Audiobook Review: Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

22 02 2018

Down the River Unto the Sea

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Narrated by Dion Graham

Hachette Audio

Grade: A

In Down the River Unto the Sea Walter Mosley does something thoroughly impressive, he manages to put together a book that is both timely and timeless, a classic detective story written for a troubled time. The set up is classic noir, Joe King Oliver is a flawed man but a good cop. When his personal flaws allow him to be set up for a crime he didn’t commit, he finds himself floating between the world of cop and criminal, no longer comfortable in either world. Now, a disgraced detective, he’s tasked with preventing an injustice all to close to his own. Mosley excels at creating an uncomfortable but real world, and populating it with strong, memorable characters. In a world where we often see things as black and white, Mosley thrives in the gray. Joe Oliver’s complexities as an African American cop betrayed by those he trusted and thrust into a community that often sees him as the enemy, adds layers to a well tailored mystery. His transformation parallels the story brilliantly, moving him towards a surprising climax. Yet, strip away all these complexities and at it’s core Mosley tells a hell of a story, with exhilarating action, some well choreographed twists and populated with a slew of memorable characters.

Dion Graham handles the narration like a master musician who knows just the right instrument for the right moment. At times, smooth like a saxophone, at others, driving the pace like a bass guitar, Graham uses his voice like he’s scoring a film, creating a mood while bringing Mosley’s well conceived characters to life. With some books, I feel like narrators struggle to find the right voice to fit the author’s intent, but here Mosley and Graham seem to be workings like a team, Mosley creating them and Graham revealing their vibrancy. Down the River Unto the Sea succeeds where other tales have failed, to tell a truly human story that doesn’t exploit current events but lives firmly within our world’s new realities.

Audiobook Review: Rusty Puppy (Hap and Leonard Series) by Joe R. Lansdale

5 03 2017

Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale 

Read by Christopher Ryan Grant 

Hachette Audio

Grade: B+

After 12 novels, numerous novellas and short stories and a tv series, it’s hard to review this book. If you’re into the series you’ll read it and since Lansdale is one of the most consistent authors out there, you’re gonna like it. No one writes best friend banter as sharp and realistic as Lansdale and that’s the foundation that makes this series work. Lansdale can write a story about these two grocery shopping and discussing breakfast cereal and I’d read the hell out of it. What makes matters better is he writes with such precision that it’s like he uses a scalpel instead of a pen, cutting away the fat and just leaving pure story. Rusty Puppy is solidly a Hap and Leonard book, with many of the growing number of series characters ducking out of the spotlight and letting the boys do their thing. It’s great to see such a tight tale at a point where too many series get bloated down with peripherals. Rusty Puppy is another winner is one of the most consistently fun series out there. 

I tend to be skeptical of the new guy when they take over for iconic characters but Christopher Ryan Grants soft Texas twang and strong narrative voice hits all the right notes. I can easily see a narrator turning our heroes into hillbilly cartoon characters but Grant finds the humanness of this duo that long time series fans have already embraced. Hopefully we’ll hear plenty more from these two with Grant serving as the voice of the series. 

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: Low Town by Daniel Polansky

10 06 2013

Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Read by Rob Shapiro

Random House Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: Fantasy Noir

Quick Thoughts: Low Town is gritty fantasy noir told in a slogging style full of shady characters, deep mysteries and forbidden magics. It’s a unique blending of detective noir, second world fantasy and urban fantasy that creates a dark, often hard to stomach feel that while never sitting quite right finds a way to wedge itself into your psyche.

