'm afraid all we did was piss it off' and he's right, as they discover when they face 'the Big Lie, the White Noise, the Matrix' in court. That is where this novel rises above Mr. Patterson's usual chillers. It's just as gripping, with short, punchy, dramatic chapters and appealing characters, but also takes on an important issue, that of the inequity in the justice system between rich and poor (the latter showcased by a death row execution).

While the ending is unfortunately improbable, in that it postulates a group of people willing to put their futures on the line for justice, it is very satisfying. The story builds up to it in a series of waves, each peaking a little higher till the big one comes along. By all means, take this novel along to the beach, but be careful that you're not swept away by your inevitable absorption in it.

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