Patterson, Richard North 1947-

views updated

Patterson, Richard North 1947-


Born February 22, 1947, in Berkeley, CA; son of Richard W. (a business executive) and Marjorie Frances Patterson; married Judith Anne Riggs (a teacher and editor), January 12, 1974 (marriage ended); married Laurie Anderson, April 13, 1993; children: (first marriage) Shannon Heath, Brooke North; (second marriage) Adam Chandler, Chase Kenyon, Katherine Amber, Stephen Thomas Blunt. Education: Ohio Wesleyan University, B.A., 1968; Case Western Reserve University, J.D., 1971. Politics: "Independent." Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, racquetball, jogging, film, reading, theatre, ballet, and "most music, particularly contemporary rock."


Home—San Francisco, CA; and Martha's Vineyard, MA. Agent—Hy Cohen Literary Agency, Ltd., 111 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.


Writer, novelist and attorney. Admitted to the Bar of the State of Ohio, 1971, District of Columbia, 1973, and Alabama, 1975; Office of the Attorney General, Columbus, OH, assistant attorney general, 1971-73; U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Washington, DC, trial attorney in Washington, DC, 1973-75, attorney in San Francisco, CA, 1978; Berkowitz, Lefkovits & Patrick (law firm), Birmingham, AL, partner, 1975-78; McCotchers, Doyle, Brown & Emersen, attorney, 1985-93. Member of advocacy groups concerned with gun violence, reproductive rights, and political reform.


Mystery Writers of America, Common Cause (chairman of national governing board, 2006—).


Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first mystery novel, Mystery Writers of America, 1979, for The Lasko Tangent; Grand Prix de Literateur Policiere, 1995; president's award for distinguished alumni, Case Western University, 1997; named Man of the Year, WWRAP, 2001; Maggie Award from Planned Parenthood, 2001.



The Lasko Tangent, Norton (New York, NY), 1979.

The Outside Man, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.

Escape the Night, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.

Private Screening, Villard (New York, NY), 1985.

Degree of Guilt (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.

Eyes of a Child, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

The Final Judgment, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

Silent Witness, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

No Safe Place, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

Caroline Masters, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2000.

Protect and Defend, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.

Dark Lady, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2000.

Two Complete Novels (contains Degree of Guilt and Final Judgment), Wings Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Balance of Power, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2003.

Conviction, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.

Exile, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2007.

Also contributor of short fiction to periodicals such as the Atlantic.


Film rights to Protect and Defend were sold to Castle Rock Pictures.


Richard North Patterson embarked on a fiction-writing career after establishing himself as a successful lawyer whose assignments included working for the prosecution on the notorious Watergate case, the political conspiracy that led in large part to the resignation of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. While Patterson's life as a novelist has all but eclipsed his career in law, he maintains that without his legal background he would never have been able to reach his dream to be an author. His first inspiration was Ross Macdonald, who created the "Lew Archer" mystery series. As Patterson told CA, while reading Macdonald he realized that the author "crystallized a vague impulse to write that I'd felt for several years. I admired his conciseness, his gift for mood and setting, his eye for detail. More than that, it seemed Macdonald had made the detective novel humane and compassionate, with the insight of psychology. Clearly, Macdonald cared about his characters and their situations, and that inspired me to try."

Accordingly, Patterson enrolled in a creative writing course at the University of Alabama. Within six months he had completed the first draft of what would eventually be published as The Lasko Tangent, which he then revised for another six months before selling the manuscript to publisher W.W. Norton. The plot follows Christopher Kenyon Paget, a lawyer who works in the Special Investigations Section of the Washington Economic Crimes Commission, as he investigates a possible stock scam involving a friend of the U.S. president. A reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement praised Patterson's fiction debut as "fast-moving" and "neatly put together, with an ingenious plot."

After publishing The Lasko Tangent, Patterson studied for a year with writer Jesse Hill Ford, an experience he credits with improving his work considerably. His second novel, The Outside Man, concerns a northerner living in the South who is searching to find the person who murdered his best friend's wife. Praising the author's evocative setting, Jean M. White wrote in a review for the Washington Post Book World: "The air hangs heavy with old secrets and the prose is as lush as overgrown magnolia as Patterson recounts his story of the intertwined lives of three generations of Southern families." Library Journal reviewer Robin Winks described the book as "rich, complex, [and] beautifully written," and commented: "One might see it as Ross Macdonald transplanted to Alabama, though it is far more than that."

