Audiobook Review: Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love 

3 04 2017


Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love

Read by Roxana Ortega

Random House Audio

Grade: A-
Hey, there’s a new book out by one of the writers from Person of Interest!”
SOLD!
“Don’t you want to know what it’s about?” 
NO! FEED INTO BRAIN NOW! 
The great thing about Person of Interest was that each week you didn’t know what kind of episode you were going to get, you just knew it would be badass. This was my experience with Lola, a Machiavellian drama set against the Los Angeles gang culture that breaks many crime fiction conventions. Now, I’m not going to pretend that having a women as the secret leader of a gang is something special. It’s an interesting plot point, that has been done in some manner many times before. It’s the execution that makes Lola stand out. We get to see much of the world through Lola’s lens and her interactions break away from what we expect. Her perspective of “good vs bad” colors the narrative not as a judgement but as assignment of roles and she can respect those who play in those roles and distrusts those who step outside them. Lola isn’t some archetype, she plays out her role, makes mistakes along the way yet becomes her own character. The plot moves fluidly despite a mix of active and reactive moves by Lola. Here she’s her own person and even her agency is taken from her, she fights to get it back with mixed results. The beauty of the tale is that it’s not pretty. Plans never quite work out they way they should and things don’t tie up nicely. It’s all dirty and real and most importantly, a damn good story I didn’t want to stop listening to. 
Narrator Roxana Ortega gave a performance worthy of the material. Her ability to switch from the fluidity of Lola’s speech to the harsh straight forward prosecutor to the other characters that peppered the tale was impressive. Each character didn’t just have its own voice but its own rhythm. Lola is as an action tale but it also highlights how the American city isn’t homogeneous but a symphony of cultures and Ortega was the conductor. 

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Audiobook Review: Shoedog by George Pelecanos

26 09 2013

Shoedog by George Pelecanos

Read by Dan Woren

Hachette Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Shoedog is a solid caper novel, full of unique characters, a realistic set up, and a few nice twists along the way. The ending comes fast and quick, with a touch of a surprise moment that leaves you feeling just a bit disconcerted. While not completely satisfying or as brilliant as his latter novels, Shoedog is a worthy tale that offers plenty of entertainment.

Grade: B

George Pelecanos is an author I have experienced almost entirely in audio. This is a good thing, since I think his specific style of writing translates very well to audio. Some of my all time favorite performances, Richard Allen’s reading of the first three Derek Strange novels, Lance Reddick reading Hard Revolution, Dion Graham reading The Way Home and The Cut,  are narrators reading Pelecanos words. Yet, sadly, most of Pelecanos early novels, including his Nick Stefanos novels and the DC Quartet were never produced in audio when they were released. Now, I actually own paperback copies of most of these novels, but besides A Firing Offense I never read them. I picked them up, cracked them open, started reading the novels, then imagined just how good they would sound read by Dion Graham or JD Jackson. This belief kept me from diving further in, in the hopes that one day they would be released in audio. Luckily, it seems my desire, at least with some of the early books, have come true.

Now, a bit of a secret. I never found Pelecanos’ plots all that special. Sure, they were complicated cat and mouse games, often involving regular people getting mixed up in a crime would they aren’t prepared for. These are very noirish tales, rarely resulting in happy endings. The stories are strong, but I wouldn’t put his plotting over authors like Dennis Lehane or Laurence Block. For me, when it comes to Pelecanos, it’s all about his dialogue. Pelecanos characters speak with pop culture infused rhythms of the street. Their words manage to be both pedestrian and musical in wonderful ways. One of the major problems I have with stylistic dialogue is it never seems realistic, but somehow Pelecanos picks up the odd patois of the streets, making his characters rhythm and flow feel absolutely authentic.

This is why I was very interested in Shoedoe, one of Pelecanos first novels, and his first standalone. In Shoedog, Constantine, a retired soldier with a bit of a temper and a heavy case of wanderlust, is picked up hitchhiking outside his hometown, Washington DC, by Polk, an aging stickup man who gets him mixed up in a score set up by a local criminal facilitator who owes Polk money. Constantine, wary of the job, finds himself pulled into the world by the facilitator’s beautiful girlfriend. Together with Randolph, a women’s shoe salesman who is blackmailed into participating and a few other lowlifes, they attempt to pull off a couple of complicated Liquor store robberies, made even more tricky by double crosses and bad intentions.

