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. 





Audiobook Review: Mission Flats by William Landay

28 11 2012

Mission Flats by William Landay

Read by William Dufris

Books on Tape

Length: 13 Hrs 31 Min

Genre: Police Procedural/Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Mission Flats is a solid, but sometimes uneven mystery novel, with some interesting characters. Landay’s strength is in creating the character dynamics, and in walking us through the intricacies of both local police, and big city politics with a storyteller’s flair. Fans of police procedurals, with complex and conflicted characters, should enjoy this novel.

Grade: B

One of my favorite movies of all time is M. Knight Shyamalan’s Classic “I see dead people” movie, The Sixth Sense. There are many reasons I love this movie, including that it was shot in my neck of the woods, by local talent. Also, there was the ending. It was one of the few movies that, upon seeing the ending, made me want to go back and see it again. The Sixth Sense turned me into a fan of M. Knight Shyamalan overnight. His next movie, Unbreakable, also blew me away. Yeah, I know that some people hate that movie, but I loved it, and its brilliant ending. The problem with Unbreakable is it created a sense of expectance for the “big twist.” One of the reasons I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable was I really wasn’t expecting the twist. In fact, I wasn’t even expecting A twist. Yet, after these movies, Shyamalan became the “surprise ending” guy. While I liked Signs and tolerated The Happening, expecting the twist totally ruined The Village for me. I began to expect the twist, and read too many reviews comparing it to The Twilight Zone, which is also known for its twisty endings. I went into The Village knowing there was a twist coming, and figuring it out pretty damn quickly. This problem also follows me into the book world. I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, and so much of my enjoyment of these books depends on whether I read it fresh, or read it looking for the big surprise. One of my favorite books this year was William Landay’s Defending Jacob. It was a wonderfully complex legal thriller which has a wallop of a gut punch ending. Having enjoyed Defending Jacob, I was interested in his other book, Mission Flats and thought I would give it a go.

When town Police Chief finds the body of a prominent Boston prosecutor, he gets thrust into a dark world of inner city politics, drug culture and corruption. Feeling he needs to keep involved in this case, he travels to Boston with a retired cop to dig into areas he feels are being ignored by the Feds and Boston PD. His investigation digs into a sordid brutal past that some powerful people would like to stay buried. Mission Flats is a raw look into the dirty battlefields of inner city crime and law enforcement. Landay has created an interesting, yet totally unreliable protagonist in Chief Ben Turner. Turner has a feel of a good solid guy, out of his depths yet it’s hard to get a strong grasps on his motivations. He continually pushed at obscure aspects of the case with little explanation beyond his possible naiveté and pop culture understandings of criminal investigation. At times, it was quite hard to like Chief Turner, who seemed to often just be a distraction to the overall story, yet, you couldn’t help but be compelled by his thought process. Landay populates this tales with an interesting mix of secondary characters. You never really get a true handle on many of these characters, some  seem almost like bad caricatures, until they surprise you, and other are instantly fascinating, then sort of blend into the background. All in all, it makes for a bit of an uneven experience. Landay does a great job developing the relationships between characters, and building some interesting dynamics that keep you interested when the plot goes off on another tangent. One of my major problems with the novel was more my fault that the authors. I went into the novel looking for a twist. I approached it more as a mystery than a thriller and read like I was investigating it, instead of just letting the story flow. I was looking for clues, and pretty much found them, with the ending coming more as confirmation than surprise. Overall, Mission Flats is a solid, but sometimes uneven mystery novel, with some interesting characters. Landay’s strength is in creating the character dynamics, and in walking us through the intricacies of both local police, and big city politics with a storyteller’s flair. Fans of police procedurals, with complex and conflicted characters, should enjoy this novel.