Patterson leaves behind the world of law in his third novel, Escape the Night, and focuses instead on a powerful publishing family and the heir to the family's fortune. Peter Carey is haunted by nightmares of his parents' gruesome death, which he witnessed, but is unable to remember. On the eve of his inheritance of the family firm, Peter realizes that someone is following him and monitoring his every word. In Private Screening Patterson returns to the courtroom. A San Francisco trial attorney, Tony Lord, successfully defends a Vietnam vet charged with assassinating a senator, then finds himself involved in a terrorist kidnapping. The kidnapper makes use of a satellite link to telecast his actions across the country and invites viewers to vote on whether or not he should kill his hostages. "A measure of Private Screening's merit is that one can guess its outcome early on and still find it a compelling read," Washington Post Book World reviewer Dennis Drabelle remarked. Several critics applauded Patterson's handling of contemporary issues, including the dangers of technology in the hands of criminals. The book is "engaging and intelligent," Barbara Conaty remarked in Library Journal, and is a "complex story [that] puts a new gloss on the terror and troubles of our times."

Despite his early success, Patterson's writing career went through a slump in the mid-1980s. Discouraged, Patterson took an eight-year hiatus from writing, concentrating solely on his legal practice. Yet the urge to write never left him, and during a three-month vacation he produced the bulk of his 548-page novel Degree of Guilt. This story of a scandal-ridden celebrity murder trial rocketed the novelist to new heights of publishing success, and he followed that up to good effect with Eyes of a Child, another best-seller.

Silent Witness further continued the author's winning ways, as well as reviving the character of Tony Lord from Private Screening. In Silent Witness Lord returns to his hometown in Ohio where, years earlier, he was wrongly accused of murdering his girlfriend. Now Lord is called on to defend a childhood companion who may have really committed murder. Mary Frances Wilkens, discussing Silent Witness in Booklist, called it a "fascinating tale of life, love, and loss," while People reviewer J.D. Reed dubbed the novel "intense courtroom drama" interwoven with "compulsive, vivid flashbacks …. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? In the hands of the psychological-thriller master, the answers are not easy—or expected—and the final judgment is as startling as the bang of a gavel." Tom De Haven, a contributor to Entertainment Weekly, called the book "a tough and haunting exploration of friendship's place and loyalty's dangerous frontier—and of that thin line between love and hate." De Haven went on to praise many aspects of Patterson's writing: "With his latest shrewdly plotted, craftily written legal thriller, Richard North Patterson proves he's the master of the genre—hands down …. He can plot as masterfully as he can write, and his novels—smooth, tricky, credible, and shrewd—demonstrate an acute understanding of both the law's formal majesty and its endless capacity to induce dread."

In No Safe Place Patterson again leaves the courtroom behind, venturing "well beyond his usual subject matter with mixed but still highly entertaining results," affirmed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The story concerns Kerry Kilcannon, a John F. Kennedy-type politician running for president. An Entertainment Weekly writer found Kilcannon an unlikely but appealing character—"an American politician who's not only good-looking and charismatic but highly principled, witty, immensely capable, admirably human. Wishful thinking?" While the critic faulted the story for its uneven, sometimes sluggish pace, noting that "you're always conscious of the writer doling out, or deliberately withholding, significant information," the review concluded that, "for all its failings, No Safe Place is still uncommonly readable; as for Sen. Kerry Kilcannon—well, I'd vote for him." Katherine E.A. Sorci lauded No Safe Place in her review for Library Journal, commenting: "Throughout the constant twists and turns of the plot, Patterson builds realistic supporting characters and brings to life the surrealistic world of a presidential campaign. As in his other best sellers, Patterson excels in keeping the reader mesmerized until the final pages."

