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: 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.





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: The Affair by Lee Child

30 09 2011

The Affair: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child

Read by Dick Hill

Random House Audio

Length: 15hrs 33Mins

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Affair is the 16th novel in the Jack Reacher series, and serves as his origin story. The novel is classic Reacher and in many ways reads like a love letter to long time fans of the series.

Grade: B+

If you haven’t met Jack Reacher yet, let me introduce you to him. Jack Reacher is a retired military policeman from a military family who spent his life moving from one military base to the next. Despite serving his country for his entire adult life, he never really had the chance to get to know the country he fought for. So after leaving the Army, Reacher became a drifter, traveling to roads of America with nothing but the clothes on his back and his toothbrush. Reacher is a man of few words, he prefers action, and that mindset gets him involves in "situations" as he travels the country. Reacher is also highly skilled in combat, from hand to hand, to firearms and rarely meets a violent situation he can’t handle.  In many ways Reacher is a superhero without a cape, a dark vigilante without a mask, and as with all superheroes, you need an origin story. The Affair is Lee Child’s 16th Jack Reacher tale, and it takes us back to Jack Reacher’s last days as an Army MP. The Affair is Jack Reacher’s true origin story, and in many ways it also serves as Lee Child’s love letter to Reacher’s longtime fans.

The Affair is a classic Jack Reacher tale, probably closest to the feel and structure of the first novel of the series, The Killing Floor. Reacher has been sent to a small base town in Mississippi, to discreetly look into the murder of local woman. The case is a potential media scandal for the Army, since the Senator in charge of Military appropriation’s son serves as a Captain at the base and because of the potential top secret missions of the base personnel. Reacher is supposed to go undercover as a civilian, which is a stretch since Reacher hasn’t truly ever fitted into that role. The Affair is truly a wonderful listen for Reacher fans, full of familiar scenarios, classic Reacher idiosyncrasies, and plenty hidden Easter Eggs for longtime fans of the series. While it may be a younger Reacher, it’s still the Reacher you know and love. The Affair also works as an effective mystery, giving Reacher meticulous investigative style a chance to shine. Add to that a beautiful cop, military corruption, belligerent locals, and a diner with excellent pie and hot coffee and you have everything you want in a Reacher tale. I do have one thing, not so much a quibble as an observation. I feel the past few Reacher novels have moved him from a hero to more of an anti-hero role. In many ways he reminds me of 24’s Jack Bauer in that way. Reacher tends to value his judgment over the judgment of almost anyone else, and seems to have become more of a vigilante, working outside the law, than simply someone pushing the boundaries. In many ways, while I have become more uncomfortable with his actions, I become more fascinated with him as a character. The Affair is probably my favorite Reacher novel in a while, and a must read for all Reacher fans.

It’s hard for me to accurately assess Dick Hill’s performance as a narrator in any individual Reacher novel, because for me, Dick Hill is Jack Reacher. Hill has been reading Lee Child’s series since book one, and his iconic voice has become synonymous with the voice of Jack Reacher. Hill has a deep booming voice yet reads with a crisp deliberate style that works well with a character based thriller like this. That being established I should mention that I really find the sex scenes a bit awkward when read by Hill. He reads them with a precise style emphasizing certain words and actions, with an escalating rhythm that eventually speeds to the climax. While they are well read, it sort of gives me an awkward feeling, like a Pastor telling a dirty joke. Other than that, I really enjoyed Dick Hill’s reading of The Affair, as I expected to. While I would suggest that newcomers to the series read some of the earlier books, particularly The Killing Floor, One Shot and Bad Luck and Trouble, before reading The Affair, fans of the series should be delighted in this latest tale.