I had mixed feelings about Shoedog. Much of Pelecanos style and characterizations were there, but in a raw, unpolished form. Constantine came off to me as an impulsive, unbalanced hipster version of Jack Reacher, without the morality or intelligence. He was controlled by “The Beat” a sort of impulse control fault that would snap leading him to intense moments of violence. Here is where Pelecanos stylist writing comes into play, yet it isn’t as effective as it is in his later novels. The story itself was pretty solid, if you take away the pointless romantic entanglement between Constantine and the facilitator’s girlfriend. The story, set up and twists were reminiscent of 70’s caper films, full of telegraphed double crossed that actually ended up offering their own little surprises along the way.

In the end, I like what Pelecanos did, even if some of the things along the way didin’t work for me. While much about what I love of his writing wasn’t there, or appeared in an unpolished form, and some of the things I don’t like about his tales reared their ugly head, Shoedog is a solid caper novel, full of unique characters, a realistic set up, and a few nice twists along the way. The ending comes fast and quick, with a touch of a surprise moment that leaves you feeling just a bit disconcerted. While not completely satisfying, or as brilliant as his latter novels, Shoedog is a worthy tale that offers plenty of entertainment.

I have incredibly high standards when it comes to narrators of George Pelecanos’ work. With some of the all time greats having recorded his work, along with some wonderful performances by actors from one of my all time favorite TV shows The Wire. The thing about these performances is you can just feel these narrators grooving on Pelecanos’ words. Listening to them read his work, you knew that they felt it was just as special to them as it was to you. I only got rare moments of this in Dan Woren’s reading. That’s not to say it was bad, but his reading of Shoedog was more of a reading than a performance. Part of this you can chalk up to the rawer, less stylistic prose and dialogue of this early example of Pelecanos work. There were moments when you could feel Worren get into it, particularly in some of the side stories, and during the liquor store robberies when thing really began to move. Where Woren shines is in the action, the fast moving plot came alive when he read it. Yet, in the slower, dialogue heavy scenes, I didn’t feel it as much.  Shoedog is a must for fans of Pelecanos like me, who want to experience all his written words aurally but if you are new to Pelecanos, go check out his Derek Strange/Terry Quinn series firsts. I’m sure you will be back.

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





Audiobook Review: Joyland by Stephen King

28 08 2013

Joyland by Stephen King

Read by Michael Kelly

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Stephen King with bits of Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Joyland is a mood soaked coming of age tale of a young man’s last summer of childhood, discovering a strange home amidst the work and workers of a struggling amusement park. Also, there’s a murder mystery.  If you are looking for a Crime Fiction novel written by Stephen King, you may be disappointed, instead you get a Stephen King novel that includes a bit of crime fiction. While it doesn’t all work, what does work works beautifully.

Grade: B+

There comes a point in every Stephen King Novel where I can’t help but think, "Damn, this novel is very Stephen King." I have experienced this with other authors, most recently in Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, but the author who this sort of surreal realization of Stephen Kingness occurs the most with is Stephen King. It’s weird, I’ll be reading a novel, and there will be these seemingly pointless side trips that create a specific mood, that somehow end up coming back into play when you least expect it, and I just think, "Man, that’s so Stephen King."  Earlier this year, I listened to The Onion’s Book of Known Knowledge: The Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Knowledge. This complete guide to all the knowledge in the world allowed me to realize what I have known in the back of my mind for year. In their entry on Literature, they explained that there are three succinct categories of Literature: Fiction, Non-Fiction and Stephen King. Stephen King is his own genre, and there is nobody working within that genre who better represents it than Stephen King. Yet, even with this knowledge, I was a bit disoriented when I heard that Stephen King would be writing novels for the Hard Case Crime series. Hard Case Crime is a series of Crime Fiction. Crime Fiction falls squarely into the "Fiction" Category, and not the "Stephen King" category. Is it possible that Stephen King could step outside the Stephen King Genre, which I believe was named after him, and write something that wasn’t Stephen King or would this be too meta, forcing the earth out of alignment, dolphins to flee the planet, and the portal to the interdimensional ether to open up and swallow us like a shark snacking on plankton? Yet, just like almost every book within Stephen King’s bibliography, there came that moment in Joyland, where I was "Hey, this novel is very Stephen King." Earth is saved!

