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: Defending Jacob by William Landay

31 01 2012

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Read by Grover Gardner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Legal Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Defending Jacob made my courtroom thriller loving heart sing for joy, a well written, deftly plotted legal tale that was full of hidden depths. Fans of crime fiction, even if not particularly legal thriller fans, should not miss this utterly enthralling novel. 

Grade: A

Maybe I’m the only one, but for some reason I think it’s sort of weird that my two favorite subgenres of fiction are Post Apocalyptic Scifi, and courtroom thrillers. I mean, shouldn’t your favorites of anything be sort of similar? To me, that would be like saying my favorite two flavors of ice cream are mango and battery acid. Yet, it’s the truth. For years, those are the two types of novels I loved. As a teenager I would rotate between reading The Stand, or Swan Song, with novels by Scott Turow or John Grisham. In high school the two novels that I reread the most were The Stand and Phillip Freedman’s Inadmissible Evidence. When asked what career I aspired to be, my typical answer was lawyer, mostly because when I answered Apocalyptic Road Warrior adults tended to frown at me. Yet, I feel that after the big Grisham boon, legal thrillers, particularly actual courtroom thrillers, took a down turn. Sure, there were occasional decent novels from people like Paul Levine, William Bernhardt and others, but I felt a lot of the established legal thriller writers moved away from solid courtroom tales, and branched into other thriller subgenres. At the same time, Post apocalyptic novels were starting their resurgence, and I slowly moved away from the mystery/suspense genre and science fiction and fantasy titles started dominating my reading. Yet, I am making a prediction. With series like Connelly’s Mickey Haller series, and a few standout standalones, courtroom thrillers are about to make a resurgence.  Especially, with the budding scientific and behavioral advances about to force our legal system to adapt, or become shamelessly ill prepared, legal fiction may be the perfect medium to highlight the social changes of our rapidly changing world.

The latest stellar legal thriller to tackle such an idea is William Landay’s Defending Jacob. Defending Jacob centers on a father’s worst nightmare, to find his 14 tear old son charged with the murder of a classmate. Landay’s main character, Andy Barber, is an assistant DA and investigating a brutal murder of a 14 year old boy when his son is arrested. Barber is a well conceived character with a fascinating secret that colors much of the book in interesting ways. Andy’s secret, which he withheld from himself as much as from his family, is that he comes from a long line of brutal violent men. In fact, he may just have what laymen call the murder gene. Defending Jacob is a fascinating look at the legal process, and how it changes everyone involved. Landay doesn’t just take us through the legal maneuverings, but also gives us a view into a family attempting to maintain an air of normalcy in a town where everyone thinks their son is a murderer, and trying to deal with the specter of the upcoming trial hanging over them. Landay deftly guides us through the plot, offering some very memorable scenes, from Andy’s first meeting with a father he’s tried to forget, to a particularly chilling scene where Andy and his wife lay in bed discussing a strange noise outside their house. There is so much depth to this tale, so much intricate plotting that even the predictable moments are filled with shocking undercurrents. My only true complain was the heavy handed foreshadowing used by the author throughout the book, lines like "it was a good day in court, but it would be our last" acted almost like author endorsed spoilers. Yet, even the foreshadowing, as I now look back on the novel, gave greater impact to the ending of the novel which was brilliant and devastating. Defending Jacob made my courtroom thriller loving heart sing for joy, a well written, deftly plotted legal tale that was full of hidden depths. Fans of crime fiction, even if not particularly legal thriller fans, should not miss this utterly enthralling novel.  

Every time I listen to a Grover Gardner narration, I feel like I have been tricked. Gardner has this wonderful voice that is just suited for first person narratives.  He almost sounds like your favorite uncle, the one who always has the best stories to tell you. You become so used to his voice, one that has a unique quality to it, that, especially in first person tales, it takes you a while to realize just how well he is voicing the peripheral characters. You expect to hear his normal narrative tones saturate all the other characters, but in fact, they don’t. He truly finds authentic voices for those other characters. In Defending Jacob, I was happily listening, engrossed in a the story, Gardner allowing the words to push the narrative, when there was a scene between Andy and his father, and I realized just how authentic it sounded. I think one of the hardest things for a narrator to do is have authentic sounding dialogue between two characters, and here it was like I was listening to a masters class on how to do it. Maybe I am being overly effusive, but, when I first heard Grover Gardner would be narrating The Stand, I wondered how he would handle all those characters. Characters that have become iconic to me. When I think of Grover Gardner, I always think of his voice and not his voices. Defending Jacob was just so well narrated, it only made me more excited when I remembered Gardner would be narrating my all time favorite novel. 

 

Note: A special thanks to the wonderful people at Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.