I found reading the other readers' reviews (almost universally bad) of The Thomas Berryman Number a real education. It might interest you all to know that when this, Patterson's first novel, came out in 1977 it won the Edgar for the best first crime novel of that year. Yes, this book is very different from his Alex Cross series: The plot is subtle and provocative, the characters are complex and compelling, and Patterson's writing here makes it a pleasure to deal with every page. The Cross books, on the other hand, feature a one-dimensional cardboard hero, comic-book villains, and simplistic writing in very short chapters. No, Patterson's writing has not improved with the years. He's just lowered his standards and is aiming at a larger, dimmer audience.