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13 years ago, Alex Cross' wife, Maria, was killed in a drive-by shooting. A long-kept secret is that he witnessed it. Now, years later, a possible suspect, named Michael "The Butcher of Sligo" Sullivan, returns. Alex, who has quit the FBI and became a therapist, must join forces with DCPD detective - and long time friend - John Sampson to find out who really killed Maria, and stop him. Cross will go to any lengths to stop the monster that killed his wife. After years of desperation, depression, crying, lies, and heart break, Cross will find out what really happened on that night long ago. He vows to get vengeance for his wife, even if it means his death. The Dragonslayer is back in the 12th book in the Alex Cross series.
Alex Cross narrates the opening section of the book in flashback from Washington, D.C. in 1993. Married couple, social worker Maria Simpson-Cross and Detective Alex Cross live happily together in their own apartment, along with two kids, Damon and Janelle. One night, Maria reveals to Alex that she is pregnant with their third child, which makes both of them very happy. Meanwhile, hitman Michael Sullivan, aka The Butcher, and his partner Jimmy "Hats" Galati have arrived in Washington on orders from their boss in the Mob. While on an errand for their boss Dominic Maggione, in the Baltimore/Washington area, Sullivan rapes a college girl name Marianne, who he shows pictures to make her remain quiet about the whole thing. He later participates in the execution of Chinese Jiang An-lo. Cross and partner John Sampson witness this, but he ends up getting away.
Afterwards, the Butcher pays a frightening visit to Cross at his own house, planning to kill him. But he spares him because of the presence of his children and leaves. He even visits Marianne in her apartment, who has talked to the police about what happened, and kills her. Alex goes to pick up Maria from her job and the two are attacked in drive-by shooting, which Maria is severely shot. While running to a local hospital, with Maria in his arms, she tells Alex that she loves him and dies from her injures. After Maria's death and funeral, Nana Mama comforts a grieving Alex and convinces him to come live in her house, believing that the apartment is has to many memories of Maria. The two help a young infant Janelle stop crying, finally accepting their new life that lies before them.
In the present of 2005 in Washington D.C., Detective Alex Cross struggles to let go of what happened to his wife and also his life as a FBI agent as well. After nearly dying in Mary Mary and also in a recent hostage situation, Nana Mama finally has enough and leaves the family, only to return when she realizes how wrong of her it was to just leave. She convinces Alex to retire from the FBI, making him realize that he needs to make a change in his life. Despite objections from the FBI director Ron Burns, Alex quits his job as an FBI agent and goes back to private practice. At the same time, the Butcher, who isn't working with Jimmy anymore, arrives in Venice to do a job for his new boss, John Maggione, the son of the now-deceased Dominic Maggione, who does not like Sullivan. He realizes that something is strange with his targets. It turns out to be a trap and the couple were actually hired by Maggione Jr. to kill him. Because of luck and his excellent skills, he survives and kills the couple. He decides to get revenge against Maggione.
Alex finds himself enjoying his new life, being able to come home early enough for dinners with his family and spending more time with the kids as well. He also continues his relationship with Kayla Coles, who he has been dating since Mary Mary, and the two grow closer in love. But while he does enjoy his private practice and his new life, he also misses the cases and still feels the need to be out there on the Job. The Butcher returns to the United States and begins to target those who are working under John Maggione, he first kills a mobster named Benny Fontana and his girlfriend inside his own apartment. The Butcher then returns to his wife, Caitlin, and children at his home in Maryland, who have no idea what he does.
John Sampson, Alex's best friend and former partner in the DCPD, is on a stakeout mission against Gino "Greaseball" Giametti, who is known for smuggling young women in and out of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States for the Mob. After arresting Giametti, Sampson learns that he knows who killed Alex's wife and is willing to make a deal with Alex only. Before Alex can arrive in time, Giametti is killed by the Mob, leaving Alex without answers. While wagging a war against John Maggione and the Mob, The Butcher rapes a woman named Lisa Brandt, who he convinces to keep quiet with a series of photos that he keeps with him, which show human remains of his previous victims. It is revealed that The Butcher is not only a contract killer, but also a serial rapist as well. He plays a game known as "Red Light, Green Light", which he uses to draw in attractive women and then rape them. After surviving an attack from Maggione, with his kids present, The Butch begins to take matters into his own hands and calls up Maggione, warning him that he is coming for vengeance.
One day, John receives a call from a Detective Angela Susan Anton, who is investigating the rapes that The Butcher has been committing, asking for his support and also Alex's help as well, since he is considered one of the most professional detectives. John manages to convince him come on board as a consult and the two begin to look into the rapes. They try to talk to Lisa, the very recent victim, but can't get her to help them out, due to her fear that he may kill her for helping. They later convince another victim, named Mena Sunderland, to help them in their investigation. While working on the investigation, Alex receives a call that Kayla was stabbed by a junkie and had driven herself to the hospital. Rushing to the very same hospital where Maria was pronounced dead, Alex hears that Kayla will live and he goes to comfort her as she sleeps.
