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Peter de Jonge has written several articles on golf for the New York Times Magazine and other international publications.
Peter de Jonge’s first solo novel, “Shadows Still Remain,” comes with a blurb from James Patterson, who says, “This novel is an absolute knockout and a half.” That’s high praise from an author who so towers over the best-seller lists that a couple of years ago he estimated that he earned royalties on one out of every 15 hardcover books published in this country. In fact, Mr. Patterson now publishes so many best sellers, in so many different genres, that he can’t possibly write them all. So he farms many of his books out to a factory, or an atelier, if you like: a team of co-authors who work from Patterson-supplied outlines and stick closely to the no-frills Patterson formula: short chapters, short paragraphs, short sentences, short words.
Before branching out on his own, Mr. de Jonge (pronounced da JONG) spent several years on that assembly line, as co-writer of the Patterson novels Miracle on the 17th Green, The Beach House and Beach Road. He was the pioneer, so to speak — the person who first gave Mr. Patterson the idea that he could write more than one book at a time.
“Miracle on the 17th Green” — a fable, really — is a one-off, and not a typical Patterson novel, except in following the short-chapter, short-paragraph model. Mr. de Jonge’s next two books, “The Beach House” and “Beach Road,” both murder mysteries set in and around East Hampton, N.Y., are more in Mr. Patterson’s trademark cliffhanger style. This “rapid-fire, in-your-face, you-better-keep-reading-or-else” format, as an admirer once called it, is one that critics often wince at but that has never done him any harm at the cash register.
For all three books Mr. Patterson supplied lengthy outlines. The instructions he gives his co-authors are very detailed, he explained, and then he extensively reworks their drafts. “The outlines I do are really, really powerful,” he said. “They’re 60 pages sometimes, and they’re pretty good to read just on their own. They’re like little high-adrenaline bullet trains, with every chapter built around a nugget.”
“Shadows Still Remain,” published last month by Harper, though also a murder mystery, doesn’t read much like Patterson product except in being wrapped around a couple of startling plot twists. Set on the Lower East Side (the same territory as Richard Price’s recent “Lush Life”), it’s more in the noirish, character-driven vein of Dennis Lehane or Michael Connelly, with passages like this description of a block in the neighborhood: “Facing the projects and their captive populace of thousands are a nasty little Chinese restaurant, a Western Union that cashes child-support payments and a liquor store named Liquor Store, with more bulletproof glass than the Popemobile.”
Mr. de Jonge has a second book, with the same protagonist, already under contract. He even imagines that he might write a full-out literary novel someday, with no genre hook. “I have a way of backing into things,” he said. He also said that depending on how “Shadows” fares, he hasn’t entirely ruled out going back to the assembly line.
“It’s a very good job — the hours are good, the pay is very generous,” he explained, adding: “But you’re not a co-author in the traditional sense. It’s his book, even though both your names are on it. The publisher doesn’t invite you to the book party.”