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Worst Case by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Worst Case features one of Patterson’s regular protagonists, Detective Michael Bennett of the NYPD, who is called to investigate the kidnapping of the teenage son of a billionaire industrialist.

Although it’s not clear to the investigators why wealthy young people are being targeted, or what the kidnapper’s motivation is, we readers are in the advantageous position of being able to meet the kidnapper early on, and learn that his goal is to ascertain the degree of his captive’s social consciousness by quizzing them about social justice, environmental issues and so on – all related to what their parents do to earn vast amounts of money.

If they don’t come up with the right answer, they die – and this is what happens to several unlucky teenagers.

The fact that the parents of these children are so rich and powerful and well-known means they can turn up the heat on the authorities and the media (and a particularly annoying, obtuse deputy mayor), who makes a couple of memorable appearances), and this is what brings FBI agent Emily Parker into the story, leading to sparks flying in a couple of different directions.

Worst Case is a good potboiler – there is nothing stunningly original about the plot, but one of my favourite aspects of the novel are the scenes of Michael Bennett’s frantic home life – he has 10, yes, 10, all adopted with his wife, who passed away two years ago, so Michael combines full-time killer-hunting with raising them, with the help of his father, a priest, and a long-suffering nanny, Mary Catherine, who carries a torch for Michael.

For me, these scenes, and particularly an early passage in which he invites Emily home for dinner without warning her first what she will be walking into – add a layer of humanity and warmth to the book, which helps both to draw you to Michael and to offset the unpleasantness of what is happening to children elsewhere in the book – I’d be interested to know if Patterson or Ledwidge is chiefly responsible for this.

The speed of production has meant this book is highly topical – the relationship of corporate malfeasance to the recession, and big-city terrorism are both featured, and Patterson books are a bit like buses – if you miss one, there’ll be another along shortly – but you can always be assured of an entertaining and diverting ride.

This review first appeared on

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones

Published by Penguin


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