The Butcher kills another mobster named Dante Ricci, including his wife, sending a clear message towards Maggione. He also sends his family into hiding in Massachusetts for their own safety, and so that he can finally get his revenge without worrying about them as well. He later finds out about Mena's involved with the case and kills her in her home. Alex and John are shocked when they hear the news, which results in Alex feeling guilty for endangering her. Alex continues to follow the case and begins to connect the dots that The Butcher is the one causing all of the serial rapes, remembers his first encounter with him years before, and also wonders if he is the one who killed Maria.
Also, after having dinner with his family, Alex talks to a recovering Kayla, who is staying in her hometown in North Carolina with her parents. Kayla reveals that she has decided to move back to her hometown, having found peace there. Deciding to let her go, Alex supports Kayla on her choice, but also regrets not telling her how he truly feels. He then pushes himself more harder into the case with John. Both of them look into The Butcher's past and later discover that he was childhood friends with a man named Tony Mullino. Interrogating Tony, Alex and John learn that The Butcher killed his own father, who was a physical and sexual abuser towards him in his childhood days, and that he, The Butcher, and Jimmy Galati dumped his body in the harbor of New York City.
Meanwhile, after killing Paul Mosconi, Maggione's brother-in-law, The Butcher launches his attack against John Maggione, kidnapping him and then killing him. After finding evidence of The Butcher's home, Alex and John stage a stakeout to capture The Butcher, only to learn from Tony himself that The Butcher has tricked them and that he has killed John Maggione. Returning home, Alex reveals to Janelle and Damon that the man who killed their mother is back and that he has to take this one last case. They both understand and Alex reveals everything that he has been hiding from them about that night Maria died.
The Butcher takes on another job to kill a woman named Melinda Steiner, whose husband ordered the hit. After seeing her and her co-worker having sex, he is impressed with their lovemaking and decides to spare her, but he does kill her co-worker in order to leave behind no witnesses. He instead offers to kill her husband for double the price he was giving him, which she agrees to. Taking her back to her husband's home, Melinda and The Butcher confront Mr. Jerry Steiner, who The Butcher kills. After being paid by Melinda, The Butcher kills her and leaves to go get his family.
Learning that The Butcher actually now lives somewhere on the western side of Massachusetts, both John and Alex vow to "end him", whether or not he is Maria's kill, and make the drive from Washington D.C. and make another stakeout. Watching The Butcher make way to his house, they are all ambushed by the Mob, who have come to avenge John Maggione's death. John, Alex, and The Butcher kill everyone and have a standoff. Alex confronts The Butcher on why he killed his wife in 1993, only for him to say that he didn't kill Maria and runs into the woods. While trying to get away in a vehicle, Alex disables the vehicle and wounds him. The Butcher takes his own wife hostage, only for Alex to shoot and kill him, but Alex also sustains wounds of his own and nearly dies.
Weeks go by and Alex heals from his wounds. While being haunted by The Butcher's last words, Alex starts to believe that he wasn't Maria's killer. Confronting John on the matter, he learns a dark secret that has been kept for nearly thirteen years. It is revealed that Jimmy "Hats" Galati was Maria's true killer, not The Butcher. John Sampson and another detective named Rakeem Powell, found out about it and killed Jimmy in New York all those years ago when they couldn't get enough evidence to hold him to it. John killed Jimmy so Alex didn't have to lose what was left of his soul and that he never told him because he knew that Alex would regret not doing it himself. Finally knowing the full truth, Alex thanks John for always being there for him.
When the time comes for Kayla to move back to her hometown in North Carolina, Alex visits her for the final time. Kayla tries to convince Alex to move with her, wanting to be with him. Alex refuses, knowing that he can never leave Washington D.C. and that he belongs there. They both end their relationship on good terms and go their separate ways. Back at home, Alex finally comes to terms with Maria's death and finds the will make a change in his life, finally allowing himself to "move on" and be happy.
Alex was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His mother died when he was 8 years old and his father was an alcoholic, which killed him a year after Alex's mother died, so he lived with his grandmother from the age of 10. Alex Cross joined the Washington DC Police Department as a psychologist. There he worked in the Homicide and Major Crimes department and somehow also worked between the FBI and the DC police. After this he worked for the FBI as a Senior Agent. When he retired from the FBI, he opened his own psychology practice.
He still lives in Washington DC with Nana Mama and his three children Damon, Jannie and Alex Jr. Despite the fact that he’s well educated and makes a decent living, he chooses to continue living in the slums of DC and is very much involved in the community. In his free time he likes playing the piano, listening to classical music and reading.
In the novel, Alex has a relationship with Kayla Coles, who is a resident physician, and the two show romantic feelings for each other. At one point in the novel, after hearing that Kayla is moving to North Carolina, Alex expresses that he needs her and might be in love with her too. However, the two decide to end their relationship, which sadness them both, and they go their separate ways.
