Audiobook Review: The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly

22 01 2013

The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly (Charlie Parker, Bk. 11)

Read by Jay Snyder

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Wrath of Angels was a dark and atmospheric ride deep into the mythology of John Connolly’s brilliant world. Those new to the series would do better to go to the beginning and experience the series in order, but for fans, The Wrath of Angels will thrill and chill you to the core.

Grade: B+

I always have a lot of trouble writing reviews for books in series. I think this is especially true for an author like John Connolly. John Connolly is one of my favorite authors, and for me, a new Charlie Parker novels is an event. Yet, the Charlie Parker series is also one of the hardest series to explain to those who aren’t familiar. To call is a Supernatural Thriller series isn’t quite right nor is calling it a crime fiction series. It is both, and it is neither. Connolly defies genres, shrugging them off and telling the stories he wants to tell. Sometimes it involves fallen angels, Hollowmen, and books made out of human flesh, while other times it’s about serial killers, assassins, sexual abuse and kidnappings. Sometimes it’s about all of the above.  The Charlie Parker series often reminds me of a well done TV series, like Fringe or the X-Files. There are episodes that stand on their own, that can be straight forward TV, and then there are episodes that fit into the mythology of the series. Sometimes, an episode is there fully for the mythology, and sometimes an episode is straight forward, but skirts the edges of the series mythology. There are a few books in this series that I would feel comfortable telling someone to pick up, without knowing the underlining issues of the series. I mean, on the surface, the character of Charlie Parker, a retired cop turned detective who has never really come to terms with brutal slaying of his wife and daughter at the hands of a twisted serial killer called The Traveling Man, is almost boilerplate Thriller Noir. Yet, then it get’s weird. For me, I love the weirdness. I love speculating on Charlie’s true nature. I love the blending of fallen angels, voodoo curses, and a strange serial killer called The Collector with his own moral code. For me, it’s a hot mess of awesomeness, yet, to thrust another person into the mess would leave them treading water in the midst of a hurricane. Except when it doesn’t. So, if you are new to the Charlie Parker series, The Wrath of Angels would throw you into the deep end without a single swimming lesson. If you are a lover of this world, this may be the one you have been waiting for.

There is an area deep in the woods of Northern Maine where no one goes, and on the rare instances someone wonders there, they don’t return. There lives a force ancient and old, and a girl who is not quite a girl. Yet, when a plane holding its own type of evil, as well as information that people and other entities would kill for, crashes in these woods, forces both worldly and otherwise will lead detective Charlie Parker and his friends there, with evil on their trail. One of the beautiful things about a Charlie Parker novel is that it is never about what it is about. Any synopsis written will only give you a small glimpse of one of the stories contained in its pages. Here, the story is about a plane crash, yet, it isn’t. Instead the plane crash is the catalyst to bring a many of the elements of past Charlie Parker novels together, and send them on a perilous journey. In many ways The Wrath of Angels is the novel that John Connelly has been setting up for a while. It’s a darker more atmospheric tale than usual, which is saying a lot for a writer like Connolly who permeates his prose with an ominous sense of dread. As a comprehensive tale, The Wrath of Angels may not be as strong as some of his more straight forward works. Here Connolly plays the edges, creating more of a mood piece, tying up some ends, and creating new threads for his characters. It’s a beautiful piece of series writing that could come off as unfocused and distracting to any reader not already immersed into this tale. Yet, for fans of Charlie Parker, it’s a dark look at what the past has set up and the future holds for our hero. More than any other work in this series, it gives us insights into the anomaly of Charlie Parker. Yet, it’s not all dark and mood and gloom, like usual, there is plenty of humor to lighten the mood. Charlie Parker’s cohorts Louis and Angel, despite their brutality, bring a sort of levity to the novel. Connelly knows right when to add a bit of light in his dark world, adding a particularly funny, yet poignant moment where Charlie, Louis and Angel join Charlie’s young daughter for ice cream. It’s these small moments that are the saving grace of Connelly’s dark world. The Wrath of Angels was a dark and atmospheric ride deep into the mythology of John Connolly’s brilliant world. Those new to the series would do better to go to the beginning and experience the series in order, but for fans, The Wrath of Angels will thrill and chill you to the core.

