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'Cradle And All' by James Patterson

Tense thriller is born in tale of virgin births

Sunday, May 21, 2000

By Allan Walton, Assistant Managing Editor/A&E


Cradle And All

By James Patterson

Little, Brown


James Patterson -- he of the nursery rhyme titles (“Jack and Jill”; “Along Came a Spider”; “Pop Goes the Weasel”) -- finds a little of that old-time religion in his latest novel, “Cradle and All.”

Unlike his last, “When the Wind Blows,” which took genetic engineering to new heights with a girl who could fly, Patterson’s new book takes us to heaven and hell -- without benefit of wings. Given my druthers, I prefer the fanciful to the farcical. “Cradle and All” is the former, despite what the atheists among you might say.

Kathleen Beavier is having a bad day. The pretty, preppy, rich 16-year-old has meandered through the unfamiliar mean streets of South Boston in search of a women’s medical center and, it would seem, a date with an abortion doctor. Which doesn’t make much sense since pretty, preppy, rich 16-year-old Kathleen is also chaste.

That she finds the doctor dangling lifelessly from a crude noose is “Omen”-esque enough; that Kathleen is then compelled by “The Voice” to carve into a couple of the doc’s veins is downright frightening. Someone’s just a tad half-baked in Beantown.

Or maybe not. Meet the equally chaste Colleen Deirdre Galaher of Maam Cross, Ireland. She’s 14, fair as they come, slightly freckled ... and quite pregnant. Apparently “The Voice” is heard overseas, too.

Holy Moses!

Or more like it, Holy Mary Mother of God! By all accounts -- scientific and anecdotal -- the Earth is verging on two virgin births. In the meantime, a series of unexplained epidemics and famines have taken root, leading many to think apocalyptically. Forget what you’ve heard about the third prophecy of the Fatima pointing to the assassination of the pope; we’re looking at a prophecy in which one birth will deliver the child of Christ, the other the spawn of Satan.

No wonder the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.

The Vatican, of course, takes all of this seriously. They dispatch Father Nicholas Rosetti to make sense of Colleen. In Boston, the Archdiocese appoints Anne Fitzgerald, a former nun turned detective, to check out Kathleen’s immaculate conception. Joining her in the investigation is handsome ex-priest Justin O’Carroll.

This virgin stuff being so complicated and scary and all, theirs is a search for truth, justice and the traditional procreation way.

I’ll spare you more detail. Patterson’s book is laced with thrills, chills, twists and turns, and no sense in spoiling any of it. Suffice to say he’s back in gear after what, for me, was the disappointing fluff in “When the Wind Blows.” I’ve been hoping the author would pen another adventure for dandy Detective Alex Cross, but “Cradle and All” is worth your time in the interim.

The novel, in fact, is its own sequel, using characters and subtext from a 1980 book by Patterson titled “Virgin.” I haven’t read that one and can’t make comparisons. Instead, I’ll simply say “Cradle and All” won’t rock you to sleep. More likely, it’ll keep you awake, attentive and on edge.

Why, you might even keep the lights on when you finally put the book down.

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