Ali Cross: The Secret Detective

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By James Patterson

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The #1 bestselling kid detective is back! Mysteries, crime-solving, homeroom—all in a day's work for Ali Cross. 

Ali Cross has always looked up to his father, the famous detective Alex Cross. And after helping to solve two big cases, Ali knows he has what it takes to follow in his father's footsteps. Eager to keep solving crimes, Ali and his friends hack into police calls and go to crime scenes to watch the detectives at work—and try to crack the cases themselves. 
But when Ali witnesses something horrible, he has to grapple with tough questions about what it means to be a detective and a detective's son. Will Ali find a way to follow in his father’s footsteps . . . or will he be the one in danger’s path?  


I’M GOING TO start by telling you about my friend Gabe Qualls. He’s a part-time middle school student and a full-time genius. Because he’s a genius, he’s always inventing things. And because we’re such good friends, he’s always sharing the inventions with me.

Just last week he perfected one of his best inventions ever. It arrived at the best possible time. You see, I haven’t had a decent real adventure in what feels like a hundred years. I’ve been hurting for something exciting to happen. And Gabe’s new invention is practically a guarantee that something big will happen.

Here’s what it is. A cell phone that lets me intercept police calls.

Wait. Wait. Wait. It’s nothing bad. Nothing illegal. I mean, come on. My father is Detective Alex Cross. With him as a dad, I’ve got to be extra careful.

Here’s the deal. Gabe figured out how to make an app that actually transcribes and summarizes local police radio chatter in real time. (Don’t ask me how he did it. He’s the total computer genius. Not me.)

But here’s the coolest part. Gabe secretly hooked it up to the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police scanner. And he set it so if the cops say certain key words, or if they’re headed somewhere in our neighborhood, it sends a ridiculously loud text alert to both our phones. So whenever there’s an emergency call in Southeast—the part of the city where me and my family live—we’re the first two to hear about it.

Which means we can get to the crime scene fast.

Oh, it works well—really well. In fact, I’m in a deep cozy sleep this morning and… there it is now. Loud. Blaring.

I look at my phone. 3:35 a.m. The screen simply says:

Stanton Houses. Emergency situ. Group.

Group? What does that mean? Gabe really needs to work on an in-app translator for the police lingo.

Moaning just a little, I stumble out of bed and slip into my jeans and a ratty gray T-shirt. I’ve chased after three police calls so far this past week. A stolen car, an attempted robbery, and a boring noise complaint. Each one had potential, but they all turned out to be duds.

I’m hoping this new call is an exciting one.

Chasing police calls is kind of a weird hobby, right? Most of my friends play video games. Or sports. Or make goofball TikTok videos.

Me? I like to check out crime scenes. Let me rephrase that. Checking out crime scenes, looking into police cases, well, that’s about the coolest thing I can imagine.

Why do I do it? I guess you could say it’s in my DNA. Yeah. That’s it. But even if that’s the reason, I don’t think the guy responsible for that DNA, my dad, would be cool with me following in his footsteps, especially since I’m still in middle school. Crime, guns, bad guys. It can be a dangerous job.

Which is why I’m forced to sneak out of the house. Shhhh.

Holding my dirty Puma Clydes in my hand, I soft-step down the stairs and tiptoe out the door. If I wake him or my stepmom, Bree, I’m dead. My family, you see, is pretty good at hearing stuff, seeing stuff, and, like me, gently nosing into one another’s stuff.

Luckily, this time, they all seem to be sleeping like a bunch of babies.

I wait till I’m a whole block from my own house before I call Gabe.

“Are you ready to go?” I ask.

I can tell from his grumpy voice that Gabe hasn’t moved since his own police scanner alert went off.

“It’s like three o’clock in the morning, Ali,” he says.

I fight his grumpy with the best friend card.

“C’mon, man. You wouldn’t let me go alone, would you?” There’s an address on the screen now. I read the message to him. “Group disturbance at 1916 18th SE.”

Then I tease him a little. I can’t help it.

“Come on, Gabe. It’s your favorite part of town.”

“Public housing? The Stanton Houses? My favorite part?”

“Yeah,” I answer. “It’s right across the street from the library.”

“Funny stuff, Ali. Nothing like a nerd-genius joke at three in the morning.”

“Just get your butt over there,” I say. “Now.”

“It’s probably just like the others. A big nothing deal,” Gabe says.

I know Gabe could be right. Maybe this call will turn out to be another dud.

But for some reason, I have a feeling it’s going to be a big one.