I have talked a lot about my issues with the narration of the Charlie Parker series. For the American versions of this series, there has been a horrible lack of consistency among the narration. This series has been narrated by Titus Welliver, Jay O’Sanders, Holter Graham, and George Guidall. The Last novel was almost the last straw for me with co-narration by George Guidall and Tony Lord, which was simply horrid and almost ruined the book for me. What frustrates me even more is that this series has been consistently narrated by Jeff Harding in the UK but in order to get these versions you either have to have a friend across the pond who is willing to obtain them for you or resort to illegalities. To be perfectly honest, if I had seen Tony Lord’s name attached to The Wrath of Angels, I would have gone with the print version. Yet, Jay Snyder was cast. I was a bit hesitant about Snyder as a narrator. Snyder is sort of a blockbuster narrator, with a big professional voice suited to big professional productions. Snyder doesn’t bring a lot of nuance to his reading, which is something that I think these novels need. So, to be perfectly honest, my initial barometer for any Charlie Parker narrator is how he handles Angel. Angel is the personality of this novel, and if a narrator doesn’t realize this, than he doesn’t get these characters. At first, I hated Jay Snyder’s Angel. He sounded just like Charlie and Louis. Yet, as the novel progresses, Snyder got better with his interpretation of Angel. This actually bothered me. I just wondered how prepared he was for this novel. It was like, about halfway through he realized that Angel was a larger than life character, and slowly began to reflect that in his reading. Snyder’s reading wasn’t bad. In fact, technically it’s good. Just, it lacked the flavor of a Charlie Parker novel. You didn’t have Charlie Parker or any other the New England Characters with any sort of regional accent. You couldn’t hear Louis southern roots or Angel’s New York. It was a good solid reading that could have been so much more. I’ll be the first to admit, I am very hard to please with this series. I was happy with O’ Sanders, Harding and even Holter Graham. Yet, with each change I became grumpier. I though if you changed the narrator, it should be for the better, not just for expediency. The Wrath of Angels was much better narrated than The Burning Soul, but it still isn’t the perfect Charlie Parker audiobook experience I have been hoping for.





Audiobook Review: The Infernals by John Connolly

24 10 2011

The Infernals by John Connolly (Samuel Johnson vs. The Devil, Book 2)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Middle Grade Adventure/Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: This sequel to Connolly’s The Gates is another wonderful, clever and laugh out loud hilarious adventure. The style of the book with its humorous asides and clever footnotes is perfect for translation to audiobook, and Tim Gerard Reynold’s narration only makes it better.

Grade: A

One thing I really wanted to do when planning out my books for Murder, Monsters and Mayhem was find a book that was suitable for children, but also enjoyable for adults. Halloween, despite its origins, and its relationship with the horror genre, is really a light hearted Holiday. Yes, there is a place for body shredding monsters, blood sucking vampires, and brain eating zombies, but, well, that doesn’t need to be the focus. Halloween is a chance for our children to make fun of their fears, to stick their tongues out at the monster in their closet, and of course, score some candy. Growing up in a relatively poor family, we couldn’t afford fancy, custom made Halloween costumes, which was cool because we got to make our own. My go to costume as a kid was a hobo, which probably wasn’t the most politically correct choice, but I got to rip up some old flannels, color some patches on some old jeans, and tie a sack to a stick. Of course, there was one time I went as a thief which was the same basic costume, but I drew a dollar sign on my sack. Yet, I always enjoyed it, because I got to use the favorite tool given to children no matter what their economic status, their imagination. In the end, choosing my fun, child oriented Halloween tale was pretty simple. The Infernals is the sequel to John Connolly’s delightfully quirky novel, The Gates, about a young British boy named Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell, who must save the world when the demon Ba’al creates a portal from hell into our world and possesses a local woman named Mrs. Abernathy.

In The Infernals, Mrs. Abernathy, aka Ba’al, looking to get back into the good graces of The Great Malevolence, again creates a portal, this time with the goal of sucking her greatest foes, 13 year old Samuel Johnson and his dachshund Boswell, into hell. Her plan works, but with a bit of a twist, along with Samuel and Boswell, the portal also sucks in two police officers, an ice cream salesman, and four troublesome dwarfs. Thus begins another wonderful, clever and laugh out loud hilarious adventure. Imagine The Wizard of Oz meets Dante’s Inferno, and you get only a brief idea at the feel of this novel. The Infernals should delight everyone from children, to young teenagers and adults, although surly older teenagers may find it a bit too clever to be cool, which would be their loss.  While Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Abernathy are great characters, it is the huge cast of peripheral characters that make this novel so delightful. There is of course, Nurd, the former scourge of five Kingdoms, Shan and Gath, the beer brewing Warthog Demons, Dan, Dan the Ice Cream Man, and a multitude of other demons, wraiths, imps, demonic bureaucrats, and careless scientists that it was hard to choose a favorite. One of the things I loved about this novel was that Connolly never speaks down to the children reading it, he talks about complex scientific theories in a way that is both funny and educational, and even taught me the meaning of the word “lant” which is something I think I would have been OK with never learning. For parents looking for a read to share with their older children, I highly recommend the Infernals. Heck, for adults looking for a hilarious, heartfelt and a bit scary tale perfect for those chilly October nights, check out both novels in the Samuel Johnson series.

Connolly’s style of quick funny asides, informative and clever footnotes, and stunningly visual descriptions of the sceneries and residents of hell translates perfectly to the audiobook format. Tim Gerard Reynolds beautiful Irish accented voice brings the magic and wonder of this novel alive, while nailing the humor of the novel as well. I have to say, Reynolds’s reading of this novel was one of my favorite narrator performances of the year. With the huge cast of characters, you think that he would have run out of voices, but every character from a mumbling dwarf to The Great Malevolence itself was voiced with vivid authenticity. Reynolds’s wasn’t afraid to take chances in his reading, adding wild affectations and crazy laughter at just the right moment, never coming off forced or out of place. I loved how he captured the footnotes, taking on the rhythm of a teacher, yet peppered with a wry wit. You could just tell how much fun he was having narrating this tale and that fun bled into every turn of phrase in his reading. The Infernals was a joy to listen to, filled with everything you look for in a Halloween novel, and reminding you what it felt like to have your childlike imagination tickled just right.





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.