Audiobook Review: The Ophelia Cut by John Lescroart

12 08 2013

The Ophelia Cut (Dismas Hardy, Bk. 14) by John Lescroart

Read by David Colacci

Brilliance Audio

Length: 16 Hrs 20

Genre: Courtroom Thriller

Quick Thoughts:  Lescroart is a good writer who can create compelling characters, complicated situations and fascinating legal quandaries, but for me, this latest novel just really didn’t make the cut. With an unfocused narrative, unnecessary subplots and so much backstory that regular series readers already knew, The Ophelia Cut made me almost wish I chose the Abridged version instead.

Grade: C

Every time I read or hear an author say something like, “While the book is  part a series, each one can be read as a standalone” I inwardly cringe. I get the point. I really do. The author wants that new reader to walk into a store and grab his latest hardback about Joe Crapper, investigative Plumber, without having to buy The Snake in the Pipes, Floaters and Feeling Flushed first. It’s how they make their money. But, really… you can’t. It’s just not the same experience reading book 3 first, even if each book does stand on its own. Most series characters develop, get involved in relationships, and have an actual life outside of the one novel worthy mystery  per year that they solve, and a good series brings those things into the story making it more than just about somebody solving crimes or getting into adventures. There is a reason why so many people enjoy series, because you develop a relationship with these characters, and if this relationship is not linear, it can cause some strange dissonance. This is why I prefer to read series in order, starting from Book 1. This is why I get really frustrated when I impulse buy a book, and discover it is book 5 of an ongoing series and there was nothing to indicate that fact on the cover. Yet, there is another aspect of the “every story stands alone” school of thought that does a real disservice to an author’s core readers. It’s the many tricks and tools that authors use in each book to establish past relationships and events so that new readers don’t get lost. More and more I complain about ongoing science fiction series that have created “too big of a universe.” I am beginning to see this in mystery and thriller series as well. There are significant events that truly contribute to the actions and motivations of characters and without establishing these in detail for new readers, things just don’t make sense. It’s like the “Previously On” segments of TV shows without the ability to fast forward. As a reader, I want to get right to the core of the story, right to the crux of this tale, without needing to be reminded that 5 years ago Joe Crapper had an affair with Lydia Latrine during a forensic plumbing conference. I mean, as a longtime reader of the Joe Crapper novels, I should already know that shit, right?

I love Dismiss Hardy. Really, I do. He is one of my all time favorite Legal Fiction characters. John Lescroart’s The Thirteenth Juror is one of my all time favorite courtroom thrillers. Yet, over the past few years Lescroart has been branching off his series to stories focused on some of the peripheral characters, like Investigator Wyatt Hunt or DA Wes Farrell and I have found these less engaging. With this and some other  less than stellar recent novels, I have slowly begun to move Lescroart’s status from “Instant Must Listen” to “Check the Synopsis and Decide.” Yet, I was quite excited about his latest novel, The Ophelia Cut. Based on the synopsis, it seemed more like a classic Dismas Hardy Courtroom Thriller. When the Chief of Staff of a city Superintendent is brutally murdered, attention is focused on Dismas Hardy’s Brother in Law Moses, who was enraged after discovering the man had harassed and eventually raped his daughter. While Hardy takes the case, he has his own  agenda in play. Moses, an alcoholic who has fallen off the wagon, has knowledge of a secret that could destroy the lives of many, including Hardy himself. Overall, I found The Ophelia Cut to be, well, strange. The novels pacing was all over the place. It was well past the 6 hour mark before the crime that is the core of the novel even happens. The pacing was so bad, and so much series backstory that regular readers already knew filled the early part of the novel, I almost wished I had listened to the *gasp* Abridged version instead. The investigation, and the time between the arrest and trial felt extremely rushed. It was like Lescroart spent hours reminding us of what is on the line if Moses blabs, how despicable the murder victim was, and then WHAM BAM, we’re starting Voir Dire. I also felt like Lescroart had the opportunity to handle some interesting, and timely social and political issues, like Rape Culture, vigilantism and sex trafficking, and sort of just glossed over them. Now, I don’t need my authors to be preachy but I do think you can explore social issues without having them permeate the plot. Yet Lescroart spent more time on how stupid it was to arrest bartenders who serve underage drinkers than the exploitation of sex trafficking, which plays a significant part in the story. Even the red herrings that Lescroart laced the story with where unfocused, and rarely played any significant role when trial came. It was like Hardy discovered all this stuff, but either decided not to use it or couldn’t and you had to wonder why there were all these tangents early in the novel that had no impact on the end. Why have a corrupt politician in league with a organized crime figure, and a former dirty cop/hit man in the witness protection program dominate the early part of the story if it really had no impact on the trial or the outcome of the novel at all? Lescroart typically writes courtroom scenes full of significance and witness questioning with an almost rhythmic poetry, yet in this one, it falls flat. If this was my first time reading a Dismas Hardy novel I would think him a crap lawyer with very questionable ethics, which goes totally against the character that Lescroart has set up in the previous novels. It wasn’t all negative. I felt Lescroart did a good job setting up the ethical challenges of lawyers, and how outside influences may affect them, even if I don’t think these issues played true in these characters. There was also one moment at the end of the novel that I absolutely loved, and had me looking as some aspects of the book in a new light. Admittedly, Lescroart is a good writer who can create compelling characters, complicated situations and fascinating legal quandaries, but for me, this latest novel just really didn’t make the cut.

Typically, I like David Colacci. It’s been a while since I listened to a novel that he narrated, but I remember him being an engaging narrator with a good handle on the material. Yet, in The Ophelia Cut, I felt his performance was a bit flat. This had me thinking a lot about the relationship between the narrator and the text. Did I find his performance flat, because overall I found the story flat or was it the opposite? Would I have been more engaged with the tale if he read it with more vigor? I’m not sure. I tend to think it’s a combination. Narrators are people to, and sometimes, if they can’t engage with a story it has to affect their performance. I often talk about how you can hear it in a narrator’s performance when they are truly enjoying a book. I think the opposite it true. There was nothing technically wrong with his performance. He has been performing Lescroart’s books for years, and knows these characters. I just think, this one got away a bit from the author, and perhaps, this lead to the narrator, perhaps, not totally bringing his A game. I can’t really blame the guy.

Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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3 responses

16 08 2013
Laurie C

Excellent review! It’s hard to accept when a favorite author isn’t hitting all the notes in a particular book, and I think we all tend to fill in the blanks. I agree with you totally on books that are part of a series but don’t make that obvious anywhere in the book. Very annoying!

23 06 2014
Steve Eggleston

As a new writer to the legal thriller genre, I’m saddened to see the author who’s replaced Grisham at airport bookstores receive a C. But alas, I must confess that “The Ophelia Cut” joined the Lescroart collection on my bookshelf before it could shave. Point-on review. Steve Eggleston, author, “Conflicted”

20 02 2015
john damien

Pretty much echoes my reactions. Not unusual as writers age, especially in series…I might have gone C-.
But have to echo all the notes above about John’s quality work over a long period. Lifetime, he’s an A.

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