Devin Jones is a young college English student, intrigued by an advertisement for summer work at a North Carolina Amusement Park. Devastated by a break up, Devin becomes immersed in the culture of the park, and intrigued by the tales of a ghost who haunts one of the attractions. While looking into the murder of the woman who some believes still lingers at Joyland, Devin meets and older woman and her gravely ill son who opens the door to another side of the mystery. Joyland is a mood soaked coming of age tale of a young man’s last summer of childhood, discovering a strange home amidst the work and workers of a struggling amusement park. Also, there’s a murder mystery. That is the problem with Joyland. As a typical Stephen King tale of otherness simmering under the surface of a seemingly idyllic family attraction, Joyland is another masterstroke in King’s career. As a murder mystery, it falls kind of flat. Luckily, it really doesn’t matter. Strip away the investigation into the murder of a young girl, and its relationship to a series of other murders, Joyland is still a wonderful experience. The murder tale is a bit of a distraction that occurs within the pages occasionally. Whenever Devin would spend time looking into the murder, I was like, "Oh, yeah… that’s right, this is SUPPOSED to be a crime fiction tale." It’s not that the murder mystery was bad, it just felt tacked onto a story that didn’t need it to succeed. Sure, it was competently done, and offered a nice little twist, but the true essence of this story was in Devin and his relationships. King deftly develops these relationships, between Devin and his ex-girlfriend, his housemates and coworkers, and a young handicapped boy and his mother. These relationships are moving and intense and like the best coming of age story, transformational. King explores the world of the amusement park wonderfully, creating its own language, and a mood that doesn’t need to be paranormal to be full of magic. There is a definite feel of melancholy to the tale. King taps into the truism that you never truly realize something is the best moments of your life, until you reflect on it years later. Kin uses this familiar sentiments to develop a true kinship between Devin and the reader. It’s the grand master doing what he does best, with his little flourishes that bring so much to his tale. If you are looking for a Crime Fiction novel written by Stephen King, you may be disappointed, instead you get a Stephen King novel that includes a bit of crime fiction. While it doesn’t all work, what does work works beautifully.

I was excited when I discovered Michael Kelly would be narrating this tale. Kelly is one of those character actors that you often see in key supporting roles on TV, who always manages to make the most out of them, often stealing the show from the stars. Yet, I was also a bit hesitant. Sometimes when an actor I recognize narrates an audiobook, I can’t help but picture them in the role of the main character, and Kelly doesn’t look like a 19 year old college student. Luckily, this was never a problem. Kelly gives a wonderful rich performance that taps into the essence of the character. It’s soft, and understated at time, but manages to bring the mood of King’s writing to the surface. He voiced Devin in a hesitatingly unconfident manner, until those times when the character was truly in his moment, allowing a confidence to overwhelm him, Kelly did a good job with the characters, particularly in the carnie lingo and the varying backgrounds of the cast. His southern accents were soft and warm, feeling real instead of a caricature, and the various other accents all were appropriate to the characters. I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more books narrated by Michael Kelly in the future. 





Audiobook Review: Aftershock by Andrew Vachss

2 07 2013

Aftershock by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Aftershock is crime fiction at it best built around a solid cast of characters, with an intriguing mythology. Vachss covers many of his classic themes yet in a way that seems to have invigorated his writing, allowing him to explore these themes in new and fascinating ways. As always, there is a brutal reality to Vachss writing, with unapologetic characters and real human evil, yet Aftershock also contained an element that I haven’t always felt in Vachss writing, hope.

