The Big Bad Wolf
(2003) is a thriller by the prolific American writer James Patterson. The ninth novel in a series called Alex Cross
, it follows the eponymous protagonist Cross, who is handed a case where seemingly ordinary and random men and women across the country are being kidnapped in public. Cross realizes that these people are not being held hostage, but rather sold to human trafficking rings. He pinpoints the string of crimes on a mastermind known as the Wolf, who has made a lucrative and dangerous business out of organized crime. With a small group of clients willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per person, the Wolf sells them people so they can make their sexual fantasies possible. When the FBI fails to find the Wolf, Cross takes the case into his own hands, tracking down the Wolf as a vigilante.
The novel begins with the abduction case of a federal judge’s wife. Lizzie Connoly, the victim, hails from an upper-class area of Atlanta called Buckhead. The beautiful and lovely mother of two daughters, she is abducted in broad daylight in a parking garage at the mall. The FBI puts the case on high priority since she is the wife of a judge. The FBI assigns Cross, who has recently moved over from the Washington, D.C. police department, due to his track record of solving similar cases. The seriousness of the case initially intimidates Cross, who is both new to the FBI and trying to create a stable family life, spending as much time as possible with his kids and his girlfriend.
A string of other kidnappings quickly occurs after Lizzie’s. The next abductee is Audrey Meek, a famous fashion designer. The criminals also take a young man named Benjamin Coffey. The FBI connects these cases because they follow a similar pattern, having been carried out in broad daylight by a single man and woman without attention to the presence of witnesses. Also, the kidnappers demand no ransom and have no clear motive.
Meanwhile, the Wolf and his clients contact each other in a secure online chat room where they negotiate orders and explain their fantasies. Cross and the FBI make strides in the case when a teenage girl manages to hack in. This allows Audrey Meek to be released and provides clues to tracking down the man who purchased her and held her captive, an art director. The man kills himself before the FBI can extract information.
Cross, becoming obsessed with the case, has trouble managing his family life. His youngest son’s mother tries to gain full custody, and his girlfriend, Jamilla, stays in San Francisco, so he depends on his grandmother to watch over the kids. After the young hacker’s report, the FBI starts paying more attention to chat rooms. They discover another buyer, Dr. Homer Taylor, a professor. Under the pseudonym Mr. Potter, he had bought Benjamin Coffey and another young student named Francis Deegan. Forcing Potter to become an informant, they track down Lawrence Lipton, the man who handles the money. Lipton is an influential member of the Dallas elite. After interrogating Lipton, he leads the FBI to Pasha Sorokin, presumed to be the Wolf. Cross arranges a sting operation at Sorokin’s mansion in Florida. There, they find the judge’s wife, Lizzie, alive. They chase down Sorokin who, after being caught, professes not to be the Wolf.
Sorokin brings the FBI to the Sphinx, the only remaining member of the Wolf’s inner circle. The Sphinx turns out to be Lizzie’s husband, Mr. Connolly, who had auctioned Lizzie off. Through him, the agents manage to capture the Wolf’s rival, another human trafficking operator. Despite the cascade of justice, Cross leaves off at the end of the novel unsatisfied, having still not found the Wolf. He continues to hunt the mastermind, but as he fumbles for leads and awaits Sorokin’s confession before the court, the Wolf kills Sorokin by firing a missile launcher into the armored vehicle bringing him to trial.
A novel that continually suspends information about the identity of its primary antagonist, The Big Bad Wolf
follows the pattern of previous Alex Cross
books, framing its conflict as a game between one intrepid and ethical lone wolf and a complex network of criminality that traditional institutions and bureaucracies cannot detangle. Cross also finds that his success in bringing criminals to justice is contingent on his ability to manage both his public and private life, cutting through the noise that characterizes criminal cases and learning to juggle that with his family. The Wolf’s identity is the central question of the novel, and the open-ended plot structure refuses to assert that a single antagonist ever exists behind a crime in the Alex Cross