James Patterson has written, or co-written, nearly 150 books, some of them really good examples of the mystery/suspense genre. This is not one of them.
The plot of this book centers around the high-profile kidnapping of two children - the son of the US Secretary of the Treasury, and the daughter of a famous actress - by the math teacher at their posh private school. Only it turns out that their math teacher is actually a sociopath and serial killer. Due to his previous training as a psychologist and FBI agent, Washington DC detective Alex Cross (and his character, Sampson) are called on to work with the FBI and the Secret Service on the case. (I mention Sampson in parentheses, because Patterson seems to forget him sometimes, putting Cross into investigative situations where his partner
One of the main issues I have with this book is in Patterson's method of jumping from one point of view to another, and from one story thread to another. He has done this well in other books; it's something he's known for doing. Here, though, he doesn't do a good job of making clear to the reader that, ok, now we've moved from Alex Cross's p.o.v. to that of the killer, and now we're moving to Jezzie (really? Jezzie?) Flanagan's p.o.v. The transitions from one part of the story to another are confusing at times.
Another area of contention is in Patterson's writing of characters who aren't white men. I've mentioned this before regarding his writing of Lindsay Boxer in the Women's Murder Club books, as a weak-willed woman controlled by her woman-parts. At the beginning of Along Came a Spider especially, and (to a lesser extent) throughout the book, Patterson's portrayal of African American characters is pretty stereotypical. This is especially in evidence when he's writing dialog for Cross, a trained psychologist and highly educated man, who speaks at the beginning of the book exactly like the hoodlums and drug dealers in his neighborhood, peppering his dialog (and his asides to the reader) with "brotha" and "nigga" and other fun words. This "street talk" gradually diminishes by the end of the book, but it's insulting to consider that Patterson thinks all African Americans talk this way.
Aside from these issues, and a few smaller issues (Cross has a piano on his front porch. In Washington D.C. In the middle of winter.) the actual mystery is pretty interesting. There's (of course) a major plot twist (somebody kidnaps the little girl from the kidnapper!), and in the end the villain gets his comeuppance (sort of).
One other quirky note: in my library copy, someone has taken it upon themselves (bless their heart) to scribble out every instance of the word "fuck" and all of its various forms. The quirkiness comes in the fact that they did not deem it necessary to scribble out any other curse words. Or any of the somewhat graphic sex scenes between Cross and one of the other characters.