Audiobook Review: Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney

8 01 2013

Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney

Read by Edoardo Ballerini

Audible, Inc.

Length: 9 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Gutshot Straight is cleverly plotter crime caper that never takes itself too seriously. Lou Berney’s debut offers plenty of tense moments, quirky characters and whole lot of laughs. Fans of Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard and Tim Dorsey should now add Lou Berney to their must read lists.

Grade: B+

Note: This week I will be featuring books that I choose to listen to based on reviews and “Best of 2012…” posts by my fellow bloggers which I will be linking at the end of this post.

Years ago, as a teenager I developed the rule of happy endings. I was rereading one of my favorite novels at the time, Dean Koontz’s The Servants of the Twilight, a novel full of chase scenes and mayhem, and I couldn’t help but wonder about all the unintended consequences. You see, for a novel or movie to have a happy ending, all the good looking people must survive. No matter what havoc they wreak on us average to just a tad homely people out there, as long as they make it to the end in one piece, we the audience can head home happy thinking that all is right with the world. Yet, I cannot help but think about that poor guy, coming out from MacDonald’s to find that his car has been stolen. Maybe he would be happy to learn that his car was stolen by some good looking people who were trying to evade a murderous cult, but just maybe he ends up late to work, gets fired, than can’t afford to send his kid to college. Maybe that young girl whose car collides with the cop car our modelesque protagonists are racing away from will suffer a traumatic brain injury, never going on to have a career or raise a family. While we cheer our mysterious raven haired beauty who can now break open a conspiracy by a shadowy government agency, the unintended consequences of her high speed chases and crazy shoot outs may harm society more than if the conspiracy was allowed to linger. I for one, have always wished there was a book of the stories of these unintended consequences, the guy who breaks his leg diving out of the way of chasing baddies, the young store clerk traumatized by the staged robbery our good guy performs to bide time, and all us poor tax payers who most pay the bill for the charming hero’s explody heroics.

Charles "Shake" Bouchon really should have known better. Finally released from prison after a three year stint, Shake is offered a simple job by a beautiful crime boss who just happened to be his ex-lover. Yet, the simple job gets more complex when the car he is given to deliver to a shady figure in Vegas just happens to have a beautiful women tied up in the trunk. Not willing to turn the women over to her death, Shake is now hunted by a variety of shadowy characters while attempting a big score than may just land him that restaurant he always wanted. Gutshot Straight is a clever and fast paced crime caper reminiscent of early Carl Hiaasen. Berney has a winner of a character in the likeable but oh, so maddening Shake. Shake is flawed and often over his head, yet has a surprising reserve of clever problem solving and an ability to act when acting is what needs to be done. There were times that I wanted to slap Shake, thinking he was naive, but as I began to understand the character, I realized it really wasn’t naiveté, just an acceptance and connection to his emotional flaws.  Berney rounds out his cast with a bunch of quirky characters that are odd and endearing in their way but never over the top. Gutshot Straight is full of humor, much of it coming from the ridiculousness of the caper itself, yet, Berney never goes for the easy joke or simplistic gag, instead permeates the text with  light hearted almost whimsical feel that balances out the violence and mayhem of the story. Yet, my favorite part of story is Berney’s ability to tie in not just the major storylines, but small offshoots of the unintended consequences of the tale. Often, Berney will take you down an unexpected road, yet find a way to veer it right back into the oncoming traffic of the plot. This gives the story a lot of heart, reminding me, in a strange way, of some of the better written Seinfeld episodes, where something you sort of write off ends up tying the story together. Gutshot Straight is cleverly plotter crime caper that never takes itself too seriously. Lou Berney’s debut offers plenty of tense moments, quirky characters and whole lot of laughs. Fans of Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard and Tim Dorsey should now add Lou Berney to their must read lists.

Edoardo Ballerini captures the whimsical tone of Berney’s writing perfectly as he brings Shake and a cast full of scum bags, strippers, soft spoken muscle and out of their league everymen to life. This is my second Edoardo Ballerini narration yet, even with that small sample, I can easily say he is one of the few "complete package" narrators who I would be comfortable listening to read almost anything. He has an almost low key voice, that initially you feel he will be taking the minimalist approach, with only slight tonal changes, but as more and more characters get thrown into the mix, Ballerini gives them their own well thought out voices making them each memorable. Ballerini reads with a light hearted brisk pace, always moving the story ahead, yet also delivering the complicated ending with an almost visually cinematic feel. The listener never gets muddled down in the action, but is given a bird’s eye view of everything going on. Ballerini is a narrator that I definitely will continue to keep my eye out for, knowing that whatever he reads, he will be an excellent guide.