In Dark Lady Patterson revives a secondary character from Silent Witness and promotes her to protagonist. Stella Marz is a tough prosecuting attorney in a troubled Midwestern steel town; her nickname, "Dark Lady," comes from her courtroom foes. The story finds Marz looking into the suspicious deaths of two prominent citizens, a leading defense attorney and the manager of a major construction project. Their deaths each involve strange sexual practices and drug use, but it is not clear that the two men were murdered. The more Marz investigates, the more corruption and falsehood she discovers, and the twisted plot leads to an unexpected conclusion. "Patterson has peopled this very believable novel with fascinating characters, and his understanding of political subtleties is superb," commented Katherine E.A. Sorci in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer made note of the development of Patterson's writing style over the course of his career, finding that while in early works he tended to be "glib," Dark Lady finds him "much more somber, his characters more ridden with real-world angst."

Patterson once again features political hopeful Kerry Kilcannon in Protect and Defend, a novel that takes on the highly charged subject of abortion. Kilcannon, now U.S. president, has appointed a new chief justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the appointee has a secret that could ruin her career: a child born out of wedlock and given up for adoption. The story turns on the case of Mary Ann Tierney, the pregnant, teenaged daughter of an antiabortion intellectual. Though her baby is seriously handicapped and probably will not live, Mary Ann's parents will not consider allowing their daughter to terminate the pregnancy, so she brings a lawsuit against them. "This is the kind of story that can get preachy in the hands of a lesser writer," mused a Wisconsin State Journal contributor. "But Patterson … is able to at least give a glimpse of the issues involved in parental consent and in late-term abortions." Denver Post contributor Tom Walker noted that Patterson not only touches on the abortion issue, but also on the topics of influence in politics, responsibility of the media, and the place of the media in the courtroom. Walker concluded: "It's a whale of a task to bring up all these issues in one book, and even more daunting to do it with style in the context of a novel with believable characters and a tightly woven story. Patterson succeeds on all counts."

Eyes of a Child chronicles the damaging, divisive effects of parental estrangement on a child bewildered by the dissolution of her family. Embattled couple Terri Peralta and Richie Arias have little to show from their marriage except a beautiful daughter, Elena. When Terri leaves her husband after she falls in love with her lawyer and employer Chris Paget, the malignantly unpleasant Richie schemes to gain custody of his daughter if for no other reason than to spite his wife. His devious plan involves making accusations of child molestation against Paget's son, Carlos. In the aftermath, the heartbroken Terri spends some solo time with Paget to test the solidity of their relationship. Upon their return, Richie is dead, apparently by his own hand. Neither the police nor returning character Inspector Charles Monk believe that Richie is a suicide. Suspicion falls on Paget, who must defend himself against murder charges in a tense courtroom scene. By the time the murderer's identity is revealed, more emotional devastation will be visited on the hapless Terri and Elena. "Wicked crossfire in the courtroom and a surprise ending make this one entertaining," commented Booklist contributor Emily Melton, who admitted: "There's no doubt it's a page-turner." Gene Lyons, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the book "an ingenious legal thriller actually written for people who enjoy reading novels." A Publishers Weekly critic gratefully named the novel "a long, luxuriant read that is also refreshingly free of gratuitous violence." In assessing the book, Time reviewer John Skow concluded that "what's clear is that after half a dozen books, Patterson is one of the best in the business."

With The Final Judgment, Patterson "has whipped up yet another cast of alluring characters," intriguing murders, and compelling courtroom scenes, commented Booklist critic Donna Seaman. The Masters family is an old line of New England socialites, cold, cunning, and pathological. Carolyn Masters managed to escape their powerful orbit when she was in her early twenties, heading west to San Francisco to work as a defense lawyer. Years later, the forty-five-year-old attorney's hard work has paid off with a presidential nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Her nomination is all but assured when a family tragedy threatens to derail her career-making move. When her twenty-two-year-old niece Brett is accused of murdering her boyfriend, Carolyn reluctantly but defiantly returns east to see what she can do to help and then quickly depart. When she sees the overwhelming evidence against Brett, however, she decides to stay and defend her relative and uncover the truth about the murder. Unpleasant encounters with both living family members, old acquaintances, and the memories of the dead shake her resolve, but Carolyn did not achieve her legal success by being overly shy or easy to intimidate. "Just when you think you've figured out where the events are leading, something truly surprising happens, or yet another dark secret is revealed, and suddenly you're clueless as to what the climax will be," commented Tom De Haven in Entertainment Weekly, who also noted that in this novel, "Patterson's storytelling has never been so controlled and nimble, or quite so confident." Seaman called the book "a well-structured, surprisingly romantic soaper, guaranteed to intrigue and please."