GABE AND I meet up. The genius looks like he’s still dressed for bed—red boxers sticking out from green gym shorts, along with a red-and-white striped T-shirt.

“What’s up, Christmas tree?” I say.

“Huh?” He doesn’t get the joke. Or at least he pretends not to.

We hustle over toward the crime scene. It’s not hard to find. It’s all flashing lights and megaphones. It’s a nasty mix of police shouts and wailing sirens. Then we plant ourselves by the side of the library for the perfect view.

“This looks pretty serious,” I say.

“Uh, you think so?” Gabe says. “What gave it away? The eight police cars or the forty people crowding around?”

I guess I am a master of the obvious.

“It’s got to be something with the gangs,” Gabe says.

As soon as Gabe mentions the word gangs, I tell him what my dad once said.

“If you can bust the gangs, you can build the city.”

“Man, it would take a lot of busting and a lot of building,” Gabe says, and as I look across the street at the twisted window bars and graffiti on the Stanton Houses, I know what he means.

The biggest problems with the gangs are the feuds between the gangs themselves. The fights can be brutal—guns, fists, knives, even rocks are used. They’re started over turf disputes or drugs or someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend.

Police are leading a few folks out of the building. It’s pretty clear that these are residents of the houses. Adults wearing nightgowns and underwear and sweatpants. Little kids in pajamas.

The police rush this small group to a spot behind one of the barricades. Then we hear a guy on a megaphone talking to the people watching from the surrounding houses: “PLEASE REMAIN IN YOUR HOMES. PLEASE REMAIN IN YOUR HOMES. POLICE WILL INFORM YOU WHEN IT’S SAFE TO LEAVE.”

“That’ll sure scare you,” Gabe says.

I check my phone. “No updates on the event,” I tell Gabe. “I think we should remain in our current position.”

Gabe rolls his eyes. His voice is really sarcastic as he says, “Yes, sir. Whatever you say, Sergeant Ali.” Before I can tell Gabe off, we see a sudden parade of people coming out the side door of the apartment.

Three of those people—two guys, one woman—are clicked into handcuffs. It looks like stuff you see in news clips. The police stare straight ahead while they walk. The suspects are pushing their chins into their chests as far as they can. I watch closely as the handcuffed people are escorted by an even mix of four uniformed cops and four plainclothes.

Okay. I’m excited, excited enough that I decide to move in closer to the front of the crowd.

“Cool it, man,” Gabe says as he tugs at the back of my shirt. “The police don’t want any interference from two punk teenagers.”

Gabe is right. Plus, some of the officers and detectives might actually recognize me. I’ve been down at headquarters a few times with my dad. We move back a little, a pretty bad attempt at camouflage.

Three police cars pull up to the side of the building where the action is.

“Three perps. Three arrests. Three squad cars,” I say. “Everybody gets their own chauffeur. This must be serious.”

“Hey, Ali. Look at the second guy,” Gabe says. He sounds anxious.

“Lower your voice, man,” I say.

“On the right. On the right,” he says. He doesn’t really talk any quieter. Instead he talks in the kind of whisper you could hear a few yards away. “Look at the second guy on the right.”

I squint. I look.

Oh, damn! Damn and damn it again.

“Let’s move,” I say. We bend over, put our heads down, and we look exactly like what we are—two scared, stupid kids trying to hide.

“You said they were all asleep when you left your house,” Gabe says.

“They were. At least I thought they were,” I answer.

“Man, you better hope he doesn’t look this way. Nobody can fool your father.”

“Least of all me,” I say.

THE POLICE LOAD the three people into three separate patrol cars that flip on their sirens and drive off. It’s kind of interesting to watch how the officers handle the three people that they’re bringing in. They’re not really rough with them. There’s no shoving or pushing. But they’re firm also. I’d call them confident but polite. I do notice that one of the officers does not do the usual “watch-your-head” move when they put their guy into the car. I wonder, is that a television thing? Or is it an actual rule, that the officer just broke?

I’m pretty sure that Gabe and I are far enough away that nobody can see us. And my father wasn’t really looking around; he seemed very preoccupied with walking with, watching, and guiding his suspect.

I don’t even realize I’ve been holding my breath until he gets into an unmarked car and drives off, too.

“We can move in closer now,” I say.

“Yeah,” says Gabe. “Now that the big guy is gone.”

I’m not sure, but I’m not liking Gabe calling my father “the big guy.” It’s not exactly disrespectful. And, okay, the name sort of fits. But my friend’s voice has a little scorn to it. Maybe. Yeah, maybe. It could be I’m just too sensitive.