While Alex tries to move on with his life, he is still haunted by the murder of his wife, Maria, who he still loves very much. He spends a lot of the story remembering moments about Maria, missing her a lot and trying to find out who killed her. By the end of the book, right after discovering that Jimmy "Hats" Galati was the one who killed his wife, Alex finds the will to let go of Maria and move on with his life. Patterson portrays him as a lonely person but also as a model father who tries to spend as much time as possible with his family.
- Nana Mama
Her real name is Regina Hope Cross and she’s Alex’s grandmother who looked after him when he grew up. She’s 81 years old and still lives with Alex and his three children in Washington DC. Nana used to work as an English teacher and as an assistant principal at Garfield North Junior High School in Washington. She’s quite severe and manners are very important for her. She helped take care of Alex and his kids after Maria died.
- Maria Simpson Cross (flashback)
Alex's deceased wife, whom we briefly meet in the opening chapters of the story. She is shown in a flashback in the very beginning of the story and also in another mini-flashback in the middle of the story. Maria was a kind, gentle, and loving woman. She is the mother of Janelle and Damon, who she loved with all of her heart. She was even pregnant with her and Alex's third child. She loved Alex very much, even telling him this just before she died.
He and Alex have grown up together and know each other since they were 10 years old. He was Alex’s partner when he worked for the DC Police. After Alex leaves the FBI, Sampson needs his help in a case that involves a series of rapes and that probably is in connection with the murder of Alex’s wife Maria, so they become temporary partners for the time being. In the novel, it is revealed that John killed Maria's real murderer, Jimmy "Hats" Galati, along with the help of a fellow detective named Rakeem Powell, in New York City. John and Rakeem covered up the murder, so that no one would find out. When John reveals this to Alex, it helps strengthens their friendship and the two decide to keep the truth buried. John has a wife named Billie and a young daughter as well.
- Kayla Coles
Kayla is a resident physician at a local hospital in Southeast Washington D.C. and also Alex's girlfriend in the novel. She was introduced in Four Blind Mice and appears all the way to Cross, during which, she and Alex form an attraction to each other and later start dating in Mary Mary. Kayla has romantic feelings for Alex and enjoys being with him.
During the story, she is stabbed by a junkie and is taken to the hospital, where Alex comforts her. While visiting her parents in her hometown of North Carolina, Kayla decides to move back there, finding that she can do more good there and later tells Alex, who is sadden by this but supports her. By the end of the novel, Kayla tries to convince Alex to move with her, showing that she still wants a relationship with him, but Alex refuses, believing that he can never leave Washington behind. Kayla and Alex decide to end their relationship, which saddens them both, and they go their separate ways.
- Michael "The Butcher of Sligo" Sullivan
Michael Sullivan grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He had no good childhood and often had problems with his father, who molested him. So at the age of eighteen, he killed him before dismembering him using a scalpel and feeding him to the fish in the bay. Some time later he got connections to Mafia, especially the Maggione family, for which he worked as a killer. After one of his jobs, he got the nickname “the Butcher” due to his cruelness and often killing his victims in a brutal way. After killing his victims he would cut up their faces with a scalpel to make a point and take pictures to use a threatening devise so his next victims would keep quiet. Somewhere along the line, Michael started raping young, attractive women and would often leave them alive, showing them the same pictures to keep them quiet. He is believed to be the one who killed Maria, but is proven innocent as it was his former partner Jimmy "Hats" Galati who killed her. By the end of the novel, Michael is killed by Alex. He has a wife and three sons, and also has a home in Maryland.
- Jimmy "Hats" Galati
Jimmy is The Butcher's partner in crime and turns out to be the killer of Maria. He is killed by Sampson and another detective named Rakeem Powell, years ago. It was never revealed to Alex that Jimmy had murdered his wife until the end of the novel, where John comes clean after they kill Michael "The Butcher" Sullivan, Jimmy's old partner. "Jimmy was known as "Jimmy the Protector" because he had the Butcher's back. Always." The beginning flashback was the only appearance throughout the series that Jimmy ever made, but he is mentioned dozens of times. Originally, The Butcher thinks one of his mob bosses killed Hats, but it is later revealed that Sampson killed him.
Alex was listening to a funny story told to him about Morgan Freeman, who played him in the first two film adaptions.
Later, Alex was seen watching Diary of A Mad Black Woman, a film directed by Tyler Perry, who also played to him in the latest installment of the Alex Cross franchise.
The novel and the movie don't have much relation to each other, and the screenplay borrows elements from other parts of the Alex Cross stories, blending them together out-of-sequence, and making up other sections completely. For instance, Cross and his family lived in the Southeast section of Washington DC, not Detroit. Damon is the eldest child, not Janelle who was still a baby when Maria was killed in a drive-by (not by a sniper). Alex's partner and best friend is John Sampson, a black man bigger even that Cross, not a skinny white guy.
Patterson implies in the on-disc interviews that this Alex Cross movie should be considered as a reboot of the franchise and is meant to continue through to the current novels. He also said that, although he loved Morgan Freeman in the first two movies, Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, Tyler Perry is closer, physically and artistically, to his own internal conception of what Dr. Cross is like.