57 pages 1 hour read

James Patterson

Along Came a Spider

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1993

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Summary and Study Guide


Along Came a Spider (1992) is the first novel in the Alex Cross psychological thriller series by James Patterson. Alex Cross is a Black psychologist and police detective working in Washington, DC, with his partner and childhood friend, John Sampson. In this novel, Alex and John are part of a hostage-rescue team investigating the kidnapping of two children by their teacher, Gary Soneji. As of 2023, there are 32 novels in the Alex Cross series, two supplemental novels featuring Alex Cross, and one spin-off series featuring Alex Cross’s son, Ali. Along Came a Spider was adapted into a movie in 2001, starring Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross.

This guide is based on the Kindle e-book version of the novel.

Content Warning: The source text includes depictions of physical and sexual abuse against a child, insensitive depictions of mental illness, racism, death by suicide, and violence.

Plot Summary

Alex Cross, a Black psychologist and police detective, is called to a crime scene where a mother, her daughter, and her toddler son were murdered. As Alex and his partner, John Sampson, explore the crime scene, Alex gets a call from his boss, Chief of Detectives Pittman, demanding that Alex and John join a new investigation into two kidnapped children. Alex and John arrive at the children’s school to discover not only fellow officers from the Washington, DC, police department, but the Secret Service and the FBI. Annoyed that more attention is being devoted to this high-profile case than to the Sanders family murders in the poor neighborhood of Washington Southeast, Alex arrives at the crime scene with the intention of getting out of the investigation. However, the mayor insists Alex take the case.

Alex works closely with the hostage-rescue team, which includes Secret Service supervisor Jezzie Flanagan. Within days, the body of one of the child victims, Michael Goldberg, is found by a river in Maryland. Not long afterward, the hostage-rescue team receives a ransom demand from the kidnapper. The team rushes to Florida to investigate the business where the demand originated from. While there, they receive another demand and decide to follow the instructions in the hopes of saving the other child victim, Maggie Rose Dunne.

Alex is chosen by the kidnapper to deliver the ransom at Disney World. As Alex walks through the park, he is approached by a man he suspects is not the kidnapper. Still, the man knows about the ransom demand and is able to convince Alex to leave the park with him. Alex and the man board a private plane and eventually end up at a private airport in South Carolina. As the man leaves the plane with the ransom, Alex frees himself from the armrest he is handcuffed to and chases the man off the plane, only to be hit on the head by an unseen person. By the time Alex’s backup arrives, the ransom is gone, and Maggie remains missing.

Alex is blamed by the press for the loss of ransom. Alex and John are removed from the case but given promotions. They return their attention to the Sanders family murders. Alex has begun a relationship with Jezzie Flanagan, the Secret Service supervisor, despite his grandmother’s warnings. Unable to let go of the kidnapping case, Alex continues to investigate on his own. Eventually, a teacher from the child victims’ school is found murdered in the same manner as the Sanders women, and Maggie’s shoe is left at the crime scene. Alex and John find a witness who places a Delaware door-to-door salesman in the area.

The hostage-rescue team swarms the home of Gary Murphy, a door-to-door salesman, husband, and father of one. However, Gary saw them coming and is able to escape. Several days later, Gary walks into a McDonald’s in Pennsylvania, kills a man, and takes the other diners hostage. Alex arrives with John and is able to talk Gary out of the restaurant. Gary is arrested and taken to a Virginia prison where Alex visits him. The suspect claims to have a split personality, and Alex convinces those in charge to allow him to hypnotize Gary in order to determine if he is telling the truth. Under hypnosis, Gary appears to become his alter, Gary Soneji, and lashes out at Alex.

Gary is put on trial for the kidnappings and the murder of Michael Goldberg. The defense attorney calls Alex to the stand in the hopes of convincing the jury of Gary’s split personality; Alex is allowed to hypnotize Gary in the courtroom. Alex does, and Gary appears to remember things Gary Soneji did, including the idea that someone took Maggie from the farm where Gary Soneji hid her. Shortly after, Gary is found guilty of kidnapping and murder. In prison, Gary seemingly becomes Gary Soneji. Alex speaks with Gary Soneji and learns details about the kidnapping, including his continued insistence that Maggie was taken without his knowledge. Gary Soneji insists he was being watched before the kidnappings, including the night he murdered the Sanders, supporting an eyewitness statement. He suggests these watchers were cops. Shortly after, Gary Soneji escapes prison with the help of a prison guard.

Alex connects Gary Soneji’s story of being watched to the Secret Service agents assigned to Michael Goldberg and goes to the FBI with his theory. The FBI confirms Alex’s suspicions and believes that Jezzie Flanagan, the Secret Service supervisor, was involved due to her sexual relationship with one of the agents. Alex is devastated by the news but agrees to help get the proof needed to arrest those involved. He convinces Jezzie to go to the Virgin Islands with him and visit a private island they visited before. Jezzie agrees, and when Alex confronts her with evidence of her involvement, she openly admits to it, unaware John is in the bushes recording her confession.

After Jezzie’s arrest, Alex and John escort Maggie’s parents to Bolivia, where Jezzie confessed she and her partners paid a family to care for Maggi. Maggie is reunited with her family. Alex returns home and is attacked by Gary Soneji in the middle of the night. He fights Gary Soneji off and chases him out of the house. In a matter of hours, the police corner Gary Soneji near the White House. As Alex attempts to coax Gary Soneji out, John shoots Gary Soneji, who is then returned to prison. Not long after, Alex attends Jezzie’s execution.