Grade: B-

I hated Low Town. I mean, simply hated it. Low Town by Daniel Polansky hit the shelves nearly two years ago and garnished praise from critics and fellow bloggers alike. There was a while there where it felt like everyone was reading Low Town on the SFF side of my twitter dial and loving every word. Some of my go to speculative fiction bloggers said this was a title I must go to, so I got up and went. I bought the title on Audible, followed the author and was very excited to give it a go. Then hated it. I made it maybe 3 Hours in before ripping the earbuds out of my ears and screaming lamentations to the heavens. Over the next few weeks, I saw the author announcing good reviews and praise and I seethed, eventually unfollowing him. Now, I was listening to it when I was sick, and in one of the most stressful times of my life, but, there were audios I simply adored during those times, so I wrote it off as a lousy excuse. I decided Low Town was dreck and I was sticking to my guns. If I knew about the Audible return policy I may have swapped it out for a novel that James Patterson got someone to write for him so he could attach his name to it and announce it the best thing he ever wrote on a TV commercial. But I didn’t. Then came THE ACCIDENT. This occurred when I plugged the wrong hoziwhat into the incorrect thingababob or something, and my MP3 Player dies on me one day when I just wanted to be listening to something good. I was then relegated to seeing what I could pull up on my audible ap, and the only unlistened audiobook I had available was, well… duh dah!!!!! LOW TOWN. Luckily, I only had to listen to like an hour or so, then I’d be home and I could do some zombie robot unicorn thing. Except… stuff happened. I was intrigued. What’s this…. mystery, magic…. drugs! Now… hold on… missing kids! Strange killers! Drugs! WTF IS HAPPENING!!

The Warden is a hard luck, fallen drug addict surviving his daily grind peddling his mind altering substances to the denizens of the lowest of all areas in the town of Rigis. When The Warden discovers the brutally murdered body of a young girl, and the secrets her corpse holds, he realizes he must confront his past in order to stop a repeat of history. Low Town is gritty fantasy noir told in a slogging style full of shady characters, deep mysteries and forbidden magics. It’s a unique blending of detective noir, second world fantasy and urban fantasy that creates a dark, often hard to stomach feel that while never sitting quite right finds a way to wedge itself into your psyche. I never really fully embraced Low Town, but I did get ensnared enough in its spell to keep me sticking with the story to the bitter end. Polansky is a strong story teller and takes a lot of risks in his world. I think people may do better with Low Town if they come at it from strictly one side of the fence, particularly Fantasy readers. Most of my issues came with Polansky’s use of mystery tropes. He creates wonderful and memorable characters, but his attempts to misdirect and the single mindedness of The Warden in his focus on a particular villain at times had the opposite affect, acting as a blinking red arrow to the correct path, with just enough information to get the framework of the jigsaw together. Where Low Town shines is in his creating of Rigis and the thirteen cities, and in it blending of history informing on the modern time. Polansky’s examination of the great plague that made The Warden and orphan and started him down his path was so vivid and powerful, that I missed it when we returned to the present day story. Also, the few relationships that The Warden did maintain all contributed to the plot so well that despite the traditional "Hey, let’s kidnap someone the protagonist cares for" plot twist the ending actually came off fresh and maybe just a bit exciting. Polansky also created a social structure that made unique hurdles for The Warden to jump and added many layers to the narrative. I ended up liking Low Town. Despite my issues with some parts of the tale, I am glad I never swapped it in for something a little less special.

Rob Shapiro did a strong job narrating this tale. He uses a gritty, deep voice to deliver Polansky’s dark, shady world that fit perfectly. Most of his character voices where well done, although I did find some of his female and children voices a bit less distinct. Yet, I did have one issue with Shapiro’s reading, and this only the second time this has happened to me in an audiobook. On an interesting level, and probably unconsciously, I think Shapiro telegraphed aspects of the ending. There was a scene where a character, let’s call SPOILER delivered a line in such a way that I think it indicated SPOILERS true shady nature. There were trigger words in the narrative, and a small mention of a strange reaction to SPOILER’s comments by The Warden, but Shapiro delivered it in such a strange way, that I started questioning SPOILERS motivations in a way I never would have in print. I hate bringing this up, because I can just see annoying anti-audiobook person yelling "SEE! AUDIOBOOKS ARE EVIL!" Yet, I have listened to over 1,000 audiobooks in my life, and this is only the second time this has happened to me, and the other was due to a poorly used accent in a throwaway scene. This is another reason I have had trouble reviewing this book. I stand by some of the comments I made about Polansky’s plotting, but I also know Shapiro’s narration contributed to my figuring out too much of the plot before the not so surprising ending.