Recurring character Kerry Kilcannon returns in Balance of Power, a novel addressing the politically charged issues of gun control and tort reform. Now President of the United States, Kilcannon has occupied the White House for less than a year when a personal family tragedy threatens the stability of his presidency. As a person who saved his mother from his violent father, Kilcannon nurses a deep personal hatred toward domestic violence. When his wife Lara's sister, Joan, is viciously beaten by her husband, John Bowden, Kilcannon, perhaps unwisely, asks the California DA to intervene in the case. Soon, the brutal and unpredictable Bowden snaps under pressure and shoots several members of Lara's family. Enraged, Kilcannon strikes at the only target he has left, the manufacturer of the gun Bowden used in the slayings. His attack results in preemptive defense measures by the gun lobby, which endorses a tort-reform bill that would absolve gun manufacturers of responsibility if their products were used in criminal acts. Kilcannon's presidency comes under attack by other pro-gun groups as well. Patterson's "novel paints a grim picture of the challenges facing gun-control advocates," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor. Although it is "clear which side he's on," Patterson "does a good job of presenting all the arguments" in the gun control controversy, noted Kristine Huntley in Booklist.

With Conviction, Patterson "makes an emotional case against the death penalty," commented Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. the novel opens with the discovery of the body Thuy Sen, a nine-year-old girl who died horribly as the victim of sexual abuse. Though the girl was found floating face-down in San Francisco Bay, the medical examiner discovers that she did not drown in the water but instead choked to death on semen. Two young black men, Rennell and Payton Price, identified by neighbors of the girl, are summarily arrested, accused, convicted, and sentenced in the crime. A decade and a half later, recurring character Terri Peralta Paget revisits the case to save the hulking but sweet-dispositioned, probably mentally retarded, and most likely innocent Rennell Price from imminent execution. "It's a compelling story, but Patterson's true interest is in the legal details," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Readers "looking for a powerful courtroom drama will not be disappointed," noted Huntley in another Booklist review.

Exile revolves around the explosive issues of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis as Patterson's characters are shaken by their cultural and political differences. Attorney David Wolfe, Harvard educated, intellectually brilliant, and physically handsome, is considering a run for congress when his plans are interrupted by the reappearance of an old lover, Hana Arif. Hana is a Palestinian woman who has recently been accused of leading a conspiracy that culminated in the assassination of peace-endorsing Israeli prime minister Amos Ben-Aron. With his passion for Hana not completely extinguished, Wolfe agrees to take the case, jeopardizing his career and political aspirations in the process. As he investigates the case, his suspicions mount that the suicide bombers who killed Ben-Aron benefited from a severe security breach and were assisted by prominent persons in Israel and Lebanon. Throughout the book, "action abounds, culminating in courtroom drama," noted Booklist reviewer Connie Fletcher. The story is characterized by "a riveting premise, a sympathetic ear for every party to an intractable problem," and "the geopolitics of the earth's most volatile region all balanced on the backs of a handful of tormented souls," observed a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Library Journal critic Stacy Alesi concluded: "Patterson delves evenhandedly into both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict, making this a fascinating and timely read."



America's Intelligence Wire, November 8, 2003, Greta Van Susteren, transcript of radio interview with Richard North Patterson.

Booklist, November 1, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Eyes of a Child, p. 459; October 15, 1995, Donna Seaman, review of The Final Judgment, p. 364; November 15, 1996, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Silent Witness, p. 549; June 1, 1998, Michael Spinella, review of No Safe Place, p. 1669; November 1, 2000, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Protect and Defend, p. 493; August, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of Protect and Defend, p. 2141; July, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of Balance of Power, p. 1846; November 15, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of Conviction, p. 532; October 1, 2006, Connie Fletcher, review of Exile, p. 6.

Denver Post, December 24, 2000, Tom Walker, review of Protect and Defend, p. G1.

