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: Line of Fire by Stephen White

21 08 2012

Line of Fire by Stephen White (Dr. Alan Gregory Series, Book 19)

Read by Dick Hill

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hors 43 Min

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Line of Fire is a slower, more contemplative novel in the Alan Gregory Series. Instead of Alan solving a crime, he is attempting to solve and salvage his life and the lives of those he loves. While many may find this frustrating, I found it brilliant and heartbreaking and it left me yearning for the series finale.

Grade: B+

Line of Fire by Stephen White is the penultimate volume in his series featuring Boulder Colorado psychologist Dr. Alan Gregory. The fact that the series will be ending with its 20th edition both saddens and excites me. I will hate to see this series go. Dr. Alan Gregory isn’t your typical thriller hero. He doesn’t secretly posses ninja skills and he never served as an Army Ranger. In fact, he’s pretty much a boring, mediocre guy that you wouldn’t give a second thought to if you saw him walking down the street. I will be very sad to see this character leave my literary world, but I am also kind of happy that White decided to end this series on his own terms. There are so many series out there that seem to push out their yearly edition to the titular characters series without much progression to the overall development of the plot or character. Yet, one thing White has managed to do is progress the series. The Alan Gregory today isn’t the same man we met in the first novel, Privileged Information. He is a bit more world weary, a lot more experienced, and most importantly, a lot more developed as a character. It’s interesting what White has done to this character over the series. He is a man who is a bit of a push over. He is married to a strong willed and kind of unlikable woman who, in my opinion, never really seems to appreciate him. Throughout the series, his best friends, two strong, but actually likeable women and a Boulder County Police Officer, all of which sort of push him around as well. Yet, instead of making his into this super assertive character, White has allowed him to develop mechanisms to deal with his faults. More importantly, over the past few editions, White has explored more and more into Alan’s past, showing us exactly why he has become the man he is today. It’s a progression that felt like it was leading somewhere, and it seems that eventual destination begins in The Line of Fire.

Usually in an Alan Gregory novel, some external motivational force, like a murder or kidnapping, that connects in some way to one of the doctor’s cases, leads him into some adventure. Yet, in Line of Fire, the motivation is all internal. While the city of Boulder is dealing with one of it’s largest wildfires to date, a   careless moment between Alan and Sam may just expose their deepest secret, potentially leading to the destruction of everything they hold dear. Also, a mesmerizing new client may hold the secret to one of his dearest friend’s erratic behavior.  Line of Fire is a psychological thriller with a big emphasis on the psychological. Personally, I thought the direction that Stephen White took this novel was inspired brilliance. White pulls together subplots going back as far as book 1, to put Alan and Sam in the most precarious spot of the entire series. Instead of trying to solve a murder or save a client, Alan is trying to keep the pieces of his life, his friendships, family and business, from crashing around him. This book definitely downplays the action and spends a lot of time in Alan’s head, forcing him to take on things he would much rather keep buried. White is simply brutal to his main character in this novel, taking everything he finds solace in, and tearing it from under his feet. While you know a lot of it is due to choices made by the characters in the novel, it is still hard to watch at times. Alan Gregory is one of those characters you want to see succeed, yet, his greatest strength, the fact that he is willing to do anything for those he loves, may just become the instrument for his destruction. My emotions ran the gambit in this novel. I was angry and frustrated at one moment, then utterly heartbroken the next. Now, some readers may be disappointed with this novel and its direction. As the first chapter in the two book arch that will end the series, Line of Fire doesn’t have the kind of clean ending you expect from the series. Much of the book is wrapped up, but there is definitely a feel of unfinished business as the novel comes to a close. Line of Fire is a slower, more contemplative novel in the Alan Gregory Series. Instead of Alan solving a crime, he is attempting to solve and salvage his life and the lives of those he loves. While many may find this frustrating, I found it brilliant and heartbreaking and it left me yearning for the series finale.

Again, Dick Hill is on board as narrator to bring Alan Gregory to life. While Dick Hill is quite respected in his ability to bring the big, bad assed, butt kicking hero types to life, I have always enjoyed the softness that he brings to the Alan Gregory character. Alan is never smooth, often fumbling over his words and his thoughts, and spends a lot of time     over analyzing life’s minutia within the walls of his own mind. While Hill captures the strengths of this character, he always gives him a slight edge of uneasiness that fits the character well. Also, you just have to love Hill’s Sam Purdy. Purdy is the crotchety cop friend that seems to become the staple of many thrillers, but in this series, he’s broken away enough from the stereotype to becomes something more. Hill manages to bring out a lot of Purdy’s dark humor and at the same times displays Purdy’s struggle between his dinosaur nature and his attempts to become more open minded. Even with a tremendous amount of heartbreakingly emotional moments, and our characters being in extreme desperate states, Hill manages to bring the fun and humor of the series to life. There is only one more chapter in Dr. Alan Gregory’s life left to go, and I await it with fearful anticipation.

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