Audiobook Review: The Burning Soul by John Connolly

9 09 2011

The Burning Soul by John Connolly (Charlie Parker, Book 10)

Read by George Guidall and Tony Ward

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 12 hrs 52 Min

Genre: Modern Detective Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Connolly’s well plotted mystery, with his signature supernatural elements, sucked me in enough to allow me to over look my many issues with the narration. This latest addition in the Charlie Parker series offers a solid contained plot that will please new readers, yet with enough nods to Parkers past to keep fans of the series happy.

Grade: B+ for the Content, C- for Narration.

John Connolly books have a strange history in audiobook format. The American versions of his Charlie Parker series have had multiple narrators, including Titus Welliver. Jay O’Sanders, George Guidall, and Holter Graham and many of them had been only offered as abridged editions. The UK, ISIS Audio versions have all been read by Jeff Harding. A few years ago, a friend, back from an internship in London, lent me her copies of the first few Charlie Parker books, read by Jeff Harding, and I instantly fell in love with the characters, the blending of mystery and supernatural elements, and the tragic story of Private Investigator Charlie Parker. I also fell in love with Jeff Harding’s interpretation of the characters so much that I actually actively searched through EBAY, Abebooks, and other online used book sellers for the ISIS Audio versions of most of the series. In fact, The Whisperers was the first non-ISIS production and I though Holter Graham did a decent job, but I was still feeling the spoiled effects of Jeff Harding’s Interpretation, especially his voices of Charlie Parker’s New York, not so ex-criminal cohorts Louis and Angel.  Even with the change in audio production, Connolly’s words broke through, offering me another solid mystery tale, with a supernatural undercurrent and enough of a hint of things to come. Connolly’s most recent book, The Burning Soul was released this week, and I instantly downloaded it from Audible as soon as it was available.

In the small town of Pastor’s Bay, a 14 year old girl has gone missing. Randall Haight, an unassuming local accountant, has a secret. A secret that may lead to him becoming not only a suspect, but a pariah in the small community. To make matters worst, someone knows Haight has a secret, and through a series of anonymous letters, may be willing to use that information to harm him. So, Haight’s lawyer brings in Private Investigator Charlie Parkers, to discover the identity of the would-be blackmailers. Thus begins another complex mystery, the kind that Connolly does so well.  Connolly’s Charlie Parker series is a brilliant mix of modern detective tale with a simmering undercurrent of the supernatural. In The Burning Soul, Connolly again finds the right balance, allowing Parker to work the mystery in a straight manner, yet still feel the added levels that the case brings. I have always loved the balance Connolly brings. He never uses the supernatural elements as an easy out. Parker never solves his mysteries by tapping into the spirit world, but through his own bullheaded, straightforward detective work. The central mystery, the disappearance of  14 year old girl, brings with it a wild mix of local Police, FBI, mobsters and lowlifes, and Connolly deftly maneuvers the reader through the intricate plot full of twists, without ever leaving the readers behind. If I had any complaints about The Burning Soul it would be that  the peripheral characters of the series, like Louis and Angel, and the Fulci brothers only have minor roles here. Yet, aside from that small complaint, Connolly latest Charlie Parker novel is a winner, with a solid contained plot that will please new readers, yet with enough nods to Parker’s past to keep fans of the series happy.

The audio production was another story. The Burning Soul was read by two narrators, George Guidall who handles the third person POV’s and Tony Ward, who read Charlie Parker’s first person perspective. I found this handling of the story strange, but tolerable. I have never been a huge fan of George Guidall’s voice. I find it too old sounding and gruff, but he’s a professional and handles his material fine. He really doesn’t do much to bring the story to life, just reads it in a workman-like manner. Tony Ward’s reading was rough. There was just something off about it.  It sort of reminded me of when the audio is just slightly off on a DVD, and it just feels wrong. Ward’s reading seemed to have strange slurred quality, as if you were talking to a person with a bit of a beer buzz. He rarely changed tones when reading dialogue, having Haight’s female attorney sound quite similar Charlie Parker himself. Despite the fact that the action takes place in New England, not a single authentic New England accent could be found in the production. If it wasn’t for the fact that Connolly’s story was so engaging and that I had to know the outcome of the mystery, I may have given up on this production based on the strange, uneven narration. Yet, Connolly’s story did suck me in, enough so that I was able to put my issues with the audio production aside and just enjoy the tale I was being told.