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.





Audiobook Review: Never Go Back by Lee Child

4 09 2013

Never Go Back (Jack Reacher, Bk. 18) by Lee Child

Read by Dick Hill

Random House Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 43 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Despite some small disappointments along the way, Child creates another memorable Reacher tale, and adds some new little twists that should make even the most hardcore, surly Reacher fan break out into at least a contented smirk. Never Go Back is classic Jack Reacher, full of conspiracy, quick sudden violence, an idiosyncratic investigatory process and some surprising moments of heart.

Grade: B+

A few years ago (ahem, like maybe 15 or so) a coworker explained to me why he enjoyed the television show, Walker: Texas Ranger. Now, before this, I was a bit skeptical of the appeal of this show, and while I never became a fan, after this conversation I begun to understand why this show could garnish a solid fan base. My coworker explained that someone usually got their assed kicked in the first five minutes and last five minutes of every episode. Thinking about this, I found the formula to be pretty much solid. As I thought about it, any show staring Chuck Norris, and opening with a very strange country western diddy sung by the star itself, wouldn’t be bring in the audience searching for nuanced plots and clever dialogue. This is not a criticism in the least bit. I personally enjoy a action for action sake book, movie or TV show on occasion, as long as the show gives me plenty of what I am looking for, I am happy. While a Jack Reacher novel is often actually quite clever, with Reacher’s pedantic nature, obsession with numbers and strange way of thinking just as much a weapon in his arsenal as his brutish strength and well honed killer instincts, whenever I start a Reacher novel, I rarely think, "I can’t wait to see how Reacher’s love of numbers helps him solve his case." Now, I enjoy Reacher’s quirks, but my initial thoughts tend to be, "Hey, Can’t wait until Reacher kicks some douchebags ass." This is why in the last Reacher novel, I felt myself becoming more and more frustrated as the story progressed. At one point, I checked the time, and I realized it was 5 hours into the audiobook, and still Reacher hadn’t performed any of his patented asskickery. 5 HOURS! I mean, the book was interesting, and the set up unique, but Reacher not kicking someone’s ass in the first 5 hours seemed a bit wrong.  So, when I started Never Go Back, I was acutely aware of the asskicking clock…. which this time maxed out at 5 Minutes, before some asskicking was delivered, and all was right with the world. 

After traveling from North Dakota for about three or four books, to Washington DC, in order to meet Major Turner, the intriguing new CO of Reacher’s old command, based solely on the fact that he liked her voice, Reacher has finally arrived. Yet, when he shows up, he finds things amiss. Turner is missing, replaced by a cocky Lieutenant Colonel who uses a technicality to conscript Reacher back into the Army in order to force him to face charges for an alleged assault 16 years ago that Reacher doesn’t even remember. Yet, when Reacher discovers that Major Turner is in fact arrested, and some local soldiers attempt to intimidate him into running, he does what his current batch of enemies least want him to do, he sticks around stirring up trouble. Never Goes Back starts off with a bang, sucking me right into this latest tale with a wonderful set up, some over the top Reacher moments, and a complex conspiracy that only a person willing to do exactly what is least expected can crack open. Reacher, of course, is exactly this type of person. Honestly, you’d think the bad guys would finally realize that Reacher may be the worse guy to mess with, whether it’s a physical assault or a complicated frame job, pulling him into your shady business will never end well. Never Go Back combines Reacher’s typically brawler physical style and his intricate planning and investigatory style, telling a tale that puts it right up there with some of this series best. As always, the scenarios flirts with the edges of unbelievably and Reacher is either the luckiest bastard in the world, or just really THAT good. To make matters even more interesting, Child adds a new, personal element as a twist to Never Go Back that shows us a new side of Reacher, while filling the story with humor and heart. It’s nice to see a lighter side to a Reacher tale, while still filled with dark violence. Yet, it’s not all perfect. The pacing of this tale was a bit off balanced. It started out pretty explosive, and the first 5 hours are non-stop awesome, but there is a long stretch in the middle that is interesting, but drags a bit. Also, I felt the ending was a bit anticlimactic, without the big payoff in both revelation and violent confrontation that you want in a Reacher novel. I think this has to do with the fact that his powerful enemies, with seemingly unlimited resources were not much of a match in the end for a man with good walking boots and a toothbrush. Overall, I loved Never Go Back. I think moments of this tale will rival some of the most memorable of the series. Despite some small disappointments along the way, Child creates another memorable Reacher tale, and adds some new little twists that should make even the most hardcore, surly Reacher fan break out into at least a contented smirk.

