‘Beach Road’ contains a hair-pinned turn

 If you’re a regular reader of James Patterson you know his mystery novels tend to make their homes on the dark side of the street. They creepy/gory factor is definitely not on the level of Stephen King or Dean Koontz, but yeah, it’s there.

It was a little confusing, then, when Patterson’s “Beach Road” read like vintage John Grisham. I’m a fan of Grisham in spite of myself, so I pretty much know the Grisham drill: Protagonist is wrongly accused of a heinous crime, and either he or his underdog attorney has to exercise his full complement of brilliance to extricate him from the certainty of a dismal fate.

That’s at least three-quarters of “Beach Road.” Against his better judgment, cheerful underdog attorney and washed-up white basketball player Tom Dunleavy takes on the case of brilliant black basketball player Dante Halleyville, who’s assured of a bright future in the NBA until he’s apparently framed — and pretty skillfully — for three and eventually four murders. The victims were popular hometown boys (the book is set in the Hamptons, and there’s quite a bit about an us-vs.-them mentality on the part of the locals toward the summer residents, and whites and blacks toward each other) and the townspeople turn on Dunleavy for agreeing to take the case.

Dunleavy and his former girlfriend, Kate Costello (a refugee from a high-powered New York law firm), take apart the frame piece by piece. Then Dunleavy, who has almost no courtroom experience, constructs an amazingly powerful closing argument that rescues Dante from a future behind bars.

No, I didn’t spoil anything with that; you can see it coming from way down “Beach Road.” And see what I mean? Not Patterson, but Grisham at his worst. This one had a co-writer, Peter de Jonge, and I was beginning to think Patterson had completely lost control of the book.

And then … the plot twist. Maybe I was lulled into the seemingly pre-ordained ending, but I found it to be a genuine shocker. And yup, it was vintage Patterson.

I “read” “Beach Road” as an audiobook, and this particular reading was vastly improved by the fact that there was a cast of readers (including a Baldwin brother), instead of the usual single reader.

Whether you read or listen, “Beach Road” is a stunner. I was glad I didn’t give up on it, because in the end, it’s Patterson at his best.      

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