What Other Have Said:

Jen Forbus, my go to femme fatale of crime fiction, introduced me to Lou Berney in her Favorite Reads of 2012 Post. Check out her review of Gutshot Straight.

Audiobook Review: The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

27 03 2012

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

Read by Edoardo Ballerini

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 8 Hrs 47 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts:  The Land of Laughs is solid storytelling. A Tale that slowly builds, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the tale, and then smacking them upside the head with a wonderfully delivered ending.

Grade: A-


The Land of Laughs is a 2012 Audie Award Nominee in the Category of Fantasy.

The Land of Laughs by Jonathon Carroll is the second book in the Neil Gaiman presents audiobook line that I have undertaken. It is also an Audie nominee for Fantasy which means it is one of my listens for Armchair Audies. I have one stunning confession to make. Although I have read quite a lot in my life, I am not especially well read. Sure, I have my niches where I have explored certain genres well beyond the average reader, but for the whole, I really am not one who has explored the myriad of classics in any particular genre. This is particularly true in Fantasy. I have skinned the surface of the genre, and read many of the modern popular titles. I have read George Martin and Stephen Donaldson, and I have jumped on to the bandwagons of various fads. Yet, I have never really dug into the genre, discovering the hidden classics, the Fantasist’s Fantasies. This is one of the reasons I have been excited about Neil Gaiman’s line. Here is a chance to discover new authors that I may not have had chosen before. Through this line I met a Minotaur who worked at a cook at a Steak House, and his story became one of my favorite audiobooks in 2011. This time, it’s the work of Jonathan Carroll.

The Land of Laughs is about a person obsessed with books. Thomas Abbey has lived his life in the shadow of his father, a popular actor and sex symbol. Abbey’s one refuge was in the world’s created by reclusive children’s fantasy author Marshall France. Now, an adult, Abbey is stuck in a rut, unfulfilled by his job teaching literature to privilege prep school boys. He decided to take a break, and take a chance writing a biography of the author who meant so much to him. Abbey is warned by France’s long time editor to expect a hostile reception from Anna, Frances daughter. So, when he arrives at the small town of Galen Missouri, Abbey and his girlfriend Saxony are taken aback by the warm enthusiastic reception they receive. The Land of Laughs is part American Fable, part Twilight zone episode. Carroll paces it at a slow burn, He lulls you into an almost sense of complacency with his normal characters and description of everyday life of small town Americana, so that when the Fantasy elements bleed into the tale you are almost unprepared for them. There is one moment, the first full on time where the otherworldliness unquestionable enters the tale, that you are just jarringly reminded that this is in fact fantasy. From the moment the cascade of unusual begins. Carroll unfolds this tale beautifully, moving each revelation into the game like a master chess player. He creates a wonderfully frustrating character in Thomas Abbey. Abbey is almost boring in his angst filled existence, and Carroll complements him with two fascinating women, one who is heartbreakingly real, and another a twisted fantasy. Most importantly, Carroll pulls it all together, offering an ending that colors the entire tale, making you reevaluate the entire story. The Land of Laughs is solid storytelling. A Tale that slowly builds, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the tale, and then smacking them upside the head with a wonderfully delivered ending.

First off, I simply love Edoardo Ballerini voice, and I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit it. He has such a rich modern tone, the fit this tale so well, He reads with and almost effortlessness that fully allows you to immerse yourself in the world Carroll is presenting. He brings the wide array of characters, from big city editors, to simple townsfolk alive with authenticity. There is only one little complain I have about the audiobook, and it’s not really anyone in particular’s fault. This book was written in 1980, and Ballerini’s performance was so modern, that occasionally a dated reference would bring me out of the story, for instance, the moment when I realized that the Thomas Abbey character was writing out his story longhand. Now, I’m sure this is something that may still happen, and was probably quite commonplace at the time this book was set, but, I kept forgetting as I listened that this was a production of a book over 30 years old. I guess that this is a reflection of the timeless quality Carroll achieved and the modern feel of Ballerini’s performance, and should be seen as praise and not a criticism.