I have to say that I am happy that Reacher’s injuries have healed up enough from A Wanted Man, that we can get back to classic Dick Hill Reacher and not the nasally version the previous audiobook required. Dick Hill is back in his classic Reacher form, bringing his meticulous, should I even say, pedantic wording, and sudden violent outburst alive for all us to revel in.  Listening to Dick Hill read a Jack Reacher novel is, for audiobook fans, like returning home, even if your home is walking down the long stretches of American Highways and byways. Never Go Back finds Dick Hill in fine Reacher form. This time there are no awkward train related sex scenes, or nasal issues, just Reacher and enough interesting peripheral characters for Hill to sink his larynx into. Hill’s inflection and cadence brings as much to the tale as Child’s writing does, allowing us to know just what kind of nothing Reacher is saying. As always, the bit of melancholy at the ending of the tale leaves just enough for me to long for the next Reacher novel the moment I complete the current one. Who knows what is next for out lone hero?

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





Audiobook Review: The Books of Blood Volume 1 by Clive Barker

17 05 2013

The Books of Blood: Volume 1 by Clive Barker

Read by Simon Vance, Dick Hill, Peter Berkrot, Jeffrey Kafer, Chet Williamson, and Chris Patton

Crossroad Press

Length: 6 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: With each tale of The Books of Blood, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights.

Grade: B+

Nearly 25 years ago, after receiving my first paycheck as a 15 year old working a horrible job doing phone surveys about soda and car repair, I walked into The Oxford Valley Mall’s Waldenbooks and bought my first adult books. Before this moment, I had very little control over the books I could read. Most I got from the public or school library and they had to be cleared with my mother. The few times I got my hands on unapproved books, like when my cousin slipped me a copy of Lord Foul’s Bane, I was caught, scolded for introducing satanic things like magic into my brain and forced to return to my copies of The Three Investigators or Agatha Christie or steal copies of my sister’s Danielle Steel or VC Andrews novel, secure in the thoughts that incest and sexual abuse was in no way as devastating as magical rings and Giants. Now, here I was, unsupervised, with my own money, ready to buy my own books. I picked out three novels, one was Stephen King’s It, which of course I loved. I had read Cujo and Christine before, which were, unbeknownst to my mother, available in my school library, so I knew what I was expecting. I also picked up a novel by a new to me author named Dean Koontz, The Bad Place, which sent me into a voracious need to read all his books. Finally, I picked up Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. The Damnation game scared the hell out of me. I’m not sure I really got the surreal horror style, and some of the images truly disturbed me. I think I may have been too young at the time for that novel. I wanted tales with monsters and kids in peril, and strange weird science fictioney stuff, and I think Barker’s tale was a little beyond me at the time. It would be years later before I returned to one of his novels, the Fantasy tale of Imajica, and was blown away buy his writing.

The Books of Blood is a short story collection told in a framework of stories written into the skin of a huckster medium when he was brought into investigate strange haunted house. This first volume had five unique and diverse tales spanning the themes of horror. I have always enjoyed short story collections, although I rarely listen to them in audio. One thing that impressed me with this collection is that for each story, I made an assumption early on in the tale, and each time Barker took the story in ways that surprised me. Most surprising of all was the dark humor that infused some of the tales. With the gruesome framework of the series, I was expecting a full on assault of dark and horrific tales and while he delivered on that, he also managed to make me laugh along the way. My favorite tale of the collection had to be The Yattering and Jack, a story of a battle of wills between a gherkin salesman and the demons assigned to drive him crazy. This story was full of such fun, funny moments that I didn’t expect some of the twists along the way. Being that it’s Zombie Awareness Month, it was nice to see that there was a story dealing with the living dead of a sort. In Sex, Death and Starshine, a struggling theatre is putting on a production of Twelth Night staring a vapid soap actress. When a strange accident befalls the star, the director finds the most odd of replacements, who finds an audience all her own. I loved this story. It started out strange to me, but I was instantly thrust into the story through a menagerie of outrageous characters. The Midnight Meat Train started as a traditional New York City serial killer tale, but takes a strange turn. Talking about strange, the last two tales had some of the most bizarre horror imagery I had ever read. and I won’t even describe them here because it may lessen the impact for those who end up reading.  With each tale, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights,

