May 25, 2006

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The 5th Horseman, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Little, Brown and Company, 2006, 410 pages)

Hospital patients well enough to be released soon are suddenly doing an about-face and dying and detective Lindsay Boxer is determined to find out why. The case takes on a more personal note since one of the victims is the mother of the newest member of the Women’s Murder Club.

Attorney Yuki Castellano, introduced to readers in 4th of July when she defends Lindsay in a wrongful death suit, takes a prominent role in this fifth installment of Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series (which started with 1st to Die in 2001) as she joins the threesome of Boxer, reporter Cindy Thomas and medical examiner Claire Washburn (with the murder of ADA Jill Bernhardt in 3rd Degree, the Club had temporarily been down to three members). Her appearance is brief, but Yuki’s mother Keiko provides unexpected comic relief and warmth as she nags her daughter and her friends about things like manners and choosing a suitable husband.

Although Lindsay has appeared in court in previous stories, most of her time is spent out in the field, investigating murders, fending off those who would do her harm, and socializing with her colleagues. In The Fifth Horseman, Lindsay works on solving the murders of several young women posed in designer clothes in fancy cars, but the main story centers on the negligence trial of Dr. Dennis Garza, Director of Emergency Services at San Francisco Municipal Hospital. The patients who mysteriously died had all been under his care, and now there’s a full-scale investigation. Yuki sits in on the trial as a way of coming to grips with her mother’s death and trying to learn as much as she can about exactly what is going on at the hospital.

One of Patterson’s devices is to use many narrators, to really get inside the mind of the criminal or victim, to express details as intimately as possible. Here he tells much of the story from Yuki’s point of view, mostly her observations of the trial. It is not until the final plot twist that we learn just what Dr. Garza is up to, and as always, the truth is unpredictable and shocking. Despite having many courtroom scenes, the book never loses its dramatic tension and has all the attention to minor details that one expects from Patterson. The title refers to the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Famine, Death, Pestilence and War. The Fifth Horseman? That would be Man, the most dangerous of all.

This installment seems to have a bit less of the female camaraderie found in the earlier books. Claire and Cindy are way in the background, there’s not as much brainstorming/gossiping over cocktails as usual. However, we do get a solid sense of the new kid on the block, Yuki, and I expect that the next book in this series will have more of a balance among the cohorts. B+

— Irene Labombarde


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