James Patterson Responds: Along Came a Spider

Along Came a Spider by James Patterson

Kindle Notes & Highlights From Along Came a Spider

Master of Thriller Suspense, James Patterson, responds to his most highlighted quotes from the Alex Cross novel that started it all: Along Came a Spider.


Why set the Cross series in Washington, DC? I’m often asked. That’s easy – it’s the most interesting city in the county to set a detective series. Not only is the seat of the national government there, but also the DEA, FBI, and CIA. It’s a fascinating place, with a diverse population and a wide range of communities, that, from a crime fiction perspective, offer an inexhaustible supply of cases. A lot can happen there—more than any place in the world.

I was the picture of contentment on the sun porch of our house on 5th Street in Washington, D.C.

When I first started with Alex, for sixty to seventy pages, “I” was a woman detective called “Alexis,” and her last name wasn’t Cross. I was daunted by the task of creating this character, but then Alex came to me, and offered a lot of stories to tell.

I had already decided to wear my old Harris Tweed jacket. It was a murder day, and that meant I’d be seeing white people. Over the sport coat, I put on my Georgetown warm-up jacket. It goes better with the neighborhood. On the bureau, by the bed, was a picture of Maria Cross. Three years before, my wife had been murdered in a drive-by shooting. That murder, like the majority of murders in Southeast, had never been solved.

The most interesting aspect of the Cross books is not the murders, though the crimes do hook and surprise readers. How Alex relates to the people he cares about is just as compelling. Over the course of the series, Alex continues to face the deaths of women who’ve gotten close to him. He lost his first wife, Maria, to a drive-by shooting. I won’t spoil later books but just know that Alex has more heartbreak and loss in his future before finding a new partner.

I kissed my grandmother on the way out the kitchen door. We’ve done that since I was eight years old. We also say good-bye, just in case we never see each other again. It’s been like that for almost thirty years, ever since Nana Mama first took me in and decided she could make something of me. She made a homicide detective, with a doctorate in psychology, who works and lives in the ghettos of Washington, D.C.

There is more than one hero in the Cross family. Regina Cross Hope, the beloved grandmother Alex calls “Nana Mama,” is as tough as she is caring. Every family has a keeper of stories, and in the Cross house that person is Nana Mama.

A couple of uniforms had already been inside the house. A nervous neighbor had called the precinct around four-thirty. She thought she’d spotted a prowler. The woman had been up with the night-jitters. It comes with the neighborhood. The two uniformed patrolmen found three bodies inside. When they called it in, they were instructed to wait for the Special Investigator Team. S.I.T. It’s made up of eight black officers supposedly slated for better things in the department.

Alex is an astute observer of people. He sees their frustration with institutions, feelings he shares, for example, the bureaucracy of government agencies, including police departments. He’s not a loner, but he works best with those who share his goals to make society better. To Alex, that means bringing equal justice to people across the city, rather than working exclusively on high-profile cases in wealthy areas.

The halls outside the classroom were nearly empty, and very quiet. A porter, a black man named Emmett Everett, was the only person who saw the trio as they left the school building. Leaning on his broom, Mr. Everett watched Mr. Soneji and the two children walk the length of the long hallway. He was the last person to see them all together.

Emmett Everett is a minor character, this passage being his sole appearance in the story. But he plays a crucial role of witness. Through his eyes, we know tragedy looms. The question becomes, how do we get there?

But Jezzie Flanagan had already walked away, at least partly to keep from saying anything else to Victor. She did feel nervous. And ill. And mostly, wired as hell. She wasn’t so much looking for familiar faces in the crowded school lobby, as the right faces. There were two of them now! Charlie Chakely and Mike Devine. Her agents. The two men she had assigned to young Michael Goldberg and also Maggie Rose Dunne, since they traveled back and forth to school together.

As the first-ever female supervisor in the Secret Service, Jezzie Flanagan holds a unique position of authority. Her character is intriguing because as hard as she’s worked to achieve this professional recognition, any mistake will make her fall that much steeper, difficult, and public. At the beginning of the story, she’s in control of her trajectory—making it all the more impossible to stop watching as she loses her way.

Then Soneji drove away from the murder scene. The death of Agent Graham wasn’t a big deal to him. Not really. He’d killed over two hundred people before this one. Practice makes perfect. It wouldn’t be the last time, either. This one would wake everybody up, though. He just hoped they had somebody better waiting in the wings.

The most interesting villains are smart and complex, living under a code of secrecy. Yet they must also possess some element of humanity—like Gary Soneji’s obsession for history that drives his attempt to recreate a crime of the century—that makes it impossible for readers to separate their feelings of love and hate as the crimes continue to build.

It’s all right to put the weight of the world on your shoulders sometimes, if you know how to take it off.

Alex’s professional responsibilities as psychologist and detective, intertwines with his commitments as a romantic partner and a parent. The ways that work and family life interact can be difficult, and Alex accesses that realization to gain inner knowledge of the suspects he pursues. When he does crack their terrible mind games, Alex takes time to relax with his family. In the closing scene of Along Came a Spider, he plays the piano for his kids and loses himself in the music.


The quote on Jezzie’s T-shirt is often attributed to W.C. Fields. As much as she warms to Alex, Jezzie has a cold take on the limitations of brilliance.

I found myself just holding on to her back. I was remembering different things about us. Feeling so bad inside; wanting all the feeling to stop. I knew that she was a psychopath, just like Gary. No conscience. I believed that business, the government, Wall Street were filled with people like that. No regret for their actions. Not unless they got caught. Then the crocodile tears started.

There are two types of villains. There’s the kind you know committed the crimes in the story—like Gary Soneji–but you can’t help but want to get inside that head. And then there’s the kind who seem sympathetic—like Jezzie Flanagan—right up until the moment the evil deeds are revealed. Some stories, like this one, are lucky enough to have both.


As the Cross series continues, Alex has become like an old friend to me. Spend some time with him in DEADLY CROSS, available now for pre-order, and on sale November 23, 2020, wherever books are sold.


Posted from Goodreads Kindle Notes & Hightlights

The Newest Alex Cross Novel