Audiobook Review: Trial Junkies by Robert Gregory Browne

29 04 2013

Trial Junkies by Robert Gregory Browne

Read by Eric G. Dove

Braun Haus Media

Length: 8 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller/Murder Mystery

Quick Thoughts: Trial Junkies is a unique legal thriller that gives you a different perspective on a court room procedural while offering a solid murder mystery as well. While these aspects made Trial Junkies a strong read for mystery fans, the special relationship among Browne’s group of reunited college friends really resonated with me, adding even more substance to an already strong tale.

Grade: B+

If I look over the far too many years of my life and try to pick what was my favorite time, it had to be the years in college and the few after in which I met the small group of friends who probably have had the most impact on my life. We spent many nights smoking cloves, drinking beer, hanging in coffee shops and having deep philosophical conversations that older me would probably find quite pretentious if I overheard it today. For about a year of so after college, we got together and rented a house. I can’t say it was the happiest of times. We squabbled, and had our own little soap operas. We worked crappy jobs, drank too much, had great parties that often led to stupid decisions. Yet, my favorite times were those days we just hung out, passed around a bottle, watched stupid TV shows or played video games, and embraced those last irresponsible days of our lives. Then, life took over, we all began to go our separate ways with promises to keep in touch, which we did for a while. Then, suddenly, it’s 12 years later. Last summer, I was driving home from a long road trip visiting my brother in Huntsville, Alabama. I was getting closer to Philly, less than an hour out, passing through Newark Delaware, when a sense of melancholy overcame me. One of the couples within my small group, now married, lived in Newark. We’d recently, sort of reconnected through Facebook, in that "Like", brief comments on your status sort of way, but I decided then, I would try to physically reconnect with them this year. It took me until the holidays, but finally, a bunch of us got together for Christmas, and shockingly, quickly fell into a comfortable conversation like the years haven’t passed. It was its own sort of subtle joy to experience this, like a sense of returning home, a place where you feel comfortable and accepted. Like you belong.

When down on his luck, just out of rehab bad boy actor, Ethan "Hutch" Hutchinson discovers that his ex-girlfriend and probably one true love of his life, was brutally murdered he returns to Chicago to attend her funeral. When one of his former college friends is arrested for the murder, he is conflicted. Finally deciding to believe in her, Hutch vows to find the real killer who just may be one of the court regulars who show up every day to watch the murder trial. When I first chose to give Trial Junkies a listen, I was hoping for a fast paced legal thriller/murder mystery to balance out all the high concept fantasy and science fiction I had been listening to recently. What I wasn’t expecting was just how much I would connect with the characters. It wasn’t because the novel was especially well written. Sure, Browne knows how to tell a story and has developed a strong one here with enjoyable characters, lots of good twists, and a unique take on classic legal thrillers yet, mostly, I connected with the characters because their story resonated with many things going on in my life recently. Now, I haven’t had any ex-girlfriends brutally murdered that I know about, and I’m not some bad boy actor, but I loved the angle of the old college friends reconnecting, even if the events that brought them together were tragic. There were a lot of things I liked about Trial Junkies, and a few little things that bothered me. I liked that this was a different take on the legal thriller. Instead of being thrown into the process through the eyes of a lawyer or defendant, we are given a spectators perspective of the procedures. I think this would work well for those who enjoy legal thrillers but don’t especially enjoy all the legal maneuvering. As a character, Hutch was basically an idiot. He made one blunder after the next, making stupid decisions, often knowing that he was making stupid decisions. I loved his ruminations on why he couldn’t hire a private eye, because they were incredibly boneheaded. Now, you may think I’m being overly critical, but, honestly, I loved that Hutch was an idiot. I love that he made stupid decisions then self rationalized them. I often get annoyed when someone shows up, a layman like an actor, then suddenly becomes Mr. Super Investigator, who can figure things out that the professionals can’t. There were a few moments in the book that I though were created simply to add some tension and color to the tale, and really didn’t serve the story, particularly a unnecessary subplot dealing with the victim’s father, but these were at most, minor distractions and a worst, poorly executed red herrings. There was also a clumsy  strange almost sex scene that was eye rollingly bad, especially since the hottest moments took place in recollections later in the book, but then, I find most sex scenes in books worthy of a good eye roll. The ending itself was a doozy, with a progression of twists that work like a nudge, then slap then a solid punch in the gut. You may guess one or even two along the way, but I have trouble believing even the most nuanced mystery reader will have it all figured out before the end.  Trial Junkies is a unique legal thriller that gives you a different perspective on a court room procedural while offering a solid murder mystery as well. While these aspects made Trial Junkies a strong read for mystery fans, the special relationship among Browne’s group of reunited college friends really resonated with me, adding even more substance to an already strong tale.