Grade: A

Over the past year or so, I have heard more and more talk about our "rape culture" and the "war on women." Now, in no way do I believe that these concepts weren’t discussed before, perhaps in just as much detail, but the past year I have become more and more attuned to this discussion. I’ll be honest, I*’m not someone who is overly qualified to discuss such issues. I had a grand total of one class in college on woman in politics, and it was more of a historical analysis, and that took place nearly 20 years ago. Yet, I do have feelings. Not many answers, but feelings. I know I have lost faith in our criminal justice system to deal with sexually based crimes. Years ago, I had a friend who was quite upset with me that I wasn’t a strident supporter of Megan’s Law, and the sexual registration of offenders. Not that I didn’t believe in what it was trying to accomplish, I just couldn’t get past the idea that if we need to set up such measures to protect ourselves from habitual sexual offenders, why were we letting them out of jail? I believed then, and I still do that no matter what laws we pass to protect people from predators, those predators will find a way not just to beat but to use it to their advantage. I find sexual predators more insidious, more harmful to our society than murderers. Sexual Crimes cause waves that rip through families, communities and history even more so than any other violent crime. I am not a supporter of the death penalty, but I would much rather see it used on those who exploit children and perform violent sexual assault then those who kill. One thing that truly bothers me is it seems that our criminal justice system is set up more to protect those who perform these acts, then the actual victims. I understand the need for this. I understand that it’s better for 100 guilty to go free than for 1 innocent man to be found guilty. Yet, how many victims of these horrific acts are we willing to accept to make sure we stay true to this founding precept. I have no answers. I just have questions.

When the star softball player, Marylou "Mighty Mary" McCoy walked into her high school with a gun, and shot and killed one boy and wounded two others, people were quick to view it as just another school shooting. Yet, Dolly, a former nurse who worked in war zones around the world, knew there was more to the story. She asks her husband Dell, a former Legionnaire in hiding with a past so mysterious even he can’t remember it all, to look into it. What Dell uncovers is an evil so insidious it has corrupted their seemingly idyllic town, putting everything he loves at risk. I have to say, Aftershock surprised me. When Vachss introduces us the Dell, and his violent back story, I expected this to be another tale of a dark vigilante exterminating a human evil. While this plays into Aftershock, it is far from its overriding theme. Vachss explores the corruption of the legal system that places more value in maintaining its reputation than is punishing evil, and how a few warriors for justice can make a difference.  Dell was a fascinating and complex character. He was unsure and awkward socially, but also able to inspire people to break away from what they believe was expected of them, and do what they believe was right. There were times when the fact that the story was filtered through Dell’s perspective that I became uncomfortable. Not with brutal yet clever solutions to problems, but in his quickness to slap labels on people based on physical and emotions shortcomings. Yet, there was a balance to this. While Dell was quick to label people he found reprehensible as things like "Pigface" he was often able to see past labels people had slapped onto others and discern their true nature, just not often in a polite socially acceptable manner.  The true beauty of this novel came in his other characters. Dell is a warrior, yet, Vachss doesn’t highlight the kind of warrior who can kill a man twenty different ways with his pinky. He highlights a woman who takes time to truly give girls a safe place to discuss issues that their teachers or parents would instantly judge them for. He shows us victims who were brutalized and humiliated, finally taking a stand against a system seemingly designed to marginalize them. He shows us warriors fighting within a corrupt system, whose exposure to violent crime can have extremely horrific affects. From psychologists and social workers, to victims and those who love them whether they are connected through DNA or not, these are the people who could win the fight. Vachss did something that I didn’t expect, he made me feel a little bit of hope that there are good people fighting the fight. On top of these themes, Aftershock is a solid legal thriller. I love legal thrillers, but I have been sick and tired of the down and out lawyer who finds redemption through a case, Here, instead, Vachss shows us a lawyer who finally discovers himself when he is willing to begin believing that he can make a difference. There is just so much I loved about Aftershock, and am quite excited that it’s the start of a new series. Dell and Dolly are two characters I really want to see more of. Aftershock is crime fiction at it best built around a solid cast of characters, with an intriguing mythology. Vachss covers many of his classic themes yet in a way that seems to have invigorated his writing, allowing him to explore these themes in new and fascinating ways. As always, there is a brutal reality to Vachss writing, with unapologetic characters and real human evil, yet Aftershock also contained an element that I haven’t always felt in Vachss writing, hope.