Audiobook producers tend to take two approaches when casting anthologies, they either hire a single narrator to read all the tales, or they cast each story. Luckily, Crossroads Press took the later approach to casting, bringing in a strong group of narrators, each suited to the tale. Chris Patton started it off with the framework tale. Despite it being short Patton pulled all the creepiness out of the tale, and slung it right into the faces of the listeners. Jeffrey Kafer read The Midnight Meat Train. What I enjoyed about Kafer’s reading was that he didn’t fall into traditional stereotypical voices. I hate when a character runs into some conspiracy spouting dude at a bar in NYC and they make him sound like a West Virginian hick. Kafer created authentic characters and had a keen sense of pacing as the train sped to it’s horrific finale. Dick Hill was the perfect choice for The Yattering and Jack. His precise pacing accentuated the humor of the tale, upping each absurd moment to the max. Peter Berkrot’s reading of Pig Blood Blues gave me chills, balancing the matter of fact protagonist of the story with the ethereal tones. Sometimes when you become familiar with a narrator, you start imagining them in the role of the protagonist of the story you are reading. So, I wasn’t happy hearing Simon Vance describe the sexual encounters of Theater director Terry Calloway. Other than that, Vance gave his typical performance, which is spot on. The highlight of his story was the theatrical Mr. Litchfield which Vance captured perfectly. Finally, there was Chet Williamson. This was my first time listening to one of Williamson’s narrations, and I felt he had just the right raw creepiness in his tone. Honestly, this story, In the Hills, the Cities, was probably the tale I struggled with the most. It took me a bit to get into, but Williamson’s reading of the stunning finale was paced wonderfully creating one of the most strangely beautiful moments of the audiobook. The Books of Blood is an excellent audio production of one of the masters of horror. Even the stories that I struggled with managed to find a place in my nightmare, thanks largely to the excellent work of the narrators.

Special Thanks to Crossroad Press for providing me with a copy of the title for review.

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month





Audiobook Review: A Wanted Man by Lee Child

19 09 2012

A Wanted Man by Lee Child (Jack Reacher, Bk. 17)

Read by Dick Hill

Random House Audio

Length: 14 Hours 11 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: A Wanted Man is another winner in the Reacher serie. It is a change of pace, cerebral thriller that fits well with our aging action hero. Yet, when the action does come, it’s quick and dirty and full of the things we love to see in a Reacher novel.

Grade: B+

In Season 6 of the TV show 24, a terrorist group is wreaking havoc on the West Coast of the United States. One of the reasons, in my personal opinion, that these terrorist are operating with such ease was that for the last 18 months, Jack Bauer, the man who almost single-handedly stopped five pervious terrorist atrocities was locked up safely in a Chinese prison. So, what does this one terrorist do… he arranges to have Jack Bauer released so he can get revenge on him. Well, since we know that there are two more seasons of this show and the potential for a movie, we know that this hapless terrorists plan didn’t go quite as expected. This, of course, proves that TV terrorists are pretty dumb. If I’m a terrorist, the last thing I want is Jack Bauer within 1000 miles of my operating arena. Well, seems book terrorist aren’t much brighter. If you have just murdered an American Trade Attaché in the middle of a Podunk town, I’ll offer you a bit of advice… don’t pick up the big, rough looking hitchhiker with the busted nose. I understand that having another person in your vehicle may confuse the police that are searching for you, but I promise you, if there is even the slightest chance that the hitchhiker you are considering picking up could be Jack Reacher, keep on driving. If you are engaged in any illegal activity, and if there is a beautiful woman, some bent authority figures, and one lone officer or agent trying to do their job, but being blocked by an arrogant bureaucrat, do your best to keep Reacher as far away from the action as possible. It’s not an ass whooping you should b afraid of, even though with Reacher, that’s a probability, but Reacher is one of the bullheaded hero types that just can’t be persuaded from screwing up your criminal plans. It’s just his way. So, if your gonna pick up some hitchhiker, maybe go for the Tom Cruise looking dude. I promise you, he’s nothing like Reacher.

