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The Red Book: A Black Book Thriller

Review

The Red Book: A Black Book Thriller

Over the course of a long and successful career, James Patterson has created a number of iconic literary protagonists. Alex Cross immediately comes to mind, with NYPD Detective Michael Bennett running a close second. His more recent creation, Detective Billy Harney of the Chicago PD, is certainly in contention as well.

As realized by Patterson and co-author David Ellis, Harney is by turns interesting and complex. He has experienced long-term physical and psychological damage, the former incurred on the job and the latter sustained in his personal life. His backstory is discussed to some degree in THE RED BOOK, the successor to 2017’s THE BLACK BOOK, but the primary focus is on a violent set of killings that threaten to set Chicago on fire but dovetail into Harney’s tragic past.

"Harney is a tragically quirky character seemingly full of contradictions. One of my favorite elements in these books is the vignettes in which he does impromptu stand-up comedy routines in a Chicago cop bar."

THE RED BOOK begins with a drive-by shooting that takes the lives of three gang members and two innocents. One of the innocents is a woman who appears to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; the other is a young girl who was killed by a stray bullet. The community demands justice and gets it when a task force led by Harney tracks down one of the suspects and kills him after the former initiates a firefight. The second suspect is murdered in his bed. Case closed. The community is happy, and what might have been a deadly gang war is averted. Or so it seems.

There is evidence to indicate that the suspects, though hardly angels, were not responsible for the particular crime for which they received rough justice and that three unknown subjects committed the drive-by shootings. Harney is put in the somewhat unique position of having to solve a case that everyone --- including his own partner, a bent Internal Affairs cop and even his police officer sister --- wants to stay closed.

His investigation takes him to places he never wanted to return to; his wife committed suicide the same day his infant daughter died. Harney was able to deal --- just barely --- with his wife’s actions until he finds himself on the verge of discovering that she didn’t take her own life after all. He follows a trail of twists and turns, but the only thing that seems certain is that he is on the brink of a discovery that he may not be able to walk away from, even as he seeks justice in whatever form it takes.

Harney is a tragically quirky character seemingly full of contradictions. One of my favorite elements in these books is the vignettes in which he does impromptu stand-up comedy routines in a Chicago cop bar. These laugh fests often turn into roasts and help to relieve, if only for a moment, the gritty realism that permeates the story. I look forward to reading more about Harney, as well as anything else that Patterson and Ellis collaborate on, in the future.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 2, 2021

The Red Book: A Black Book Thriller
by James Patterson and David Ellis

  • Publication Date: March 29, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316499404
  • ISBN-13: 9780316499408