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Where to start reading James Patterson

If you haven’t yet ventured into the high-stakes world of James Patterson’s fiction, here are the novels to get you started

India-Jayne Trainor
Photography by Stephanie Diani. Image credit: Victoria Ford for Penguin.

James Patterson is an author who needs no introduction. His crime novels are so prolific that he recently passed the milestone of 100 million copies sold. While he is best known for the popular Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club and Private series, Patterson has written a host of standalone thrillers, too – each containing his signature suspense, drama, and never-saw-that-coming plot twists.

Patterson’s literary draw stretches far beyond crime, spanning non-fiction, romance, and bestselling children’s literature. With such a vast oeuvre – Patterson has written over 200 books – it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve chosen a handful of Patterson’s best books to help guide you.

The first book in James Patterson’s most prolific detective series, Along Came A Spider introduces us to smart, tough homicide detective Alex Cross. Simultaneously investigating a triple homicide and a kidnapping at a prestigious private school, Cross becomes romantically entangled with a Secret Service agent. While chasing the people responsible for the crimes, Cross begins to suspect that the mastermind may be closer to home than he thought.

A psychological thriller with a successful film adaptation starring Morgan Freeman, Along Came A Spider is an action-packed introduction to Patterson’s 32-book series.

The Women’s Murder Club series follows Detective Lindsay Boxer and friends Cindy, Yuki and Claire, who all work in the business of murder. Patterson expertly weaves in details from previous books, meaning readers can jump straight in at any point in the series. The tenth book, 10th Anniversary, sees Boxer on the cusp of marriage to her sweetheart, Joe Molinari, when the nuptials are cut short by the kidnapping of a baby from a mother who can’t get her story straight.

Weaving three plots together, and a little less grisly than other Women’s Murder Club books, 10th Anniversary offers a fast-paced plot and plenty of twists, while celebrating female friendship along the way.

Private (2010)

Rich clients with shocking secrets, far-flung destinations and a race against time: James Patterson’s Private series has all of these in spades. The kick-off to the series, Private, introduces protagonist Jack Morgan’s elite detective agency for those who seek expertise and discretion.

Balancing investigations into a gambling scandal and a grisly serial killer, Morgan’s world is turned upside down when a former flame is murdered. In classic Patterson fashion, nothing is as it seems and there’s more than one skeleton to be found in this brilliant page-turner.

NYPD Red (2013)

NYPD Red is one of James Patterson’s most action-packed series. It focuses on Zach Jordan, a detective in New York’s elite police department which investigates crimes against the city’s rich and famous.

In a dramatic start to the series, high-profile celebrities are attacked en masse by a deranged killer, whom Jordan must track down with his partner and ex-girlfriend. An epic cat-and-mouse chase ensues that sets the tone for the rest of the addictive series.

There’s no better introduction to James Patterson than his first-ever thriller, The Thomas Berryman Number, for which he won two Edgar Awards. Opening with three gruesome murders in America’s South, the novel is named after Thomas Berryman, a hitman who is known only by his code name ‘Number’.

Hot on his trail is reporter Ochs Jones, who is investigating a high-profile murder that he quickly realises Berryman was hired to commit. In contrast to his crime series, Patterson’s debut novel has a slower pace and plenty of detail, which makes it a captivating read.

Don’t Blink (2010)

In one of New York’s most glamorous restaurants, writer Nick Daniels is recording an interview with a legendary baseball star turned recluse. In the next booth, the shocking murder of a mob lawyer takes place. Daniels has it all on tape, but he doesn’t realise the deadly secret he’s uncovered until he starts being hunted himself.

A fun, action-packed story that doesn’t stop and has you second-guessing what will happen next, Don’t Blink is short, sweet and one you’ll read again and again.

A political thriller so good you’ll think it's real, The President Is Missing was James Patterson’s first novel with former president Bill Clinton. The book topped the New York Times bestseller list multiple times, thanks to the juicy, true-to-life details provided by Clinton, combined with Patterson’s stellar storytelling.

In the novel, President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan faces assassinations, betrayals and a threat to national security on his mission to stop a powerful computer virus from bringing America to its knees.

Don't miss James Patterson's latest novel, 12 Months to Live, which is out 28 September, 2023.

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