Ever since the ending of 61 Hours, Reacher has been slowly making his way towards Virginia to meet the intriguing woman he had interacted with on the phone during that novel. The only problem is people in need of a serious ass kicking seem to constantly be getting in his way. Reacher, hitchhiking at an exit ramp, is picked up by a peculiar group that Reacher instantly realizes may be up to no good. Their transparent lies and strange dynamics are a big clue, not to mention the periodic roadblocks being set up by the police. Reacher knows that if there is no good afoot, then these guys may be the ones up to it and Reacher never lets no good happen when he’s around. While A Wanted Man has a lot of classic Reacher moments, it’s a much more low key cerebral thriller than the last few, kick ass and collect the dogtags Reacher action novels. Yet, I think the change of pace works. Lee Child has developed an intricate mystery that fits into Reacher’s idiosyncratic mental wheelhouse. Instead of a series of physical beat downs, Reacher spends much of the early part of the novel trying to pinpoint the problem based on word clues, body language and secret codes. The beginning of the novel takes a more stream of consciousness approach, with Reacher playing mental games as he drives the long lonely late night highways. Child also continues his theme of a healthy mistrust of governmental bureaucracies, with a look at how good agents are often hampered by a corrupt or inept institution. I do have to admit, at points of A Wanted Man, I became frustrated with Reacher. Sometime he is so sure of himself, and that his ways are the best ways, that of late, his choices end up complicating situations. For example, he decided to bully his way through situations, particularly a 911 call and his dealings with a hotel clerk that maybe a little finesse and interpersonal skills could have smoothed out, and been more productive. Yet, with all his cerebral skills, he still hasn’t developed interpersonal skills that work outside of the military. Now, all you fans of the ass kicking Reacher, don’t worry, he eventually shows up. A Wanted Man’s finale may be one of the more hyperkinetic, violent Reacher action scenes that should please the Reacher Creatures old and new. While the final mystery came off a bit pat, the trip to it and its violent conclusion should please most fans. All together, A Wanted Man is another winner in the Reacher series, it is a change of pace, cerebral thriller that fits well with our aging action hero. Yet, when the action does come, it’s quick and dirty and full of the things we love to see in a Reacher novel.

Dick Hill is the signature voice of Jack Reacher. It’s hard to picture Reacher without Hill’s deep sonorous, yet precise voicing of this character. Yet, there is an added challenge to A Wanted Man. Reacher is still suffering the injuries dealt to him at the end of Worth Dying for, including a broken nose. Due to this, Reacher is described multiple times in the book as sounding as if he had a cold. Dick Hill takes this to heart and gives Reacher a nasally, adenoidal voice. This voice fit the current condition of the character well, as was required by the plot, but sometimes, you just missed the wry wit and precise phrasing of non-nasally Reacher. Luckily, much of the story takes place in Reacher’s internal monologue, and we get the full Reacher treatment for that.  Hill also realized pretty early on that this was a more cerebral Reacher novel, and did a great job methodically laying out Reacher’s thought process. He gave the novel a more intricate pacing, slower with crisper annunciation that worked well, at least when nasally Reacher wasn’t actually verbalizing. A Wanted Man probably won’t go down as my favorite Reacher novel, but I believe it places solidly in the upper half of the series. Fans looking for immediate ass kickery may be disappointed, but the slower pacing reaps its own rewards.





Audiobook Review: Line of Fire by Stephen White

21 08 2012

Line of Fire by Stephen White (Dr. Alan Gregory Series, Book 19)

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hors 43 Min

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Line of Fire is a slower, more contemplative novel in the Alan Gregory Series. Instead of Alan solving a crime, he is attempting to solve and salvage his life and the lives of those he loves. While many may find this frustrating, I found it brilliant and heartbreaking and it left me yearning for the series finale.

Grade: B+

Line of Fire by Stephen White is the penultimate volume in his series featuring Boulder Colorado psychologist Dr. Alan Gregory. The fact that the series will be ending with its 20th edition both saddens and excites me. I will hate to see this series go. Dr. Alan Gregory isn’t your typical thriller hero. He doesn’t secretly posses ninja skills and he never served as an Army Ranger. In fact, he’s pretty much a boring, mediocre guy that you wouldn’t give a second thought to if you saw him walking down the street. I will be very sad to see this character leave my literary world, but I am also kind of happy that White decided to end this series on his own terms. There are so many series out there that seem to push out their yearly edition to the titular characters series without much progression to the overall development of the plot or character. Yet, one thing White has managed to do is progress the series. The Alan Gregory today isn’t the same man we met in the first novel, Privileged Information. He is a bit more world weary, a lot more experienced, and most importantly, a lot more developed as a character. It’s interesting what White has done to this character over the series. He is a man who is a bit of a push over. He is married to a strong willed and kind of unlikable woman who, in my opinion, never really seems to appreciate him. Throughout the series, his best friends, two strong, but actually likeable women and a Boulder County Police Officer, all of which sort of push him around as well. Yet, instead of making his into this super assertive character, White has allowed him to develop mechanisms to deal with his faults. More importantly, over the past few editions, White has explored more and more into Alan’s past, showing us exactly why he has become the man he is today. It’s a progression that felt like it was leading somewhere, and it seems that eventual destination begins in The Line of Fire.