Eric G. Dove handled the narration of Trial Junkies. I have listened to quite a few audiobooks that were self produced, either through ACX or some other program, and I always try to add this into my consideration. Trial Junkies is an excellent production. The sound is crisp and the narration clear and the listener will have trouble telling any difference between this production and one from one of the major studios. Eric Dove is a narrator I have enjoyed in the past. In Trial Junkies his work won’t blow you away. He gives a solid, workman-like performance that serves the story well. He has a strong grasp on the characters, offering distinct characterizations for each. The courtroom scenes in Trial Junkies are filtered through the perceptions of Hutch, or one of the other characters, and while this could feel like long bits of exposition, Dove gives it a conversational feel. He gives just the right amount of tension to the closing moments of the novel with crisp pacing. Overall, I enjoyed Trial Junkies a lot and have no trouble recommending it to fans of good solid mystery tales and courtroom thrillers.

Note: Special Thanks to the author for providing me a copy of this title for review upon my request.

Audiobook Review: Dead Aim by Joe Lansdale

30 01 2013

Dead Aim by Joe Lansdale (Hap Collins & Leonard Pine, Bk. 10)

Read by Phil Gigante

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 2 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Dead Aim is the glorious return of Hap and Leonard to audio. I listened to the audiobook with a shit eating grin plastered to my face, laughing out loud at inappropriate times and not caring one bit about the nervous glances I was given. Anyone looking for a fun mystery full of action, some inappropriate humor and two of the best characters in fiction today, run and nab yourself a copy of Dead Aim, then when you’re hooked on these two smartasses, grab the rest of the series.

Grade: A

I am a person who places a high value on friendship. I don’t make a lot of friends. I can be social, and spend time interacting with lots of people on a surface level, but the true commitment of friendship is something that it takes me much longer to develop. I definitely never insta-friend, nor have I ever fallen in love at first sight. One of the saddest things for me is when someone I truly value as a friend moves away and we lose contact. As I get older, this happens much more often, yet, recently a few of my dear friends that moved to the farthest comers of the earth, have moved back to my area, and for me, this is a big cause for joy. As someone who also values books, when characters I love leave, when a series ends or a character dies, I feel a sense of loss. Yet, I find this to be even greater when these characters are within the digital pages of an audiobook. One of the biggest complaints about audiobooks is that a narrator creates another level between the reader and the character. Yet, with the perfect narrator, this is also one benefit of audiobooks. When I read, I often merge with a character, attributing aspects of myself to them, and comparing them to me. They become me, or a friend, or someone in my life, on a subconscious level. Reading can become an almost egotistic act where you become the hero. When a narrator becomes a character, adds a new dimension to these characters, reflects emotion that you may not when reading, characters can become more real, independent creations. More like friends that compliment you, than reflections of you. One of my favorite series that I have experience totally in audiobook form is Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard series. Through the voice of Phil Gigante, these characters became real to me. When this series was no longer made in audio, I read the novels, which were still great, but in someway, it was like my friends had changed a bit. This is why I was so excited to hear Phil would be back narrating the latest Hap & Leonard novella, Dead Aim. In many ways, it was like reconnecting with lost friends.