Part of me is really glad that I listened to Vachss’ anthology Mortal Lock before I listed to Aftershock, because it prepared me for the dual narration style of Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. What I didn’t expect is how effective it would be in Aftershock. Phil was brilliant as always, and his interplay with Natalie was natural and flowing that I didn’t experience any of the dissonance this type of narration often gives me. What truly amazed me was Phil’s handling of the French scenes, which he spoke as if he was fluent in that language. I’m not sure if he is or not, but anyone listening to Aftershock will be more than ready to call him Le Gigante. Ross brought so much to this production, that for those small stretches where she wasn’t contributing I truly missed her. There are so many strong female characters in Aftershock, including Dolly, MaryLou, and a social worker who contributed highly to the defense, and Ross brings them all alive in vivid fashion. Yet, my favorite of her performances was that of Danielle, MaryLou’s sister. Ross helped create a character that simply gave me chills, for many reasons. Aftershock was a brilliant production and one of my favorite listens so far this year. If you have yet to experience the work of Andrew Vachss, Aftershock is a great place to start.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

26 06 2013

Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Short Story Collection (Multiple Genres)

Quick Thoughts: A solid short story Anthology featuring the Vachss signature noir style, fascinating if unlikeable characters and an authenticity you rarely find in the pages of books. Fans of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard will be excited to see this duo show up for a great story, as well as a few other of Vachss characters. The anthology ended with a high concept screenplay that may not suit even hardcore Vachss fan’s tastes, but has moments of hidden gems.

Grade: B

There are two kinds of experts in our world. There are the kinds that study something, that break it down to its intricate details, who speculate, postulate and theorize. They use this knowledge to develop opinions, join think tanks, become talking heads on TV news programs and teach courses. Then there is the kind of expert who simply lives something. They may not know why something work, or develop their theories based on intangible concepts of instinct, and heart, but while the studios expert is working on the textbook, they are out applying their knowledge, living and dying by their expertise. Andrew Vachss often writes about that second type of experts. One of the reasons I enjoy single author short story collections is to see how an author takes the central themes of their writing, and explores them through different situations and even genres. Mortal Lock is no different. Vachss inhabits his stories with his signature characters. Vachss’ characters are truly what sets him apart. They are never loveable, and often lot even close to likeable, but they bring a perspective that it seems even the most research oriented author often misses. There is something authentic in their reality, even when they are in situations the push plausibility. In Mortal Lock, Vachss’ applies his themes and characters to 20 different stories, some quite short, while others more detailed, giving us a glimpse into worlds that us everyday tourist rarely ever see.

It is really hard to evaluate and recommend a short story anthology, without going into detail about every story. Like in most anthologies, there is a hit and miss quality. There were some stories that were simply quick slices of life, that seemed to serves as buffers between larger tales. This is something I haven’t seen as often in anthologies, and for the most part I liked it. While I didn’t LOVE every story, three of the larger tales truly make this anthology worth the time and money of any Andrew Vachss Fan. For me the highlight of this short story collection was Veil’s Visit, which Vachss cowrote with Joe Lansdale featuring one of my favorite literary dues Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Add to this the fact that the story was a Courtroom tale where Leonard is on trial for burning down his neighborhood crackhouse, and the legal theory used by the Defense was priceless. The two other stories that I thought were exceptional were As The Crow Flies, which features the protagonists from his upcoming novel Aftershocks and Profile, which has another of Vachss characters, Cross, hunting an online predator. Yet, these stories were far from the only gems. Vachss starts it off with Ghostwriter, featuring a brilliant writer who was completely unlikeable and sociopathic and did whatever it took to see his works come to print. One of my other favorites was A Piece of the City where rival gangs come to blows over and incident that may be more that it seems. Along the way, Vachss gives his twisted take on Crime Fiction staples like spurned husbands and serial killers. Vachss even breaks away from his typical crime noir to expand into other genres, most notably a tale of a Hit Man searching for a cure for AIDS for his dying sister, who encounters monsters of legends. The only downside of the collection comes in the form of the long screenplay that is the finale. Not that it wasn’t interesting and full of some excellent themes and fascinating explorations. I have never been much of a screenplay reader, and experiencing one in audio was interesting. The tales is definitely high concept, extremely visual and very avante guard. It is more of a series of intertwined vignettes told in a Dystopian World were society is now underground. Vachss creates a disturbing system where the establishment allows many types of evils to flourish, the family structure to break down, and truths told through graffiti painted on walls. If such a movie was ever made, it would be more at home next to the subtitled foreign films at The Ritz than at your local Movie Hut. I think Underground is something I enjoyed more considering the aspects he explored later than during the actual exercise of listening. There were some moments where the story was truly fascinating, some hidden gems in the screenplay, but at times it was hard to stay focused on it.