Usually in an Alan Gregory novel, some external motivational force, like a murder or kidnapping, that connects in some way to one of the doctor’s cases, leads him into some adventure. Yet, in Line of Fire, the motivation is all internal. While the city of Boulder is dealing with one of it’s largest wildfires to date, a   careless moment between Alan and Sam may just expose their deepest secret, potentially leading to the destruction of everything they hold dear. Also, a mesmerizing new client may hold the secret to one of his dearest friend’s erratic behavior.  Line of Fire is a psychological thriller with a big emphasis on the psychological. Personally, I thought the direction that Stephen White took this novel was inspired brilliance. White pulls together subplots going back as far as book 1, to put Alan and Sam in the most precarious spot of the entire series. Instead of trying to solve a murder or save a client, Alan is trying to keep the pieces of his life, his friendships, family and business, from crashing around him. This book definitely downplays the action and spends a lot of time in Alan’s head, forcing him to take on things he would much rather keep buried. White is simply brutal to his main character in this novel, taking everything he finds solace in, and tearing it from under his feet. While you know a lot of it is due to choices made by the characters in the novel, it is still hard to watch at times. Alan Gregory is one of those characters you want to see succeed, yet, his greatest strength, the fact that he is willing to do anything for those he loves, may just become the instrument for his destruction. My emotions ran the gambit in this novel. I was angry and frustrated at one moment, then utterly heartbroken the next. Now, some readers may be disappointed with this novel and its direction. As the first chapter in the two book arch that will end the series, Line of Fire doesn’t have the kind of clean ending you expect from the series. Much of the book is wrapped up, but there is definitely a feel of unfinished business as the novel comes to a close. Line of Fire is a slower, more contemplative novel in the Alan Gregory Series. Instead of Alan solving a crime, he is attempting to solve and salvage his life and the lives of those he loves. While many may find this frustrating, I found it brilliant and heartbreaking and it left me yearning for the series finale.

Again, Dick Hill is on board as narrator to bring Alan Gregory to life. While Dick Hill is quite respected in his ability to bring the big, bad assed, butt kicking hero types to life, I have always enjoyed the softness that he brings to the Alan Gregory character. Alan is never smooth, often fumbling over his words and his thoughts, and spends a lot of time     over analyzing life’s minutia within the walls of his own mind. While Hill captures the strengths of this character, he always gives him a slight edge of uneasiness that fits the character well. Also, you just have to love Hill’s Sam Purdy. Purdy is the crotchety cop friend that seems to become the staple of many thrillers, but in this series, he’s broken away enough from the stereotype to becomes something more. Hill manages to bring out a lot of Purdy’s dark humor and at the same times displays Purdy’s struggle between his dinosaur nature and his attempts to become more open minded. Even with a tremendous amount of heartbreakingly emotional moments, and our characters being in extreme desperate states, Hill manages to bring the fun and humor of the series to life. There is only one more chapter in Dr. Alan Gregory’s life left to go, and I await it with fearful anticipation.

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





Narrative Overtones: My Interview with Dick Hill

26 06 2012

 

If you are a fan of audiobooks, particularly mysteries and thrillers, at some point you have probably experienced the iconic sonorous voice of Dick Hill. One fo the first series I had listened to when I became and audiobook fan was Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and this was the first time for me that a narrator became the voice of a character. Since then I have listened to many great performances by Dick Hill, from action thrillers, to mysteries to fantasy and science fiction titles, and he always manages to make the characters memorable, and the words just jump off the paged. Dick Hill was kind enough o answer my questions today for Audiobook Week.

First off, I sincerely appreciate, and am honored that you an agreed to take the time out of your schedule to do this interview. When I first became an audiobook fan, around 6 years or so ago, you were the first recognizable narrative voice to me. You were the first narrator who had me looking for books not by genre, or author, but by who read them. You introduced me to a lot of great writers I may never have experienced if I remained solely a print reader.

So, to start off could you tell me how you got started in the industry, and give those who may not be familiar with your work and overview of your career?

Dick Hill: I was working at a small Equity Theatre in Michigan when Michael Page, a transplant Brit, who also worked there, put me in touch with the folks at Brilliance Audio.  He’d done a number of books for them, and they were looking for a narrator to do a WWII book, American p.o.v.  I recorded a few pages from a supermarket military thriller on a cheap cassette player, (about the closest I’ve come to having a demo, though I’ve helped a few folks put together their own) and that was enough to give me a chance with them.  I knew immediately that I’d found my niche, and I have never looked back.  Luckily, I found a measure of success in the work that’s kept me happily employed ever since.  That was probably close to two decades ago.