Anyway, as we cross the street, I scope out the crowd. I’m guessing most of these people are from the Stanton Houses. Probably some are what the police call “lookie-loos,” the people who gather around when there’s a car accident, a fire, or even an extra-dangerous crime scene, like a shooting. Why watch Netflix when you can watch real life?

A really old guy standing next to Gabe, smoking a pipe, says, “You kids from the neighborhood?”

“Yeah, pretty close by,” I say.

“But not that close,” Gabe says. I don’t know what he’s worried about that he has to add that little bit. Not that the old guy seems to care.

“Bad stuff is always going on around here,” says the old guy. “Nobody can stop it.”

“It’s the gangs again,” says a woman who’s holding a very unhappy baby. The baby is screaming loud enough that she could actually drown out the sirens on the police cars that are speeding away.

The woman talks over her baby. “He’s right. It’s the same as always. The gangs fight. Some of ’em get arrested. But nothing changes. Same old story.” Then she adds, “I wish all the gangs would just kill each other already. Then we’d be done with it.”

The old guy nods his head.

“Sometimes it seems that that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. Kill each other. Can’t say as I’d be heartbroken if they all ended up dead.”

I want to cry out, What are you, crazy? What kind of solution is that?

“Cops’d just as soon let them run around as shoot them,” says the young mother.

“Cops don’t care,” says the old man.

Okay, my blood is at boiling level now. I want to say, The police try really hard to keep things under control. And—you know what—the cops I know do care.

But then I realize… damn it. I understand the old guy. I understand the woman with the baby. And what I understand is that this whole situation sucks.

“Well, you got your wish tonight,” says another woman in the crowd. She’s wearing purple eyeglasses and has her hair in curlers.

“Yeah,” she says. “The police shot one of the gang members. Blood. Guts. The whole thing. The ambulance just left ten minutes ago, and look, it’s already on the news.”

Hang on. A police shooting? The woman holds up her cell phone. A television title says, POLICE SHOOTING IN SOUTHEAST. GANG WARS!

Everything inside me shifts. My stomach knots up. My brain has trouble focusing.

“Who was it?” I say. “Did they say if it was a cop in uniform?”

“You know as much as I know,” says the woman.

The browser switches to a different piece of news, some new headline about corruption in the Baltimore judicial system. Damn. Is there ever anything good on the news?

Gabe asks, “You sure they didn’t mention who…”

The lady with the phone doesn’t even let him finish the sentence. She says, “Are you boys listening? Like I said, you know as much as I do.”

My stomach knot is only getting tighter.

I tell Gabe that we should leave.

He nods.

I can see that he has the same worry I do: that the cop who fired the gun might have been my dad.

WE ALL CALL her Nana Mama. Fact is, everybody in our family, and even some friends and neighbors, call her Nana Mama.

This truly awesome lady is my dad’s grandmother, who lives with us. She’s totally unique compared to everyone else I know. Nana Mama can, at the very same time, be the nicest person in the world and the toughest person in the world. If you’re expecting some wise old sage spouting wisdom, or some funny old lady, then you definitely have the wrong person. But if you want a woman who’s smart and generous, then you have Nana Mama. And that’s exactly who I usually want.

Nana and I agree on lots of things. Like I said, she’s so smart that it’s hard not to come over to her point of view. But not always. I’ll show you what I mean.

After last night over at the Stanton Houses I’m hurting from too little sleep, and I need to get some breakfast in me.

Damn. Me and breakfast and Nana Mama. Breakfast is one of those things that we do not see eye-to-eye on. To me the best breakfast is small and sweet, like a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. Maybe a piece of toast with a big smear of peanut butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. If there’s a Hostess donut handy, that’ll do, too. For Nana Mama, breakfast is—you probably already guessed—a much bigger deal: waffles and/or griddle cakes, bacon and/or ham steak, eggs and/or cheese grits.

What makes the early morning even tougher is that my great-grandma always seems to have the energy to debate the breakfast issue. I usually do not. I especially do not this morning.

Today I am seriously late for breakfast. Going to bed at after four in the morning is not good prep for getting up at seven. Already Nana has tried two times to rouse me. Then she finally sent my sister up with four ice cubes, which Jannie tossed into my bed. That cruel arctic blast finally got me up, but I’m still running really late. A shower could help me, but I’ve got to settle for a splash of water on my face.

I walk into the kitchen. All is suspiciously calm. Nana Mama’s sipping a cup of tea. Jannie’s chomping on a roll with bacon. Hmmm. The whole scene seems too quiet for my own good.

