Audiobook Review: Compound Fractures by Stephen White

2 10 2013

Compound Fractures by Stephen White (Dr. Alan Gregory, Bk. 20)

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Compound Fractures is an appropriate ending to this untraditional thriller series. A highly emotional and complex read that hovers between engrossing and frustrating, Compound Fractures is a fitting cap to this long time series.

Grade: B+

This week seems to be all about finales for me. With just finishing the Breaking Bad and Luther finales, it seems fitting that I would be listening to the final book in a 20 book series. Compound Fractures is the final book in Stephen White’s Alan Gregory series about a Boulder Colorado Psychologist whose work and personal life gets him mixed up in various adventures.  I wish I could say that I was there from the very beginning when the first Alan Gregory novel, Privileged Information was first released back in 1991. I haven’t. In fact, I am a newish fan of Stephen White, and this is one of the few long time mystery thriller series that I have experienced entirely in audio. While the majority of this series has been narrated by Dick Hill, some of the earlier novels featured some well know narrators like Scott Brick and Michael Kramer. One of the things I really enjoyed about this series is, unlike many ongoing series, White took a lot of risks with his format, shifting perspectives, having novels told from the perspective of Dr. Gregory’s patients or other peripheral characters, making Alan a smaller player in the tale. Also, I really liked how Alan Gregory is a far cry from your typical thriller hero. In many ways he is the anti-thriller hero. Somewhat meek, often bullied, sexually repressed, yet with an ability to look at things from different perspectives. Alan Gregory made lots of mistakes along the way. His complicated ethics and morality often shifted and evolved to a point where the Alan Gregory of Privileged Information wouldn’t recognize, and quite possibly would have despised the Alan Gregory of Compound Fractures, both professionally and personally. I was impressed with Stephen Whites decision to wrap up this series. It’s not easy to take a long running series, one that has been successful, and bring it to a natural conclusion on the writer’s own terms, I was quite interested to see how it would all turn out.

There is a scene about two thirds of the way through Compound Fractures where the two main characters of the novel, Dr. Gregory and his best friend, Boulder Police Detective Sam Purdy, both basically admit that they are acting like douches towards each other. This is when I let out my biggest sigh of the novel because honestly, they were and it was starting to get to me a bit. Compound Fractures is not an easy read for fans of this series. The backbone of this series has been the relationship between these two friends, and how that relationship is fractured, lacking in trust. As a reader I found this quite frustrating. Throughout this whole series I have always liked Alan Gregory, even when he was whiney and annoying, I had some level of respect for him. Yet, the weight of these two friends’ actions becomes too big of a burden for both men, forcing them out of character, into a couple of unlikable slugs. This is both the beauty and problem with Compound Fractures. White has created a brilliant plot where the lies and mistrust have just become too much for these two men. The theme of this novel was trust yet, there was also an interesting exploration of how much Sam has changed, much for the better, while Alan seemed to change somewhat for the worse. With what they know about each other and the potential for either of them to find themselves dealing with the consequences of their actions, how much could they trust each other? White does a wonderful job setting up this conundrum over the course of a few books. As a reader I wanted to scream at both of these men. I wanted them to just talk to the other, to hash out their problems and become the Alan and Sam of old. Yet, it wasn’t going to happen, and I found this both sad and refreshing.

What Stephen White does here in Compound Fractures is impressive. He takes everything you think you know about the series, and about the events leading up to the tragic ending of Line of Fire, and twist it and turn it to a point where you realize everything you thought you knew was wrong. With each twist and turn, I became more engrossed in what was happening even as I become more frustrated with the characters. I never felt comfortable in this book, but in a good way. There was so much pain, so much suffering, and some much mistrust that every step along the way felt like you were negotiating a mine field. White managed to incorporate a lot of subplots from the series into this finale in surprising ways. One of the most interesting things about this series is Alan’s complicated relationship with his wife. This is one of those aspects that I think totally broke out of the norm of most thriller series. In many ways, Alan is “the good wife” in this situation, a loving husband and father, who sticks by his wife despite her betrayals. Much of this novel is Alan coming to terms with his complicated feelings for her, and discovering some of her darkest secrets. Its heart wrenching and painful stuff and the perfect cap to this aspect of the series.

Compound Fractures will not in anyway work as a standalone. While there are some traditional thriller aspects of this novel, with a murder investigation, potential criminal jeopardy and other little twists along this way, this is not really a thriller novel. Compound Fractures is about dealing with the emotional, legal and personal fallout of the past 19 novels. This is a novel written for the fans of the series who were there along the way. It’s a bittersweet ending. Yet, one thing that White did confused me. There is one subplot in this novel that is very much left open ended. I wasn’t sure what to think about this aspect while reading it but, I think I understood why he did it. I think White was trying to do what he did throughout the series, show that things don’t tie up cleanly after 400 pages. That life can never truly episodic. This hanging particle served as a reminder that, until death, there is no true ending to the subplots of a life. As a person I can respect this. As a reader, it’s hard not to want a black and white ending. Yet, instead, what you get is a sort of gray ending, knowing that life goes on and the mistakes of these characters past still have a way to haunt them. While frustrating, I found it utterly appropriate.

I have listened to a lot of Dick Hill narrations over my time. There have been performances I loved and ones that I haven’t. Hill, in many ways, reminds me of those great character actors that you recognize every time they show up in a guest role on one of your favorite TV shows. You know what you are going to get, but you still look forward to getting it. Overall, I think Hill does a fine job with this series. It’s in his wheelhouse, yet different enough to give him something new avenues to explore. Alan Gregory is almost the anti-Jack Reacher, more the mild mannered one than the superhero, and this allows Hill to be much more nuanced in his performance. That being said, I think Compound Fractures may be one of my all time favorite Dick Hill narrations. There is a lot of emotion in this book. Hill manages to show you the depth of Gregory’s breakdown. His often meticulous meter and professional voice makes the hitches, pauses and cracks in his voice that much more effective. I think that Hill himself felt that this book was special, and deserved a special performance, and that is what he gave. I’m not sure how series fans will react to this finale. I think many will love it, while others will be let down. Yet, for me, I thought it was an appropriate ending for this untraditional series, made special by an excellent performance by the narrator.

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

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One response

3 10 2013
Jenn Lawrence (@jennbookshelves)

This is a “new to me” series! I’ll have to check it out! Thanks again for participating in #Mx3

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