Let’s get into your books. I will start with the obvious one, at least for me, and that would be Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Back on April Fools Day, I wrote a joke "News Update" saying to distract Reacher fans from the casting of Tom Cruise, they were also recasting the audiobook version, and that the frontrunners to replace you were British narrator Robin Sachs, and Bahni Turpin. I think the reason this joke works, is because, for many Reacher Fans, you are Jack Reacher. Can you tell us about your relationship with this character?

Dick Hill: Eileen Hutton put me together with Lee for the first Reacher novel, and I’ve been blessed to do every one since.  Different audio publishers, but Lee has dragged me along with him, for which I’m quite grateful.  I must admit, it’s not just the fans who think I’m Reacher.  When I’m recording the latest Lee Child offering, I’m also quite convinced that I am him.  At least in the booth.  When I step out into the real world, it’s plainly evident that I am NOT.  I’ve met fans face to face on a few occasions, and though they’ve always been very kind, I feel I can detect a bit of disappointment that I’m not the physical specimen I voice in the books.  Voicing Reacher’s latest adventure is one of the high points of any year.  My wife, Audie winner Susie Breck, no longer narrates, but she engineers and directs my work from our home studio.  We both love Lee’s skill and artistry.  His humor (well, humour) and terrific sense of rhythm go along with all the other elements to make his work so great.  Lee’s the sort of writer who puts it all on the page so well, that it seems to me inevitable that Reacher and the other characters speak the way they do.

As a narrator who has handled many series, as well as standalones, do you prefer revisiting characters you know, or experiencing and developing new characters?

Dick Hill: Hmmm….interesting question, that.  Not sure I have an answer.  A continuing character’s familiarity is a great thing to savor and work with, but then, the challenge of finding a new person to try to inhabit is a delightful challenge. Even with an established character, the opportunity to stretch oneself is always there, and the demands are the same in that you try to make every word count. I guess I’m just happy to be working at something I find so rewarding, and so challenging, whether it’s an old friend or a new one.

The Jack Reacher series has been told in both the first person POV and the third person POV. As a narrator, do you prepare differently for a book actually narrated by the character, as opposed to a sort of omniscient, neutral third person narrator?

Dick Hill: Not really.  As soon as I’ve finished the opening credits, I dive in, fully invested (I HOPE!) in telling the story as interestingly and believably as I can imagine, no matter the POV.  That said, first person, particularly a person I’ve known for awhile, can sometimes offer a special enjoyment.

Recently, Stephen White has announced that he will be retiring his series character, Alan Gregory with a two book arc. One thing I love about Alan Gregory is he is not an action hero in the least. He’s mild mannered, and almost a pushover, but his moral code as a psychologist gets him entangled in some messy situations. He’s very much the anti-Reacher and I think that is reflected in your performance. When voicing characters how much is detailed preparation, and how much is natural performance? Are the any tricks you use to keep a character in your head while performing a reading?

Dick Hill: Thanks Bob.  They are two very different characters, and I like to think that’s reflected in my work.  Both writers (Child and White) are wonderfully talented, and I find my guide to performance is right there in their words.  Not only are the characters different for these two, or any other accomplished writer’s works, but the language used, the world-view of the author in his work, the rhythms and vocabulary make the performance almost inevitable, or so it seems to me.  Generally, Susie preps our work, deals with pronunciation questions, or enlists my help in that regard.  She’ll note clues or descriptions of characters and any mention of accent or timbre etc. included in the text and make that available to me.  I do cold reads, I find it more challenging and feel it contributes to a fresher, better performance.  Many other narrators take an altogether different approach and do wonderful work.  Whatever works.  Keeping major characters in my head is no problem…I often have in mind some person I know, or character or type I might have seen somewhere, to refer to.  And of course, we keep notes for ongoing series.  Those are invaluable when you’re doing, say, a W.E.B. Griffin series, which may have recurring characters that make brief appearances over a number of years, half a dozen lines in each book.

You have narrated books in many genres. While the majority of your work in in the Thriller/Mystery genre, you have narrated Nonfiction, Fantasy, Romance and Memoirs as well. What is you favorite genre to perform?

Dick Hill: You’re right, I do more Thriller/Mystery work than any other genre, but I enjoy doing other sorts of work every bit as much.  My favorite genre, if you can call it such, is Well Written/Thought Provoking/Engaging, whether that takes place on a distant planet, a dark alley, or in the past.

If we were to get a peak at your personal bookshelf, what may we be surprised to find?

