Over the past couple of years, I have found myself growing ever more intrigued with the concept behind James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge's Michael Bennett books.
For the uninitiated, Michael Bennett is a New York City police detective who is a widower and father of 10. His grandfather Seamus is a crusty customer who happens to be a Catholic priest, one whose soul is firmly planted in the spiritual world but who is very much able to offer practical advice for material and physical concerns as well. The day-to-day management of the household and the children is overseen by Mary Catherine, an Irish nanny (of course) who somehow manages to be working toward her degree even as she accomplishes the task of herding the Bennett children with great aplomb.
Over the course of the series (of which the newly published TICK TOCK is the fourth installment), Mary Catherine has managed to attract the not-unwelcome attentions of her employer, notwithstanding the fact that the guy is 1) a really slow mover, and 2) clueless in matters of affairs of the heart, even for a hapless male. This setup would be perfect for a lighthearted television drama about a dedicated cop balancing family and professional duties. But what would give it a hard TV-MA rating is the graphic violence. It's the contrast between the professional and personal elements of Bennett's life that makes these books winners.
I have been pounding the drum for a while now to alert readers that Patterson, either writing singly or in collaboration with another author, creates and presents some of the most frightening villains one is likely to find. This is particularly true in TICK TOCK. The novel begins with New York being rocked by a series of horrific murders, just as Bennett and his family settle in for what they hoped would be a restful and relaxing beachside vacation. That is not to be. Bennett continues to be called back to the city as new murders and developments take place. The only thing that seems to connect the crimes, at least initially, is a series of cryptic letters addressed to Bennett.
It takes Emily Parker to uncover a deeper and more troubling link that ties together the killings. Parker, an FBI agent who worked previously with Bennett and earned his respect (and some degree of personal attention as well), joins the investigation at his request, and her relentless pursuit of evidence slowly leads the team to the killer's front door, even as she proves to be a personal distraction for Bennett.
Meanwhile, on the home front, Bennett's children are being attacked and harassed by a young gang of local toughs who think that their parents' connections will protect them from retribution. The problem is they're correct. Even as Bennett tries to reason with the troublemakers, they continue to act with impunity. As Bennett and Parker grow ever closer to finding the killer, Bennett's personal and professional lives intersect in a deadly way that he could not have predicted, resulting in things never being the same for him again.
It's not necessary to have read the three prior Bennett books before sinking your teeth into this new one. Patterson and Ledwidge do a great job of filling in the brick and mortar missing for new readers, but regardless of your standing as a fan of the series or of Parker, TICK TOCK is one of the more unforgettable and accessible thriller novels of recent note. Equal parts gore, charm and alarm, it's a winner.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub