Audiobook Review: Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

26 06 2013

Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss

Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Short Story Collection (Multiple Genres)

Quick Thoughts: A solid short story Anthology featuring the Vachss signature noir style, fascinating if unlikeable characters and an authenticity you rarely find in the pages of books. Fans of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard will be excited to see this duo show up for a great story, as well as a few other of Vachss characters. The anthology ended with a high concept screenplay that may not suit even hardcore Vachss fan’s tastes, but has moments of hidden gems.

Grade: B

There are two kinds of experts in our world. There are the kinds that study something, that break it down to its intricate details, who speculate, postulate and theorize. They use this knowledge to develop opinions, join think tanks, become talking heads on TV news programs and teach courses. Then there is the kind of expert who simply lives something. They may not know why something work, or develop their theories based on intangible concepts of instinct, and heart, but while the studios expert is working on the textbook, they are out applying their knowledge, living and dying by their expertise. Andrew Vachss often writes about that second type of experts. One of the reasons I enjoy single author short story collections is to see how an author takes the central themes of their writing, and explores them through different situations and even genres. Mortal Lock is no different. Vachss inhabits his stories with his signature characters. Vachss’ characters are truly what sets him apart. They are never loveable, and often lot even close to likeable, but they bring a perspective that it seems even the most research oriented author often misses. There is something authentic in their reality, even when they are in situations the push plausibility. In Mortal Lock, Vachss’ applies his themes and characters to 20 different stories, some quite short, while others more detailed, giving us a glimpse into worlds that us everyday tourist rarely ever see.

It is really hard to evaluate and recommend a short story anthology, without going into detail about every story. Like in most anthologies, there is a hit and miss quality. There were some stories that were simply quick slices of life, that seemed to serves as buffers between larger tales. This is something I haven’t seen as often in anthologies, and for the most part I liked it. While I didn’t LOVE every story, three of the larger tales truly make this anthology worth the time and money of any Andrew Vachss Fan. For me the highlight of this short story collection was Veil’s Visit, which Vachss cowrote with Joe Lansdale featuring one of my favorite literary dues Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Add to this the fact that the story was a Courtroom tale where Leonard is on trial for burning down his neighborhood crackhouse, and the legal theory used by the Defense was priceless. The two other stories that I thought were exceptional were As The Crow Flies, which features the protagonists from his upcoming novel Aftershocks and Profile, which has another of Vachss characters, Cross, hunting an online predator. Yet, these stories were far from the only gems. Vachss starts it off with Ghostwriter, featuring a brilliant writer who was completely unlikeable and sociopathic and did whatever it took to see his works come to print. One of my other favorites was A Piece of the City where rival gangs come to blows over and incident that may be more that it seems. Along the way, Vachss gives his twisted take on Crime Fiction staples like spurned husbands and serial killers. Vachss even breaks away from his typical crime noir to expand into other genres, most notably a tale of a Hit Man searching for a cure for AIDS for his dying sister, who encounters monsters of legends. The only downside of the collection comes in the form of the long screenplay that is the finale. Not that it wasn’t interesting and full of some excellent themes and fascinating explorations. I have never been much of a screenplay reader, and experiencing one in audio was interesting. The tales is definitely high concept, extremely visual and very avante guard. It is more of a series of intertwined vignettes told in a Dystopian World were society is now underground. Vachss creates a disturbing system where the establishment allows many types of evils to flourish, the family structure to break down, and truths told through graffiti painted on walls. If such a movie was ever made, it would be more at home next to the subtitled foreign films at The Ritz than at your local Movie Hut. I think Underground is something I enjoyed more considering the aspects he explored later than during the actual exercise of listening. There were some moments where the story was truly fascinating, some hidden gems in the screenplay, but at times it was hard to stay focused on it.

I am typically not a fan of multi-narrator productions where the male narrator reads the male lines and the majority of the prose, than a female narrator pops in for the female dialogue lines. It just never seems to feel natural for me. This process was used often in Mortal Lock, and while effective, I often cringed when it happened. Luckily, the two narrators had an obvious rhythm down, and made it as natural as possible. That really isn’t a surprise, since the narrators were Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross. Phil handled the majority of the work, and was wonderful as usual. In fact, when Veil’s Visit began, I had a huge idiot grin on my face as the familiar voice of Hap Collins filled the cavern within my skull. Gigante has a knack for knowing when to go low key, and when a bit of over-the-top is appropriate. He is the perfect narrator for Vachss, able to capture the dark humor and noir stylings of Vachss writing, while giving his characters a realism that just feels right. This was my first time listening to Natalie Ross, and I enjoyed her work. Surprisingly, I think some of her best work was done during the screenplay, as well as one particularly creepy serial killer tale. She offered a nice counterbalance to Gigante. Overall, Mortal Lock is a must listen for fans of Andrew Vachss. For those interested in getting a taste of Vachss style, Mortal Lock gives a nice spectrum of indulge in.

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

Audiobook Review: The Books of Blood Volume 1 by Clive Barker

17 05 2013

The Books of Blood: Volume 1 by Clive Barker

Read by Simon Vance, Dick Hill, Peter Berkrot, Jeffrey Kafer, Chet Williamson, and Chris Patton

Crossroad Press

Length: 6 Hrs 51 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: With each tale of The Books of Blood, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights.

Grade: B+

Nearly 25 years ago, after receiving my first paycheck as a 15 year old working a horrible job doing phone surveys about soda and car repair, I walked into The Oxford Valley Mall’s Waldenbooks and bought my first adult books. Before this moment, I had very little control over the books I could read. Most I got from the public or school library and they had to be cleared with my mother. The few times I got my hands on unapproved books, like when my cousin slipped me a copy of Lord Foul’s Bane, I was caught, scolded for introducing satanic things like magic into my brain and forced to return to my copies of The Three Investigators or Agatha Christie or steal copies of my sister’s Danielle Steel or VC Andrews novel, secure in the thoughts that incest and sexual abuse was in no way as devastating as magical rings and Giants. Now, here I was, unsupervised, with my own money, ready to buy my own books. I picked out three novels, one was Stephen King’s It, which of course I loved. I had read Cujo and Christine before, which were, unbeknownst to my mother, available in my school library, so I knew what I was expecting. I also picked up a novel by a new to me author named Dean Koontz, The Bad Place, which sent me into a voracious need to read all his books. Finally, I picked up Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. The Damnation game scared the hell out of me. I’m not sure I really got the surreal horror style, and some of the images truly disturbed me. I think I may have been too young at the time for that novel. I wanted tales with monsters and kids in peril, and strange weird science fictioney stuff, and I think Barker’s tale was a little beyond me at the time. It would be years later before I returned to one of his novels, the Fantasy tale of Imajica, and was blown away buy his writing.

The Books of Blood is a short story collection told in a framework of stories written into the skin of a huckster medium when he was brought into investigate strange haunted house. This first volume had five unique and diverse tales spanning the themes of horror. I have always enjoyed short story collections, although I rarely listen to them in audio. One thing that impressed me with this collection is that for each story, I made an assumption early on in the tale, and each time Barker took the story in ways that surprised me. Most surprising of all was the dark humor that infused some of the tales. With the gruesome framework of the series, I was expecting a full on assault of dark and horrific tales and while he delivered on that, he also managed to make me laugh along the way. My favorite tale of the collection had to be The Yattering and Jack, a story of a battle of wills between a gherkin salesman and the demons assigned to drive him crazy. This story was full of such fun, funny moments that I didn’t expect some of the twists along the way. Being that it’s Zombie Awareness Month, it was nice to see that there was a story dealing with the living dead of a sort. In Sex, Death and Starshine, a struggling theatre is putting on a production of Twelth Night staring a vapid soap actress. When a strange accident befalls the star, the director finds the most odd of replacements, who finds an audience all her own. I loved this story. It started out strange to me, but I was instantly thrust into the story through a menagerie of outrageous characters. The Midnight Meat Train started as a traditional New York City serial killer tale, but takes a strange turn. Talking about strange, the last two tales had some of the most bizarre horror imagery I had ever read. and I won’t even describe them here because it may lessen the impact for those who end up reading.  With each tale, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights,

Audiobook producers tend to take two approaches when casting anthologies, they either hire a single narrator to read all the tales, or they cast each story. Luckily, Crossroads Press took the later approach to casting, bringing in a strong group of narrators, each suited to the tale. Chris Patton started it off with the framework tale. Despite it being short Patton pulled all the creepiness out of the tale, and slung it right into the faces of the listeners. Jeffrey Kafer read The Midnight Meat Train. What I enjoyed about Kafer’s reading was that he didn’t fall into traditional stereotypical voices. I hate when a character runs into some conspiracy spouting dude at a bar in NYC and they make him sound like a West Virginian hick. Kafer created authentic characters and had a keen sense of pacing as the train sped to it’s horrific finale. Dick Hill was the perfect choice for The Yattering and Jack. His precise pacing accentuated the humor of the tale, upping each absurd moment to the max. Peter Berkrot’s reading of Pig Blood Blues gave me chills, balancing the matter of fact protagonist of the story with the ethereal tones. Sometimes when you become familiar with a narrator, you start imagining them in the role of the protagonist of the story you are reading. So, I wasn’t happy hearing Simon Vance describe the sexual encounters of Theater director Terry Calloway. Other than that, Vance gave his typical performance, which is spot on. The highlight of his story was the theatrical Mr. Litchfield which Vance captured perfectly. Finally, there was Chet Williamson. This was my first time listening to one of Williamson’s narrations, and I felt he had just the right raw creepiness in his tone. Honestly, this story, In the Hills, the Cities, was probably the tale I struggled with the most. It took me a bit to get into, but Williamson’s reading of the stunning finale was paced wonderfully creating one of the most strangely beautiful moments of the audiobook. The Books of Blood is an excellent audio production of one of the masters of horror. Even the stories that I struggled with managed to find a place in my nightmare, thanks largely to the excellent work of the narrators.

Special Thanks to Crossroad Press for providing me with a copy of the title for review.


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Audiobook Review: The Safe Man and Mulholland Dive by Michael Connelly

29 11 2012

This is the time of year for sales. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Twofer Tuesday, and We’re Broke Wednesday, the American people are all about value. So, today, I will tap into the consumer spirit and give you two Audiobook Reviews! You can thank me later.

If you are anything like me, and this is an arbiter of good taste, then you anxiously await each new edition in Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. Connelly is one of the few thriller authors that has me hooked into more than one of his series, the other being that infamous Lincoln loving lawyer Mickey Haller. So, whenever a fresh new book with Connelly’s name attached to it comes out, I just have to have it. The latest Harry Bosch just hit the digital and physical shelves, and to get into the mood last week, I listened to two of his recently released audiobooks, a novella called The Safe Man, and a short story collection called Mulholland Dive.

The Safe Man by Michael Connelly

Read by David W. Collins

Hachette Audio

Length: 1 Hr 33 Min

Genre: Supernatural Suspense

Grade: B+

I love when authors break away from what you expect and explore areas that they typically don’t. From what I have read, this novella was originally published anonymously, yet, despite it being a break away from his typically straight forward Detective thrillers, it has a lot of the signature style of Michael Connelly. Connelly creates a haunting, moody atmosphere in this tale of a Safe Man who is hired to open a strange safe, which leaves him feeling uneasy. While its essence is that of a ghost story, and a unique one at that, also is a fascinating look at a man unjustly accused of a crime, and how easily people can lose faith in someone. I really enjoyed this story, and would love to see Connelly do more work in this genre. With his talent for setting mood and creating flawed by engaging characters, Connelly can definitely spin quite a Supernatural yarn.


Mulholland Dive: Three Stories by Michael Connelly

Read by David W. Collins

Hachette Audio

Length: 1 Hr 51 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction/Thriller

Grade: B

In Mulholland Dive Connelly tackles what he does best, Crime Fiction and Procedurals. He spins three stories, each dealing with a different perspective on Crime. In “Cahoots” he examines the criminal mindset through a twisted poker game among criminals, where the only way to win is to stack the decks. In “Mulholland Dive” he makes accident reconstruction actually interesting as a Police analyst investigates the death of a high profile victim. In the best story of the collection “Two Bagger“, Connelly follows two cops, a hardened veteran detective and his rookie partner, as they follow a recently released prisoner who may have been hired to kill someone on the outside. “Two Bagger” is a wonderful example of what makes Connelly such a great writer. Connelly gives emotional connection to the mundane, turning a baseball game into a metaphor for life. It’s a stunning story with a killer ending, and, personally, I think would make a brilliant movie. While many short story anthologies are sort of like a snack before the meal, Mulholland Dive, and the story “Two Bagger” in particular, is hearty enough for the hungriest of eaters.


This is my first experience with David W. Collins and I really enjoyed his reading of both audiobooks. Collins has a pretty straight forward reading style. While there weren’t a whole lot of bells and whistles to his reading, I was impressed with his versatility in character voices. Collins did a wonderful job creating the mood in The Safe Man, giving the story a haunting presence while properly progressing the main character from meticulous technician, to a man frustrated by the circumstances. In Mulholland Dive, he gives each story its proper feel, from the old time noir feel of “Cahoots” to the rhythms of urban LA in “Two Bagger.” Connelly’s work never needs a narrator who performs vocal gymnastic, just one who understands the natural rhythms of his writing, and Collins fit the bill. 

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with copies of these titles for review.