1.? Along Came a Spider
The first Alex Cross book is a must-read for obvious reasons. Cross is Patterson’s most popular character, and with more than twenty novels telling the character’s adventures. It’s also a fantastic story, with a plot that twists and turns furiously, almost guaranteeing that you won’t guess the final resolution even though the book is two decades old and was made into a hit film in 2001—it’s that good.
Collaboration with Maxine Patero, Private is great fun. Jack Morgan is an interesting character, a former Marine who restarts his father’s old private investigation business, building it into a worldwide enterprise and employing an entertaining array of experts and field agents. Sort of like an old-school 1970s detective show updated to the modern day, Privateis the first of a series that rewards the reader with surprisingly well-sketched characters and relationships as well as twisty, fun mysteries.
3.? Kiss the Girls
Alex Cross is such a fun character that he makes a second appearance here in the second novel to feature the character. Also made into a hit movie, this book is even more complicated than the first, and yet it works because Patterson has put so much thought into the characters, the twists, and the events that tie the plot together. With two serial killers and the various teams assigned to the investigations, Patterson somehow keeps everything spinning—while some of Patterson’s books can get a bit bogged down in the subplots, this one never gets confused or confusing, and remains tense and fun until the climax.
4.? 1st to Die
Probably Patterson’s second-most popular series, the Women’s Murder Club began in 2001 with 1st to Die, the book that introduced the four professional women who pool their talents to investigate crimes and save the city of San Francisco on a regular basis.Patterson’s books are frequently brutal in their descriptions of crimes and crime scenes, but 1st to Die is pretty gruesome even by those standards—which makes Patterson’s decision to have female protagonists even more exciting, as women are often (erroneously) depicted as unable to handle the ugliness and violence of murder investigations.
5.? The Thomas Berryman Number
Patterson’s debut novel won the Edgar Award for best novel in 1976, and is an excellent story about the murder of one of the first black mayors of Nashville, Tennessee amidst the boiling racial tensions of the early-1970s South. A reporter, Ochs Jones, begins to investigate, soon discovering that the obvious superficial motives for the murder don’t hold water—and that there’s a lot more going on. The book that launched Patterson’s writing career is excellent—but long time fans will be surprised at how different it is in pacing and writing style from Patterson’s modern output. That alone makes it a must-read if you really want to get in on what Patterson offers.