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Richard North Patterson Author Biography Essay

Patterson (Exile, 2007, etc.), whose Kerry Concannon trilogy already showed one fictional paragon’s run for President (No Safe Place, 1998), trots out another perfect candidate just in time for the 2008 election cycle.

Sen. Corey Grace (R, Ohio), an authentic war hero with Presidential hankerings, is the perfect alternative to Senate Majority Leader Rob Marotta (R, Penn.), a calculating hack, and televangelist Bob Christy, founder of Christian Commitment, who’s convinced the planet’s headed toward a Rapture that certainly won’t include agnostics, gays or Democrats. Slowly, circumspectly, Corey tests the waters, and the voters like him. That’s no surprise, since he always speaks articulately and judiciously, often several paragraphs at a clip. As his campaign trudges through Iowa and New Hampshire to South Carolina, a series of flashbacks reveal the skeletons in Corey’s closet—the error in judgment that killed his navigator in Iraq and won Corey a medal, his dead brother’s closeted homosexuality, his romance with African-American actress Lexie Hart—but while all these revelations threaten Corey’s election, none tarnish his honor. The road to the nomination is arduous, but whenever Corey gets into real trouble, he’s rescued by his iron principles or (twice, amusingly and unforgivably) by providential terrorist attacks that give him a chance to show his mettle. The race, which gives Corey many chances to ventilate his mom-and-apple-pie stances on abortion, birth control, school prayer and godless liberals, is as exciting as Patterson’s ingenuity and melodramatic flair can make it. The characters, however, are strikingly less original. Even the most casual Monday-morning political analysts will have no trouble seeing through the shamelessly thin fig leaves meant to cover figures based on Colin Powell, Karl Rove, Pat Robertson, Rupert Murdoch, Rick Santorum and Jim McGreevey.

A satisfyingly self-righteous update of Advise and Consent that reminds you how little American political fiction has changed over the past 50 years.

In Dark Lady, Richard North Patterson displays the mastery of setting, psychology, and story that makes him unique among writers of suspense, and one of today’s most original and enthralling novelists.

In Steelton, a struggling Midwestern city on the cusp of an economic turnaround, two prominent men are found dead within days of each other. One is Tommy Fielding, a senior officer of the company building a new baseball stadium, the city’s hope for the future. The other is Jack Novak, the local drug dealers’ attorney of choice. Fielding’s death with a prostitute, from an overdose of heroin, seems accidental; Novak is apparently the victim of a ritual murder. But in each case the character of the dead man seems contradicted by the particulars of his death. Coincidence or connection?

The question falls to Assistant County Prosecutor Stella Marz. Despite a traumatic breach with her alcoholic and embittered father, she has risen from a working-class background to become head of the prosecutor’s homicide unit. A driven woman, she is called the Dark Lady by defense lawyers for her relentless, sometimes ruthless, style: in seven years only one case has gotten away from her, and only because the defendant took his own life. She has earned every inch of both her official and her off-the-record titles, and recently she’s decided to go after another: to become the first woman elected Prosecutor of Erie County. But that was before the brutal murder of her ex-lover–Jack Novak.

Novak’s death leads her into a labyrinth where her personal and professional lives become dangerously intertwined. There is the possibility that Novak fixed drug cases for the city’s crime lord, Vincent Moro, with the help of law enforcement personnel, and perhaps with someone in Stella’s own office . . . the bitter mayoral race which threatens to undermine her own ambitions . . . her attraction to a colleague who may not be what he seems . . . the lingering, complicated effects of her painful affair with Novak . . . the growing certainty that she is being watched and followed. Making her way through a maze of corruption, deceit, and greed, trusting no one, Stella comes to believe that the search for the truth involves the bleak history of Steelton itself–a history that now endangers her future, and perhaps her life.

For his uncanny dialogue, subtle delineation of character, and hypnotic narrative, critics have compared Richard North Patterson to John O’Hara and Dashiell Hammett. Now, in the character of the Dark Lady, he has created a woman as fascinating as her world is haunting. Dark Lady is his signature work.