Entertainment Weekly, January 20, 1995, Gene Lyons, review of Eyes of a Child, p. 47; December 8, 1995, Tom De Haven, review of The Final Judgment, p. 58; January 17, 1997, Tom De Haven, review of Silent Witness, p. 56; January 24, 1997, review of The Final Judgment, p. 53; July 18, 1997, Tom De Haven, review of The Final Judgment, p. 76; September 4, 1998, "Scandal Power," review of No Safe Place, p. 73; September 3, 1999, Tom De Haven, review of Dark Lady, p. 62; October 17, 2003, Karyn L. Barr, review of Balance of Power, p. 86; January 28, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of Conviction, p. 88.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1981, review of The Outside Man, p. 168; April 1, 1983, review of Escape the Night, p. 398; August 15, 1985, review of Private Screening, p. 813; November 15, 2004, review of Conviction, p. 1065; October 15, 2006, review of Exile, p. 1040.

Library Journal, May 1, 1981, Robin W. Winks, review of The Outside Man, p. 995; June 1, 1983, review of Escape the Night, p. 1159; October 15, 1985, Barbara Conaty, review of Private Screening, p. 103; August, 1998, Katherine E.A. Sorci, review of No Safe Place, p. 133; July, 1999, Katherine E.A. Sorci, review of Dark Lady, p. 134; December, 2000, review of Protect and Defend, p. 190; December 1, 2004, Stacy Alesi, review of Conviction, p. 102; October 15, 2006, Stacy Alesi, review of Exile, p. 56.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 17, 2000, Mark Weisenmiller, review of Protect and Defend, p. 6.

New Republic, May 30, 1981, review of The Outside Man, p. 38.

New York Review of Books, December 17, 1998, Christopher Hitchens, review of No Safe Place, p. 43.

New York Times Book Review, June 8, 1980, review of The Lasko Tangent, p. 51; May 10, 1981, Newgate Callendar, review of The Outside Man, p. 45; March 7, 1982, review of The Outside Man, p. 35; November 15, 1998, Bill Kent, review of No Safe Place, p. 63; September 5, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of Dark Lady, p. 25; January 14, 2001, review of Protect and Defend, p. 8.

People, January 15, 1996, Jeff Brown, review of The Final Judgment, p. 34; January 20, 1997, J.D. Reed, review of The Silent Witness, p. 35; December 8, 2003, Sherryl Connelly, review of Balance of Power, p. 57.

Publishers Weekly, February 27, 1981, Barbara A. Bannon, review of The Outside Man, p. 142; April 15, 1983, review of Escape the Night, p. 44; September 20, 1985, Sybil Steinberg, review of Private Screening, p. 104; May 16, 1986, review of Private Screening, p. 77; October 31, 1994, review of Eyes of a Child, p. 43; October 16, 1995, review of The Final Judgment, p. 43; June 15, 1998, review of No Safe Place, p. 40; June 21, 1999, review of Dark Lady, p. 51; November 20, 2000, review of Protect and Defend, p. 46; August 18, 2003, review of Balance of Power, p. 54; December 20, 2004, review of Conviction, p. 35; October 2, 2006, review of Exile, p. 38.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 16, 2001, John McMurtrie, "For Patterson, Timing Is Everything," p. B1.

School Library Journal, May, 2001, Jan Tarasovic, review of Protect and Defend, p. 176.

Time, January 9, 1995, John Skow, review of Eyes of a Child, p. 73; January 8, 1996, John Skow, review of The Final Judgment, p. 73.

Times Literary Supplement, September 5, 1980, review of The Lasko Tangent, p. 948.

Virginian Pilot, April 29, 2001, Lou Belcher, review of Protect and Defend, p. E3.

Washington Post Book World, May 17, 1981, Jean M. White, review of The Outside Man, p. 11; November 17, 1985, Dennis Drabelle, "On the Trail of A Terrorist," review of Private Screening, p. 9; July 20, 1986, "New in Paperback," p. 12.

Wisconsin State Journal, December 31, 2000, review of Protect and Defend, p. 3F.


BookPage, (February 10, 2007), Alden Mudge, interview with Patterson., (October 17, 2003), Jesse Kornbluth, interview with Patterson.

PopMatters, (January 2, 2007), Jason B. Jones, review of Exile.

About this article

Patterson, Richard North 1947-

Updated About content Print Article