Dick Hill: I have a hunch what people would find most surprising is the very small  number of books we own.  I’m an auto-didact, I suppose, and for years I hung onto and treasured many of the books I read that engaged and enlightened me, but we’ve given away all but a few score.  The library is within biking distance, and we are very good customers of that wonderful place.

One of my favorite fantasy series is David Anthony Durham’s Acacia series. It was actually my first experience with you reading fantasy, and I was surprised how different it was than my other experiences with you. You read it with a deliberate, style, with a hint of a British accent to it. Fantasy is one of the genres that I have explored more with audiobooks, because a gifted narrator can really contribute to the world building. What are some of the challenges you face with Fantasy that you may not face with more realistic novels?

Dick Hill: Other than perhaps developing some unique vocal traits to help differentiate societies or races, even species, my approach to that sort of work is very much the same.  A willing suspension of disbelief, a real immersion in the world the author creates, of whatever sort, is the one common thread for me.  Came across a book once, ACTING IS BELIEVING.  For me, the title alone pretty much sums up my approach.

Can you give us a glimpse of your process, from prepping your books, to what happens in studio?

Dick Hill: I think I pretty much covered that in the earlier questions.  Let’s see, what else?  Stay hydrated.  Keep your head in the game.  Don’t make noise. Try to ensure you’re not too hungry, in order to minimize Borborygmus. (Isn’t that a great word to describe a growling stomach or gut? I can never manage to keep it in mind though, for some reason, have to google it in order to use it)

When your done bringing worlds alive with your voice, how do you relax?

Dick Hill: Read.  Cook.  I love working in the kitchen, and I like to think I’m a pretty fair cook.  Family and friends.

My favorite all time Dick Hill read novel is Joe R. Lansdale’s A Fine Dark Line. It’s a coming of age mystery tale that centers on a 13 year old boy whose family owns and operates a Drive-In Theater. I found that for someone know for a deep, sonorous voice, you handled the voice of a 13 year old rather well.   I could go on and on about that book but I shall resist. If you had to pick one book or series as the highlight of your career, what would it be?

Dick Hill: Well, you certainly picked a prime candidate with A FINE DARK LINE. Huckleberry Finn, and a book called THE RIVER WHY, by David James Duncan, but to paraphrase the lyric from Finnian’s Rainbow, when I’m not reading the book that I love, I love the book I read.

In my review of The Affair, I joked a bit about the intense love scene between Reacher and his lady of the moment that you gave a deliberate escalating rhythm to. Are there any types of scenes that as a narrator that you find awkward or uncomfortable, or do you just have a "go for it" sort of attitude?

Dick Hill: I’m lucky I think in that the various publishers I work with have a sense of what I wouldn’t care to do.  I begged off one very popular series because although it was good work in many regards, there was a sadistic/sexual element that I felt uncomfortable presenting, primarily because the greater  part of the audience for the books was comprised of young people, and I  didn’t wish to have anything to do with establishing such behaviors or beliefs in people’s minds.

Is there any book or author who you haven’t had the chance to read that you would love to take on, given the opportunity?

Dick Hill: Wish I’d done Robert Parker.  That popped into my mind.  Great dialogue.

Any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?

Dick Hill: I’m always pretty excited, gratified anyway, simply to be working.  Right now, though, I’m working through a backlist, some thirty or so, of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Some of the earliest police procedurals, with  a great cast of continuing characters.  Terrific dialogue, in fact, Robert Parkers cited McBain as a great influence.  Just finished Stephen White’s  penultimate Dr. Gregory book (Gonna’ really mourn the loss of that guy) and sometime this month I’ll do the latest Jack Reacher.

I could probably continue with a million more questions, but I will restrain myself and ask just one more, which is my old interview standard. If one day, someone wrote the story of your life, what author would you like to write it, and who would be your choice to narrate the audiobook version?

Dick Hill: I don’t think I’d ever wish to have my life story told to the general public.  If it were, I’d want to narrate it myself.   Hell Bob, I want to narrate every book ever written!

Again, thank you for your time!

Make sure you check out Dick Hill’s Website and the well over 400 titles available at Audible.com.





Audiobook Review: Survivors: A Novel of the Coming Collapse by James Wesley, Rawles

8 12 2011

Survivors: A Novel of the Coming Collapse by James Wesley, Rawles

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Unlike Patriots, the story in Survivors is not strong enough, nor are the characters compelling enough to ignore the utterly unsubtle political and religious overtones of the novel or its overuse of uber-specific details. Hardcore Post Apocalyptic fiction fans as well as Survivalists and Fundamentalist Christians may have some fun with this novel, everyone else should probably stay away.

