I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
I grew up on Sherlock Holmes. I have raided these stories countless times over my life, and I've compared them endlessly to the pastiches, knock-offs, parodies, and various screen and radio adaptations. This is no small feat, considering that perhaps only Dracula rivals the Great Detective in sheer amounts of spin-off material. As a result, I am going to be unabashedly biased here and just say this straight out:
You will not find a better audio version of these works anywhere, and the only competition this collection has is the print equivalent. For a single credit? This is more than a bargain; it's a steal.
This is Holmes and Watson, in their original forms, as products of their time and place, unabashedly Victorian and ahead of their time right from the outset, regardless of how many religious groups or racist cults they anger in the process. There is nothing remotely politically correct about them, and in the case of Holmes himself, it would be completely against his abrasive character to be toned down. The result is that you get some screwball historical curiosity mixed in with the otherwise astounding adventures within this collection.
For those well-versed with the classic canon, I did notice that "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" is posted later, within His Last Bow, rather than within The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Look up Memoirs on Wiki for the story behind that, but suffice to say, it does mark this collection as an American edition. Seems wrong for something so British, but hey, if this is the worst thing I can say about this collection, that makes me a very happy fanboy. My hardcover leatherbound collection has the same issue, so I kind of expected it. Note to self: fix that someday.
As narrator... I could not ask for better than the great Simon Vance, save for maybe a resurrection of TV's Jeremy Brett. Even then, it's a toss-up. Vance is one of my favorite Audible narrators, and I've had his voice along for more modern Holmes short story collections. As both Holmes and Watson, he is perfect. He also does an amazing job juggling the other characters and their myriad accents throughout the stories, bringing the tales of the Great Detective to uncanny life. If it were possible for him to play Holmes' violin during the recording, I half expect he'd try it. As it is, I can almost hear it anyway, such is the quality.
Collections like this will always affirm for me that no matter who tries to modernize them to make them somehow "more relevant," the truly great stories and characters, especially of this caliber, are beyond reproach and beyond improvement.
The first thing to know about this book is how racially stereotyped and offensive it is, being a product of its time. On the plus side, Fleming is an equal-opportunity offender. Everyone gets a crack at being insulted, and nobody seems to notice within the confines of the story.
The books is quite a bit different from the film version, with elements of it being strewn across a handful of films. The main villain, Mr. Big, is a great deal more impressive than his screen counterpart, and his reputation as the zombie of Baron Semadi is actually rather inspired when the Voodoo cult is compared to the superstitions and culture of the Celtic people as Bond points out.
All in all, it's an uncomfortable read, but if you can square away the modern perceptions of what you find here (good luck with that), then it's still an enjoyable story. Bond is still very much in development here, so some of his character may surprise new readers.
Rory Kinnear gives an outstanding performance as narrator. Playing up a multicultural character set with so many "problems" might seem difficult, but his delivery is authentic and professional, or at least it was to me. Kudos to him.
When AudioGo first announced this round of new recordings a couple of years ago, I was manic to have them. I own copies of the original Simon Vance recordings from my pre-Audible days, which are phenomenal, but being the Bond fan that I am, I'm always curious to see what others can bring to the table. Then I found out these new recordings weren't available outside of the UK, and my heart sank. I prayed Audible would bring them to me.
At last, my prayers have been answered, and wouldn't you know, I had to hunt for them. Instead of referring to them by their official series name of "007 Reloaded," they're called "celebrity performances." Well, by any other name, it means my 2 credits a month are dedicated for the next few months (barring Star Wars releases), and not being independently wealthy, I can't afford to spring for them all at once as I'd like to do. Curses, foiled again.
Be that as it may, I have begun the series, and I'm over the moon impressed with this new performance by Dan Stevens. He impressed me with his work on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and his work here is every bit as nuanced and incredible. I almost wish he could do the rest of them too, but the point is to have a variety of talent for this series, so I'm looking forward to riding that wave. As many times as I've gone through the original novels, I'm still not as familiar with them as I am the films, and this provides the perfect excuse for me to dive in again and live with them for a while.
For those new to the original Fleming novels, this is a great introduction to the series. You almost have to forget what you've seen on screen and take Bond in his original cold war context, but thanks to the recent Daniel Craig films coming closer to Fleming's work, the in-road to the classic version has never been friendlier. It might take some getting used to Bond using a Beretta instead of the Walther PPK, or driving a Bentley instead of the Aston Martin, but the core of everything that is Bond starts here and evolves into what we've come to know and love throughout the series. Fleming's incredible detail brings these stories to life at every level, from Bond's scoping the room for signs of intrusion and tampering, to food and drink, to the gambling tables, to the torture sequences, and beyond. It's visceral in a way that can only come happen thanks to practical, real world experience. That's what separates Bond from his world of knock-offs and wanna-be copycats. Setting the standard of all that's come before and all that will come to be in the action/spy genre, regardless of medium, there's only one name you need to know. The name's Bond. James Bond.