I am typically not a fan of multi-narrator productions where the male narrator reads the male lines and the majority of the prose, than a female narrator pops in for the female dialogue lines. It just never seems to feel natural for me. This process was used often in Mortal Lock, and while effective, I often cringed when it happened. Luckily, the two narrators had an obvious rhythm down, and made it as natural as possible. That really isn’t a surprise, since the narrators were Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. Phil handled the majority of the work, and was wonderful as usual. In fact, when Veil’s Visit began, I had a huge idiot grin on my face as the familiar voice of Hap Collins filled the cavern within my skull. Gigante has a knack for knowing when to go low key, and when a bit of over-the-top is appropriate. He is the perfect narrator for Vachss, able to capture the dark humor and noir stylings of Vachss writing, while giving his characters a realism that just feels right. This was my first time listening to Natalie Ross, and I enjoyed her work. Surprisingly, I think some of her best work was done during the screenplay, as well as one particularly creepy serial killer tale. She offered a nice counterbalance to Gigante. Overall, Mortal Lock is a must listen for fans of Andrew Vachss. For those interested in getting a taste of Vachss style, Mortal Lock gives a nice spectrum of indulge in.

Note: Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Suspect by Robert Crais

11 02 2013

Suspect by Robert Crais

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The beginning of Suspect left me in shock, slack jawed and breathless, and the novel relentless pace just continued steal my breath to the point of asphyxia. Its fast paced action and well conceived plot makes this more than just another dog book and its characters are achingly real. Maggie is my favorite dog literary character since Einstein in Watchers. Yet, even without the awesome dog, Suspect is a great crime thriller that stands up to the best in the business.

Grade: A-

There is a very good reason that I avoid dog books, and it’s not because I don’t like dogs. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, I love dogs. There are furry bundles of awesomeness, and the fact that we share our homes and lives with them is one of the things that proves that humanity has good in it. Most of the best memories of my childhood involve a dog in some way. Sadly, some of my worst memories also involve dogs. I am not a person who cries easily. I can read the most gut wrenching tragedies, and manage to keep my sociopathic grin. Yet, have a dog come down with a bad case of fleas and I’m a blubbering imbecile, wiping snot out of my beard. It’s ridiculous. Kill off as main character, and I’m fine. Kill off your dog, or Billybumbler or Cat that works at a Bookstore and I will be stuck weeping on my couch, wrapped in a Snuggie eating Haagen-Dazs like a character from a clichéd riddled Lifetime movie. This blubbering mass of human jelly is not an image that I want to project out into the world, scaring off potential dates, and small children. Now, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy dogs in fiction. I love when Jonathan Maberry added Ghost to his Joe Ledger series but if he ends up killing off Ghost the way he has some of his other characters he‘ll have some blubbering 30 something screaming “WHY!!!” at him outside his favorite Starbucks. So, back to the topic at hand, one thing I love about Januarys is that you know a Robert Crais novel is at hand. I was very excited about Suspect. I was very excited when I learned that Suspect was going to be narrated by MacLeod Andrews. Most importantly, when discovering it was about a dog, I attempted to contract the flu as cover for the read nose and blood shot eyes if anything should happen to our canine hero. 