In Dead Aim, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are hired to protect a woman and “gently” persuade her soon to be ex-husband from harassing her and beating up her dates. Hap and Leonard are experts at gentle persuasion, especially when it involves their trusty axe handle. But when things go sideways, as often happens with out heroes, and bodies begin to drop, Hap and Leonard find that what they were told may not be the whole truth. Dead Aim is a classic Hap and Leonard tale. Lansdale melds together folksy wisdom, locker room humor and fast violence into something that is pure joy to experience. The heart of this series is the relationship between Hap and Leonard, a more than family bond that transcends race, and sexual orientation. Lansdale creates some of the most realistic, natural, yet uproariously funny dialogue that I have ever read. In all honesty, if Lansdale wrote a short story of Hap and Leonard waiting in a Dentist office, I would be thrilled. Yet, throw in a well conceived plot and some fast and furious action, and you get more bang for your buck in this novella than in the typical full length novel. Lansdale writes with an economy of words that it’s almost magical how fully fleshed out his stories are, and how highly visual the final confrontation is. Lansdale is a master at the turn of phrase, creating metaphors that would seem ridiculously corny, but comes natural to the characters he creates. Lansdale can summon a belly laugh out of what typically would only elicit a polite chuckle, then surprise you with the depth of the seemingly simple wisdom he’s sharing  If you are new to Hap and Leonard, Dead Aim would be a great way to meet these characters. While you may miss out on some of the back story, this novella stands well on its own and would totally wet your whistle, enticing you to go back to the beginning of the series.

If I was a poet, I would find a much better way to sing the praises of Phil Gigante in iambic pentameter but I’m not, so you’ll just have to bear with me. Gigante infuses this novella with Southern charm and wit, capturing these two characters perfectly. The Hap and Leonard series, along with his readings of Andrew Vachss Burke series, and the Stainless Steel Rat series are what made Gigante my all time favorite narrator. What’s great about Gigante is how he captures the flavor of each title he works on. There is almost a lackadaisical pace to his reading of Dead Aim, like a good friend telling a story after a couple or six beers. It makes the reader feel comfortable, allowing them to be just as ready for a dirty joke as a moment full of emotional resonance. Somewhere in heaven, the audiobook gods were singing a particularly special song the day Phil and Joe were placed together as a team, and every time I get to experience it, I sacrifice something to honor it. Dead Aim is the glorious return of Hap and Leonard to audio. I listened to the audiobook with a shit eating grin plastered to my face, laughing out loud at inappropriate times and not caring one bit about the nervous glances I was given. Anyone looking for a fun mystery full of action, some inappropriate humor and two of the best characters in fiction today, run and nab yourself a copy of Dead Aim, then when you’re hooked on these two smartasses, grab the rest of the series.

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

Audiobook Review: The Black Box by Michael Connelly

4 12 2012

The Black Box by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch, Bk. 18)

Read by Matthew McConnohie

Hachette Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 29 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Black Box is another winning entry in this series featuring one of my favorite fictional detectives, Harry Bosch. While this isn’t my favorite Harry Bosch mystery, it’s full of moments that should resonate with fans of this series. The mystery is solid, and Connelly finds a way to merge the 20 years in the sordid history of Los Angeles with the 20 Harry Bosch has been bringing killers to justice.

Grade: B+

I didn’t realize until I started listening to The Black Box that Harry Bosch is now 20 years old. Well, more succinctly, Harry Bosch, as a literary character is now 20 years old. The number 20 is playing a significant role in my life this year. I was never a very social kid in high school, and really maintain no friendships from my graduating class, so, it took me a while to realize that this year would have been my 20th High School reunion. This has been a very reflexive year in my life, hitting this milestone, and dealing with numerous familial issues has caused me to spend a lot of time evaluating the choices I have made over the past 20 years. I really can’t remember when I first encounter Michael Connelly’s writing, or became a fan of Harry Bosch, but I have significant memories of the past that are tied right in with his work. I remember about 12 years ago, taking a trip after deciding that I needed a career change, riding on Septa to 30th Street Station, reading Void Moon. I remember the first audiobook experience that really won me over to the format was The Lincoln Lawyer. The first major post I ever wrote for this blog was my Top 20 Audiobooks of 2010, in which Connelly’s The Reversal took the first spot. Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen Harry take on serial killers, corrupt cops, his often belligerent bosses and solve numerous crimes, including the murder of his own mother. We’ve read of the tragedies in his life, and the joys his daughter brings to him. We’ve rode along side of him as he listened to Jazz and ate at food trucks working his way through the dirty streets of LA acting as the voice of the dead. On the surface Harry may seem like your typical, almost stereotypical gruff cop, but as his fans all have come to know, there is more to this man than any surface glance will ever tell. So, happy twentieth birthday to Harry Bosch, I’m sure you have plenty more tales to tell.

