I come here to neither bury nor praise James Patterson. I've not read his latest book, The Last Days of John Lennon, nor do I intend to. I don't read books written by elves who toil in Patterson's word factory, no matter how closely he oversees their work. Patterson is more brand name than author, and the elves in this case are named Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. I assume they researched and wrote the book based on Patterson's outline and guidance.
My only interest in Patterson's (for simplicity's sake I'll refer to the three authors by their brand name) heavily promoted "true-crime story," as he calls The Last Days, is that my book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon is cited in the notes. Naturally I was curious to see what scrap of information Patterson gleaned from my book.
The note section of Patterson's book is extensive. Virtually every fragment of information throughout The Last Days is attributed to a source. The Nowhere Man note is from Chapter 43. It says:
Playboy magazine: Robert Rosen, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon (New York, Soft Skull Press, 2000), 180.
This isn't quite correct. Playboy magazine is mentioned on page 180 of the Quick American Archives edition, not the Soft Skull Press edition—a sloppy, though hardly tragic, mistake.
But sloppy research may also be apparent in the full-page back-cover ad for the book that recently appeared in The New York Times Book Review. In the ad, Patterson writes that the day after Lennon's murder, "I was in the huge, sad crowd gathered in Central Park." He seems to be referring to the vigil that took place December 14, six days after the murder.
I'm not usually a nitpicker when it comes to this kind of thing. And having made my share of factual mistakes in my own books, each one invariably pointed out by concerned readers, I understand just how easy (and human) it is to err. But considering that the two things I looked at—an endnote and a prominent newspaper ad—contained factual mistakes, I think it's an indication that the sloppy research is widespread, and that Patterson needs to hire a few more elves to do his fact checking.
The scrap of information he gleaned from Nowhere Man is straightforward: Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, bought, at the Sheraton Center Hotel on Seventh Avenue, a copy of Playboy featuring an interview with John Lennon.
The scene is more or less mirrored in Chapter 43 of The Last Days, describing how Chapman gets into a cab, goes to the Sheraton Center, and buys Playboy and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at a bookstore near the hotel.
Curiously, Patterson adds a fictional B-movie element to the scene: He has the cabdriver say to Chapman, "Get in, bud."
The book begins on December 6, 1980, with Chapman flying to New York from Hawaii. Patterson also adds some fictional elements to this scene. He has Chapman sitting in a cloud of cigarette smoke looking at his handgun permit.
I assume such fictional elements are pervasive, and I'll leave it to others to decide if Patterson achieved his goal of telling "a story that's almost impossible to stop reading," as he says in the ad. I was able to put the book down where I found it in the bookstore. I know the story well—too well. It's been told in about 400 other Lennon biographies, many of which I read when I was writing Nowhere Man. I feel no need to hear it again, as told by hired elves.