William Dufris did a good job narrating this novel. I listen to a lot of novels that take place in New England, and often am dismayed that some narrators don’t even attempt some level of regional accent. I can understand why some narrators do this, they would rather give characters a neutral accent than the wrong accent. In Mission Flats, Dufris must balance variants of the New Englander patois, with characters from Boston to Maine. While I can’t say whether his accents where authentic, they do enough to give the story a New England feel. There were a few times where I found some words pronounced strangely, and was unsure whether they were regional pronunciations or just mispronunciations. Other than that, I though that Dufris brought the right amount of energy. The novel is full of colorful characters, and Dufris does a lot with them, making each one stand out on its own. It was a fun performance, with just enough flavor and energy to keep me happy and listening.





Audiobook Review: The Commission by Michael Norman

17 10 2012

The Commission by Michael Norman (Sam Kincaid, Bk. 1)

Read by William Dufris

Blackstone Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 58 Min

Genre: Police Procedural

Quick Thoughts: The Commission isn’t going to floor you as a mystery. Norman tells a straight forward tale in workmanlike prose with realistic and likeable characters. Despite its heavy use of Procedural clichés, The Commission is a lot of fun and should provide a quick fix for mystery and detective thriller fans.

Grade: B

So, all month long I have been participating in Jenn’s Bookshelves annual October Murder, Monsters, Mayhem blog event. So far, we have had a lot of monsters and plenty of mayhem, but we’ve been pretty light on the Murder. I have always liked a good murder mystery. OK, maybe not always. There was a time where I liked Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, and at no time did I worry about whether Sam was killed by a goat, on a boat in a moat for his oats, but pretty early in junior high school I met Dame Agatha Christies, and I became a murder mystery fan for life. In October, we spend a lot of time preparing ourselves for the monsters that come out at night, and try to steal our souls dragging us down into the great abyss. Yet, so much of the mythology behind our monsters is based on the evils that humans do. So, I wanted to squeeze in at least one murder mystery this year for Murder, Monsters, Mayhem. One of the big reasons I wanted to do this is it provides me a bit of a break during the event. Back when I did my Zombie Event, and I listened to nearly 20 Zombie Audiobooks in a single month, I realized that in future events, I would need a buffer. This is why I specifically looked for a Police Procedural instead of some other type of murder thriller, so I could get away from the horror genre just a bit, before jumping back head first into the zombie hordes.

When a member of Utah’s Parole Board is gunned down in the driveway of his home, Sam Kincaid, the chief detective in the Investigative Branch of the Utah Department of Correction Department is called in to act as a liaison with the Salt Lake City Police Department. Teamed up with Kate McDermott, a fast rising detective known for her handling of high profile cases, Sam investigation leads him to kinky sex, public corruption and puts him and those he loves in danger. The Commission is a pretty straight forward, by-the-numbers police procedural. It is full of situations that border on clichés of the genre. While very little in the book will surprise seasoned mystery reader, it has the feel of a warm jacket, or comfy blanket. You know what to expect, and that is exactly what is delivered. I actually really enjoyed The Commission. I liked the characters, and Norman does a good job walking you through the process of the investigation. This isn’t one of those stories that will floor you with a big twist, or shock you with an intimate betrayal, but simply competent professionals doing their job well, despite political pressures. Even the bit of romantic tension between the main characters is done in a workmanlike way that feels realistic. The Commission isn’t going to floor you as a mystery. Norman tells a straight forward tale in workmanlike prose with realistic and likeable characters. Despite its heavy use of Procedural clichés, The Commission is a lot of fun and should provide a quick fix for mystery and detective thriller fans.

It took me a while to get into Dufris reading, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because I’m most familiar with Dufris in his narrations of Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series, and I couldn’t help but wonder when the lizard like Grik were going to show up. Yet, before too long, Dufris pulled me into the world and kept me there for the rest of the book. Dufris really shines during the first person POV readings of Sam Kincaid. He brings a natural humor to his reading that added personality to the clever but serious main character. He gave Kincaid a real feel, never making him sound like a professional voice over actor pretending to be a cop. Dufris gives the investigation a sort of quirky pacing that kept it lively, even during the longish expositional segments where Kincaid is describing his thought process. While The Commission is a pretty straight forward procedural, Dufris does a great job bringing the story to life.

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