In The Black Box, Harry, still working in the Open/Unsolved Unit, is looking into the murder of a foreign journalist which took place during the hectic days of the LA riots. 20 years ago, during the chaos, Harry and his then partner Edgar Styles were the original detectives on the scene of the murder, but eventually the case was rolled into a task force looking into murders during the riots. Now, new forensic evidence has opened new investigative paths, and Harry is feeling things starting to fall into place. Yet, clashes with his bosses and public relation issues are putting pressure on Harry to put the case on the back burner, something that never sits right with Bosch. I have to admit, at first I was sort of ho humm about The Black Box. I love Harry Bosch as a character, and was enjoying the peripheral aspects of the story, Harry’s relationship with his daughter, his clashes with his boss, and his procedural routines, but the case he was working on didn’t really grab me. I loved the early parts, with Harry reflecting on the riots, and walking the reader through how the case fell through the cracks, but the mystery of the thing just wasn’t pulling me in. Until, it did. I’m not sure when the change happened, but at some point, I went from sort of ‘meh’ to utterly engaged. It’s really been a while since Harry’s books have really dealt with a cold case, and like the cases themselves, there is a moment in this story where it moves from being a cold case, with forensics looking for a key piece of evidence, to an active case, where the personalities of the victim and possible perpetrators begin to form. This is why I feel Connelly is probably the best procedural writer in the business today. He gives his cases an organic progression that reflects his characters. The investigation in some way becomes a character in its own right. Connelly doesn’t need trick endings, or out of left field twists to make his stories work. He simply tells the story that needs to be told, allowing the revelations to come in a realistic way. The Black Box is another winning entry in this series featuring one of my favorite fictional detectives, Harry Bosch. While this isn’t my favorite Harry Bosch mystery, it’s full of moments that should resonate with fans of this series. The mystery is solid, and Connelly finds a way to merge the 20 years in the sordid history of Los Angeles with the 20 Harry Bosch has been bringing killers to justice.

Narrations of a long running series are often problematic, and the Harry Bosch series has its fair share of narrators. There have been two main narrators over the course of this series, Dick Hill and Len Cariou, with a few others voicing Harry, including Peter Giles handling Bosch’s appearances in the Mickey Haller series. I recently was discussing "the voice of Harry Bosch" with another fan of the series. For her, Len Cariou was Harry, but for me, it was always Dick Hill. I never really warmed up to Cariou’s Bosch. In reality, my favorite voice for Bosch was Peter Giles, and was hoping that the audio producers would choose him when Cariou was no longer available. Well, Hachette went a new direction with Bosch, having Michael McConnohie take over as the new voice of Harry.  It really took me a while to adjust to McConnohie’s narration, and even now, I have mixed feelings about it. I didn’t hate his performance, but I really didn’t love it either. I liked a lot of his characterizations of the peripheral characters in the book, but I found his pacing to be somewhat awkward, bordering on robotic. There were moments his awkward pacing actually worked. For example, Bosch spent a lot of times reading from websites, and translated text and McConnohie’s style worked really well for this. Yet, his overall reading of the prose and Bosch’s inner dialogue felt a bit stilted. His voice for Harry was gruff enough, and age appropriate, but, there is always some level of disconnect with the voice of a protagonist after a narrator change. Yet, by about halfway through the production, I was engaged enough in the story, where my issues with the narration managed to bleed into the background. It’s hard based on this performance, to find McConnohie’s place within the pantheon of Bosch narrators, but I’m still willing to give him his chance.