In Suspect, Robert Crais starts off with a punch to the gut, and then kicks you in the balls when you are down. In a good way. Suspect stars off with two tragic events, the death of a soldier in Afghanistan, and the slaughter of a cop in the streets of Los Angeles both leaving the surviving partners of the dead riddled with guilt. Scott James is an LA policeman on the fast track, when a brutal attack leaves his partner Stephanie dead, and him fighting for his life, sanity and job. Transferred to the K9 Unit, despite never having had a dog, Scott meets Maggie, a German Sheppard recovering from her own loss. Together, they will investigate the crime that lead to Scott’s partner’s death, and develop a bond neither of them expected. It all sounds sort of TV movie of the weekish, but it’s really not. Crais is one of the best Thriller writers out there, and his crisp style gets us right into the minds of these characters. This isn’t some cardboard cutter exploration of PSTD with the plucky dog helping the tragically victimized cop to cope. It’s a fast paced crime thriller that explores issues of guilt, loss and adapting to tragedy is a real way. Crais never let’s us get comfortable in the misery of the characters, but pushes them to confront their greatest fears. I found the look into Maggie’s brain and exploration of her though patters added a unique grounding force to the narrative. Crais uses the dog’s perception as a mirror to Scott’s showing how a bond can form in a realist manner. As a sucker for dogs, I was pleased that Crais didn’t go through the movie montage version of bonding, but tackled the reluctance and ignorance of Jame’s head on. The plot itself was well orchestrated and smart, what you would expect from Crais. While I missed some of the humor that Crais infuses his Elvis Cole novels with, Suspect is full of enough heart to make up for it. The beginning of Suspect left me in shock, slack jawed and breathless, and the novel relentless pace just continued steal my breath to the point of asphyxia. Its fast paced action and well conceived plot makes this more than just another dog book and its characters are achingly real. Maggie is my favorite dog literary character since Einstein in Watchers. Yet, even without the awesome dog, Suspect is a great crime thriller that stands up to the best in the business.

Macleod Andrews was an inspired choice to read Suspect. His soft, yet sometimes gravelly voice allowed him to balance between the despondent Scott James reflections on life, and his high pitch doggy speak. Andrews captured just the right tone of adorable doggy talk that occasionally I found my tail a bit waggly, yet it never came off corny. He didn’t try to make scenes from Maggie’s perspective Cartoon doggy, but just delivered them in a soft measured way that fit the personality, more than the sound, of the dog. I think Andrews is one of the best narrators at truly inhabiting a character. This usually pays off best in first person tales, but proves to be just as affective in multiple character POVs. I will challenge anyone out there to listen to the first hour of this audiobook, and not be totally drawn in. Crais’ writing is wonderful, and the dual openings scenes are devastating, and Andrew’s delivery and pacing perfectly translates that to the reader. Fans of realistic as opposed to melodramatic Animal Tales, as well as fans of great thrillers and crime fiction should be equally pleased with Suspect.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

7 02 2013

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Read by Reg E. Cathey

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thought: Gun Machine was truly an eye opener and a great introduction to Warren Ellis. It’s a fast paced battle of wills between complex and well drawn characters. The prose is sharp, full of urban poetry and surprising humor and the plot is full of twists on the genre that will shatter preconceptions.