Grade: C-

So, if this is your first time visiting my blog, and you have never had any sort of interaction with me, whether it be through my tweeter feed, Facebook page, face to face conversations, forum postings, AIM chats, psychic visions or illegal wire tapping, well, I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret. I love to read Post Apocalyptic fiction. I know, shocker! I like these novels for many reasons. I enjoy discovering how people would survive when everything is stripped away. I enjoy the moral quandaries of the changed land and what people will and won’t do when civilization collapses. I come to reading these novels with no agendas. I don’t care if you are a pinky commie nut, or some neoconservative gun freak. I really don’t have a horse in this race. I am definitely no Survivalist who secretly dreams of the end of the world. I know that I will probably be one of the first to go in any sort of great die off. Heck, the reason I enjoy an occasional glass of wine is so that I will be properly marinated for the cannibal hordes. With Post Apocalyptic fiction, you get a lot of books slanted with political and social agendas. You have your Post Nuclear books which will show you the horrors of nuclear war. You have books that present the scary visions of what this world will be like due to climate change. Then, you have a book like Patriots by James Wesley, Rawles. Patriots is not just a story of the economic collapse that our reliance on paper money, liberal politics and moral decay is leading us to, but an almost how to guide to set up your own Post Apocalyptic bunker. Patriots was full of a lot of things that would annoy the crap out of the casual reader, but basically, I enjoyed the Survivalist story. So, I didn’t hesitate to grab its sequel, Survivors: A Novel of the Coming Collapse. 

In Survivors we encounter a new group of survivors who must deal with the same deteriorating world as Patriots. Economic collapse due to increasing inflation leads to an America full of riots, roaming gangs, and starvation. Unlike the characters in Patriots, those we follow here in Survivors are not quite as prepared. We have a soldier in Afghanistan trying to find his way home. An air force pilot dealing with a personal tragedy and a group of teenagers ousted from their orphanage. All of them have interesting stories, and I wanted to cheer for them, but unfortunately, the book is just so full of extraneous details, and cardboard cutter characters that I became annoyed and frustrated with it. I love the Rawles did his research, and I found all the specific details added to Patriots a bit endearing, but after awhile it just gets annoying. I am fine with an author telling me that a character has a short wave radio, I don’t need to know it a Rogers SL25-Z Multi Tube transistor radio made in Franklin, Ohio by the Zeltner corporation (*Note: I made those details up.). Also, I appreciate that Rawles is a Christian, but does every character need to talk the same way about their faith. Sure, he tried to mix it up a bit, throwing in a Messianic Jew, and a Catholic who believes in a personal relationship with Christ, with no need for intersession, so basically a switch in labels and not philosophy. Oh, and the morals of these characters. Every single character was of the utmost character, always dealing with tragedy by announcing their faith in God, and praying for the bandits that just stripped them and robbed them of every thing they had. I’m sure that there are Christians out there like that, I just don’t know any. Oh, but their morality ends with their fondness for manipulating paperwork, and straight out lying in order to keep the very best arsenal possible. I have no problem with Christian characters, even fundamentalist Christians, just not the wooden, sloganeering characters who all react exactly the same when placed in horrible situations. Now, I could continue my rant by discussing the obvious political slants, with appearances by the evil Federal Government, the New World Order United Nations, and those dupes who prefer paper money over gold, but I think you get the point. Unlike Patriots, the story in Survivors is not strong enough, nor are the characters compelling enough to ignore the utterly unsubtle political and religious overtones of the novel or its overuse of uber-specific details. Hardcore Post Apocalyptic fiction fans as well as Survivalists and Fundamentalist Christians may have some fun with this novel, everyone else should probably stay away.

Dick Hill narrates the audio version of Patriots, and sadly, doesn’t have much to work with. The book is full of Spanish phrases and Hispanic characters that Hill just doesn’t give the right spin to. I like Dick Hill, but he has a specific way of emphasizing the littlest details, which works well when he is reading novels like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, but here, that emphasis just puts on display the annoying surplus of pointless details that this novel has. Unlike print novels, where you can sort of glaze over these details, in audio form you are held captive as each one is presented to you in full.  Survivors is also ultra serious, which never allows Hill to use his sardonic tones that he can pull off so well. Sometimes, even the most talented of narrators cannot overcome the limitations of the material.  On the positive side, I did make it all the way through the 13 hour + production, yet, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the print version, so, that’s worth something.

 

Note: A special thanks to the wonderful people at Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.