66 pages 2 hours read

James Patterson

Cross Down

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Cross Down is the first novel in the 30-strong Alex Cross thriller series that features the hero’s long-time sidekick John Sampson as the protagonist. Cross Down follows DC Metro Police officer John Sampson as he attempts to take down a shadow organization that has launched terrorist attacks across the United States. Sampson’s long-time friend and ally Alex Cross is shot in a brutal attack early in the novel, leaving Sampson to untangle the conspiracy alone. Sampson travels along the east coast and back to Afghanistan before returning to DC and cracking the case. The novel touches on themes of American disunity, the rise in American extremism, and military and government overreach. Author James Patterson has written 114 New York Times bestselling novels, selling over 305 million copies, the Alex Cross series being one of the most popular in his vast cannon. The novel was co-authored by Brendan DuBois, a New Hampshire native and esteemed short story writer. The book was published in 2023, shooting to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

This guide refers to the 2023 Little, Brown and Company edition.

Content Warning: This guide describes the novel’s treatment of terrorist attacks, which includes the graphic deaths of civilians. The novel also features some racist and sexist language.

Plot Summary

The novel opens with a Prologue in which General Wayne Grissom informs President Lucas Kent that the recent string of home-grown terror attacks in the United States may be related. He asks the president to consider extreme measures to ensure Americans’ safety. Instead, the president grants Grissom the chairmanship of a committee of department heads who will investigate the attacks and find the source of the terrorists’ funding. Grissom warns the president to trust no one.

Detective John Sampson arrives at General Grissom’s first meeting with his best friend and the FBI’s most famous criminal psychoanalyst, Alex Cross. They learn that the attacks are connected and that each major intelligence and law enforcement agency will report their findings to Grissom. They are concerned about the state of the nation since the January 6 Insurrection, in which a mob of supporters of Donald Trump attacked and stormed into the Capitol Building. Cross announces that he will spend the night looking at the pattern of attacks because something feels off. As Sampson and Cross arrive for the second meeting the next day, they are attacked, and Cross is gravely wounded. He is rushed to the hospital and into surgery. His last words to Sampson are that the attacks around the United States are not random.

John Sampson sets out on his own to investigate a lead from an old Army buddy named Mel Carr, who claims the attacks are related to a mission Sampson was on two years prior in Afghanistan. Sampson meets with FBI agent Ned Mahoney, an old friend who advises him to trust no one. Sampson travels to Fort Bragg. Several attempts are made on his life, and he realizes that he was the target of the attack that wounded Cross.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, an insurrectionist tries to kill Alex Cross, but his wife Bree intervenes, wounding the killer. She takes her family and Sampson’s seven-year-old daughter, Willow, into hiding.

Sampson meets with Carr and learns that some of their former Army team have been murdered, and their deaths have been covered up. That night, Sampson and Carr call two remaining members of the team. One is the CIA operative who led the team, an agent named Elizabeth Deacon. The other is a fellow soldier who is decapitated during the call. Simultaneously, Sampson and Carr are attacked, and Carr is killed. Sampson recognizes the shooter as Henry Maynard, a government employee he trained with.

Maynard runs a unit within the much larger group of affiliated traitors. He believes the country is being destroyed and drastic steps are needed to save the nation. The men under his command are dedicated, well-trained former military, police, and other government agents who all believe in the righteousness of their actions.

Sampson picks up Deacon and they travel together to the home of the last surviving soldier, a man named Bastinelli who lives off the grid. There, they learn that their mission two years prior was near a village in Afghanistan that was leveled. Combining everything they know, Sampson and Deacon realize that the answers they seek are back in Afghanistan. Bastinelli holds off an assault by Maynard’s well-trained team so Sampson and Deacon can escape.

Sampson and Deacon land at a CIA base in Tajikistan. They meet their guide and cross into Afghanistan. The guide abandons them after Sampson threatens him, and they meet with a local warlord who tells them where to find the destroyed village. Sampson and Deacon share a romantic evening. The next day, the guide returns with a small attack force and ambushes Sampson and Deacon in the bombed village. Sampson stays to provide cover while Deacon escapes with evidence that will show who bombed the village. After a lengthy battle, Sampson kills his opponents and crosses back into Tajikistan to find a waiting jet, but Deacon is not there. On the plane, he learns that Deacon’s ex-husband, General Mason, now works at a security firm that did business in Afghanistan while Sampson’s team was there. Sampson believes that Deacon betrayed him.

Meanwhile, General Grissom warns President Kent that an attack on DC is imminent and to enact martial law. The attacks continue, growing more heinous and killing Americans across the country. Many in power in DC leave, knowing they cannot stop the attack. Ned Mahoney is stymied at every turn, unable to dig up anything that indicates who is coordinating the attacks. Nevertheless, he stays in DC and is visited by the mayor, who offers him whatever help he needs. He hopes Sampson is having better luck.

Maynard’s team attempts to kidnap Willow but fails when Alex Cross’s wife Bree intervenes yet again.

Back in the United States, Sampson goes to Alex Cross’s home office and finds what Cross was working on. All of the attacks took place near installations run by the Department of Homeland Security. Outside, Deacon forces Sampson into a car at gunpoint. However, inside, she explains that she destroyed the evidence and came back aware that it is her ex-husband’s security company that is responsible for bombing the village. She hasn’t betrayed Sampson as he thought. They drive to the company’s headquarters and confront the retired general, her ex-husband. They threaten to kill him and he provides the information. Outside, Maynard attacks again, this time gravely wounding Deacon before being killed by Sampson.

Sampson has only hours until the attack on DC when he visits Ned Mahoney’s home. He shows Mahoney a video that reveals General Grissom as the orchestrator and mastermind behind the attacks. Grissom plans to arrive at the White House at noon to take control of the country in a coup that will rest power with the military.

They gear up and head to DC, where they set up a roadblock to intercept General Grissom’s motorcade. When the general’s security team is unable to persuade Mahoney and Sampson to move, Grissom gets out of his vehicle. Mahoney attempts to arrest the general just as DC’s National Guard arrives to secure the White House. Grissom is cornered, with no way to achieve his goals. His loyal and dedicated assistant kills him to preserve his legacy and is killed in turn.

Sampson pushes a wheelchair carrying Alex Cross out of the hospital and reveals that Deacon survived but is in a coma; insurrectionist cells are being dismantled and arrests made across the country. When the car approaches to pick them up, Alex Cross gets out of his wheelchair and walks to the car.