Grade: A-

I have to admit, before Gun Machine came out, I had no idea who Warren Ellis is. I had never read Crooked Little Vein and was never someone who got into comic books or graphic novels, for reasons I don’t really even understand. So, when Gun Machine came out, and I got all these messages and tweets basically saying, “OMG! A New Warren Ellis Novel” I was all “Oh, Yay!!!!” wft, isn’t Warren Ellis some sort of financial guru guy why would I want to read a book by him. Then I then realized that I was thinking of Warren Buffet, who, often when I hear his name I think wtf, isn’t that the guy who sings Cheeseburger in Paradise, why would I want to take financial advice from him. So, lucky for me I live in the age of Google and Wikipedia, and before I made a total ass out of myself, I could be all “Yeah, Warren Ellis, he wrote that book about those guys and the constitution and stuff” like a friggin’ genius. Then, checking out the audiobook version, I discover Gun Machine was being narrated by Reg E. Cathey. I was all, “You guys, I got to listen to this audiobook. It’s narrated by one of my favorite actors, Reg E. Cathey. I loved him in The Wire and The Corner and in Oz and in various guest spots, and I would pay him like a million dollars to record my voice mail message.” So, then they got their Wikipedia on, and acted excitedly as if they new who he was as well. I told them that he was recording the new Warren Ellis, and they were all “Yeah, he wrote that book about those guys and the constitution and stuff.” So, basically, now I know who Warren Ellis is, and am totally planning on reading that book about those guys and the constitution and stuff.

In Gun Machine, Warren Ellis takes on the gritty streets of crime plagued New York, in his darkly poetic crime fiction tale of a shattered cop taking on a case he should never be working. Stunned by the murder of his partner in a condemned tenement and his killing of the perpetrator, Detective John Tallow is pulled out of administrative leave to look a strange room in that building full of guns, each tied to a specific murder. What he discovers is a strange serial killer, obsessed with the pre-colonial history of New York, and tied to some of the most powerful men in the city. I have to admit, when I began Gun Machine, I was a bit worried. Almost every TV series will have a magical Native American episode, which gets the history wrong, glorifies the misconceptions of Native Americans, and turns them into primal shamans there to teach the white man spiritual lessons. So, as Ellis began to reveal the obsessions of his killer, I was concerned that again we would be walking these ill chartered waters. Instead, Ellis surprised me with a sort of deconstruction of these myths, manipulating us through our own preconceptions. It’s well done, and adds textures and depths to the text. Ellis seems to have a grasp on many of the traditional themes of crime fiction, yet bends them in new and interesting ways, While I don’t think he captures the rhythm and dialogue of the streets as well as some of the big named crime fiction authors like Pelecanos or Lehane, he creates a fascinating mosaic all his own through the use of the police scanners and his character’s observations.  The plot itself has some decent twists along the way, but I felt that the twists, and even the forward progression of the mystery itself, were less important than the journey of the two main characters, John Tallow and the killer. Ellis builds up his antagonist with an almost superhero mystique, then allows us to realize his faults through slow careful reveals. I really loved the John Tallow character. He’s not quite the broken down former hot shot cop trope that fills the genre, but more of a workmanlike unspectacular cop who finds his calling through tragedy. It’s an interesting twist on the theme that plays out well when matched against this particular antagonist. Gun Machine was truly an eye opener and a great introduction to Warren Ellis. It’s a fast paced battle of wills between complex and well drawn characters. The prose is sharp, full of urban poetry and surprising humor and the plot is full of twists on the genre that will shatter preconceptions.

As I said early, the casting of Reg E Cathey was a major reason I gave this audiobook a listen. He has a distinctive, bass filled voice that will stick to your brain. Yet, early on I had concerns. I know Cathey primarily through his roles on television, and tie his voice to his appearance. Cathey is an African American actor, and it took me a while to reconcile my image of him, with the main character of John Tallow, an Irish American cop in New York City. Part of the problem with this is that you are thrown right into the action, and almost all the initial character development comes from the voice of the narrator. Yet, as the story continues, and Ellis began to develop, Cathey and Tallow manages to merge in my mind. Cathey’s skills as an actor, his ability to capture a turn of phrase and give it a unique spin gave Ellis’ prose just the right feel. Despite his distinctive voice, Cathey shows strong range as he takes on each character. His bass rhythms are still there but he manipulates tone and rhythms to give each character its own feel. By the end of audiobook, I was putty in his hands, wanting to continue as he read the epilogues, the disclaimers, the copyright notices, the blurbs, my shopping list, and the small print on a home mortgage. Gun Machine is a great piece of fiction, made even stronger by the edgy performance of a gifted narrator.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.