“Well, good morning, young man,” says Nana Mama. She gives me a small smile. This is followed by a slight nod. And all this is followed by my sister interjecting annoyingly.

“So nice of you to join us,” says Jannie.

I shoot my sister one of my mean faces. Like she cares about my mean faces.

I wait for Nana Mama to start her lecture on a “good breakfast,” but instead she points to the box of Cocoa Puffs. She’s obviously placed that cereal on the table for my convenience.

Something’s not right. But why go looking for trouble? I pour my cereal.

“You sure had a problem getting yourself out of bed today, Ali,” Nana says.

“I was tired,” I say.

“Were you up late?” Nana asks. There is a tone to her voice that is almost as sweet as my cereal.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Were you rehearsing your class speech?” she asks. Her voice remains careful and slow.

“Yes, I was.”

Let’s just stop right there for a moment, because here’s the problem. First of all, I’m telling a big fat lie, and lying just does not fly in the Cross household. Even worse, it’s an especially bad lie, because Nana Mama has a nose for fibbing like a bloodhound for a criminal on the run.

“Well, I’m glad you’re working on it so hard,” she says. “After all, you told me that the speech is going to be one-quarter of your final grade.”

I nod. And I glance over at Jannie. She’s watching this little scene as if it were as interesting as the season finale of The Bachelorette.

Then Nana says, “Did you practice your speech in front of Bree or your daddy? A little bit of polishing never hurt.”

“I should’ve, but I didn’t have time. I finished too late,” I say.

Nana nods. But she looks… well, she looks quietly unconcerned. I know I’m about to get caught.

Then, at that moment, like an actor in a movie, my dad walks right in through the kitchen door.

He looks pretty awful, especially for him, a man who thinks it’s important to always look “put together.”

His eyes are really bloodshot. His white shirt is blotchy with sweat stains. He says, “Morning, everyone,” very quietly. It’s obvious to all of us that he’s just returned from a tough night. But I’m the only one in the family who knows exactly where he’s been and what he’s been doing.

My phone rings. Everyone pretends they don’t hear it, including me. The last thing I need is a lecture on etiquette, which always includes the rule about telephones at the table.

“Everything okay, Alex?” Nana asks.

Dad’s voice is flat, serious. “Honestly, everything’s not okay. Everything is, to put it simply, a nightmare.”

“What’s going on?” I ask.

He does not answer me immediately. The long pause has me nervous. He’s onto something. Finally he speaks.

“We had some problems last night. Problems with a gang. We arrested three of the members. Just over on 18th Street,” he says. He shakes his head slowly and sadly and says, “And there was a fourth one. I regret to say that this one ended up getting shot.”

We all become completely silent. I get the feeling that Dad is looking at me longer than he should. But I’m not sure. Finally he takes a sip of the coffee that Nana’s poured for him.

Me? I’m just scared.

Yeah, I’m scared that he and Nana might figure out—or even already know—that I’ve told a big lie. Maybe he saw me. Maybe he texted Nana. But these are small worries.

Because, yeah, I’m really scared that there have been gang fights and a shooting right in our own neighborhood.

But I’ve got to say that the thing that scares me most is this: that Dad might be in trouble.

I’M DOING MY best to quick-walk to school. My eyes are dry from no sleep. My brain is foggy, but I’m trying to work with it. I should be thinking about my speech, the speech I’m totally unprepared for. But damn it. I can’t concentrate. Because I just can’t stop thinking about last night.

Two things in particular are messing with me. The first is pretty obvious: I’m really worried that my dad may have been the person who fired the shot, and yet… and the second thing? Well, I’ve got to admit that the crime scene last night was really exciting, more exciting than anything else lately.


  • Praise for Ali Cross and bestselling author James Patterson:
  • "The prolific king of the beach read is back with an intergenerational mystery for the 9-to-12-year-old set."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "All Patterson's success stems from one simple root: his love of telling stories."—The Washington Post
  • "Patterson's fans...aren't just addicted to his books; they see him as a constant companion, a part of their lives."—The New York Times
  • "Patterson is in a class by himself."—Vanity Fair
  • "Young readers...will find much to like in this first installment. There are highlights in Ali's first case, such as creatively using an immersive video game environment the preteens are addicted to as a way to communicate."—Booklist
  • "This is a fresh look at the world of James Patterson's most famous protagonist."—School Library Journal
  • "Alex Cross is a legend."—Harlan Coben

On Sale
Jun 20, 2023
Page Count
272 pages
jimmy patterson

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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