Audiobook Review: Alpha by Greg Rucka

15 06 2012

Alpha by Greg Rucka

Read by Rob Shapiro

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 17 Min

Genre: Action Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Alpha is a kick ass action thriller set in a lovingly realized world with instantly recognizable characters. Rucka manages to traverse the time honored terrain of the action thriller while shining it up and making it look all almost new. It delivers what all good action stories should, lots of fun, characters to cheer for and jeer against, and well executed action sequences making it one of the most entertaining roller coaster rides of the year.

Grade: A-

I think there is a bit of a formula when creating good male action stars. First off, and perhaps most importantly, he most have a catchy, short name, no more than two or three syllables. Would we have cheered for James Bond, Jack Bauer, Joe Pike, and Jack Reacher if their names were Humphry Tarzarian, or Larabie Snickerton? Our hero must have high standards, willing to bring the action when needed, yet be deeply flawed in someway. Our hero should also be a loner on some level, yet still have some very loyal comrades and maybe a loved one or two. Without these connections to life, who would our hero be forced to sacrifice in their campaign against evil, and who will the agents of evil put in harms way in order to keep our hero from preventing their evil plan. Our hero needs tragedy in his history, typically coming during an intense battle or mission.  Plus, our hero needs to have a sort of ‘bad boy, maybe you can save me’ appeal with women, yet be unable to settle down or keep a meaningful relationship intact long term. So many action heroes have a touch of the caricature about them. I think this is because in a true action thriller, heroes need to be almost instantly recognizable. Gone are the days where a simply white or black hat tells us who is going to serve what role. Authors need to develop their lead as quickly as possible so they can start blowing shit up. For me, I am fine with this. If I want intense character development, I pick up some literary piece about a multigenerational family as they summer in the Hampton’s. When I read thrillers, I want a kick ass action figure and I want shit to start blowing up.

Alpha introduces the latest kick as action hero, Jad Bell. He is a highly trained military operative with a shadowy military history yet, now he is out, looking to cash in on his training in the corporate world. Bell takes a job at Wilsonville, a Disneyesque family theme park, protecting the patrons coming to the park, and preventing shoplifters. This job is afar cry from the violence of his past, yet as with most action stars, circumstances always seem to find a way to bring that violence back. Greg Rucka doesn’t break too much new ground in his thriller Alpha, yet manages to make that old ground look awfully shiny. While the characters tend to be recognizable archetypes, Rucka manages to build the world of the Wilson Empire and its shining jewel of a Theme Park with the intricacy and detail that rivals the best fantasists writing today. Wilsonville is revealed in vivid detail, from the interaction of the performing characters, to the rides and concessions. Rucka also manages to create a shadowy conspiracy subplot that doesn’t feel cliché. Yet, my favorite part of the novel is the action scenes. Rucka delivers the action in a mechanical manner that is a stark contrast to the muddled Riddley Scott close-up style action we see all too often in action tales. Rucka uses the third person perspective effectively, allowing us to pull back from the action and view it as it plays out. His scenes are played out in full, then revisited from other perspectives, allowing us to see all the angles perfectly. This style is effective because it allows us to completely visualize each moment in intricate detail. Rucka’s style fits Jad Bell’s in an excellent case of synchronicity. Bell isn’t a rush in and kick ass type of guy, he takes time to evaluate and act in a methodic manner. Yet, despite the mechanical style, I felt the emotional impact on each character as their decisions lead to safety or tragedy. They may be acting with brutal efficiency, but they are still affected by the brutality. Alpha is a kick ass action thriller set in a lovingly realized world with instantly recognizable characters. Rucka manages to traverse the time honored terrain of the action thriller while shining it up and making it look all almost new. It delivers what all good action stories should, lots of fun, characters to cheer for and jeer against, and well executed action sequences making it one of the most entertaining roller coaster rides of the year. 

Rob Shapiro delivers the narrative in a strong confident tone which captures the feel and nuance of the story well. He handles the variety of accents well, and creates distinct and believable voices for the characters. He reads the action in a slow, deliberate pace, matching precisely the rhythms of the story. His tone is often mechanical, but in a good way, describing the action in a meticulous manner that allows the listener to follow things closely. One of the aspects he handles really well is the delivering of the American Sign Language conversations of a High School for the Deaf group visiting Wilsonville. Since ASL has a precise structure which eliminates unnecessary descriptors and articles, it can have an awkward feel for us hearing folk who enjoy our verbosity. Shapiro manages to make it feel organic. He and the author do a good job of capturing not just the language, but the physical cues the deaf use to interpret what we are communication through our words and body. Alpha is an exciting thriller that translates well to audio due largely to an excellent performance by its narrator.

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2 responses

15 06 2012
russell1200

I looked at it at Amazon. It does look interesting. Maybe a little pricey for an action thriller though. Put it on the wish list to think about.

16 06 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

Being able to convey ASL verbally sounds pretty impressive!

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