Any thriller writer, wannabe or actual, would do well to study Patterson’s 10th Alex Cross novel. A sequel to last year’s The Big Bad Wolf, the book is a model of economy, delivering a full package of suspense, emotion and characterization in a minimum number of words. The story brings back not only Big Bad Wolf’s arch-villain, the Russian mobster known as the Wolf, but also an earlier Patterson bad guy, the Weasel, recruited by the Wolf to further his plans. These involve extorting Western powers for billions of dollars to avoid major terrorist attacks on New York, London, Washington and Frankfurt-attacks the Wolf offers a preview of by wiping out a town in Nevada by aerial bombardment after hustling its citizens to safety, then by doing the same to a village in England without evacuating the populace. The novel features numerous exciting scenes, most notably one in which Cross is kidnapped, then shackled to a suitcase atomic bomb. It’s not the steady tension, the numerous colorful locales, the reliable action climaxes nor the novel’s effective doomsday gloss that makes this thriller work so well, though. It is, of course, the characters, and in Cross, Patterson continues to elaborate his finest hero, cerebral yet emotional, dedicated yet flawed, caught between duty and family. Regrettably, the novel is marred in its final chapters by a series of surprises that skirt playing unfair with the reader, but most Patterson fans probably won’t mind and they are legion enough to send this to the top of the charts, for good reason.