Kailua Kona, HI, United States
I am a great fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series ~ read or listened to them all, most more than once, usually well satisfied. Not this time. The latest Reacher "thriller" is anything but thrilling. If you decide to give it a listen, you can expect:
~ An exceptionally tedious first 90 minutes that seems to have no purpose other than to establish that Reacher can, in fact, drive a car.
~ An evil plot we do not discover until the end of the novel and still find very difficult to care about.
~ A mastermind who makes two appearances, is completely undistinguished, and almost impossible to actually care about.
~ A secondary villain we meet just one time and have no real reason to hate.
~ An exceedingly ho-hum "call to action" for Reacher. We don't know these people so why should we care.
There are MANY more shortcomings here. All in all, A Wanted Man reads/listens as if Lee Child had better things to do and just phoned-in a story, and a weak one at that. Child never develops the characters so that we can even begin to care about them; he does not develop the challenge so we can hardly care about it; and he doesn't even have Reacher hit anyone until more than half way through the novel (which is, of course, what Reacher does best). Even Dick Hill seems bored reading this thing.
Come on! Lee Child can do better than this; he always has. And we, as readers, deserve MUCH better. Skip this one.
If you decide to skip this, here is all you really need to know to bridge the gap from Worth Dying For to the next (better, please) Reacher novel. Small spoilers follow:
Reacher is still hitch-hiking toward Virginia. He still has a broken nose. He gets tangled up with a minor terrorist-related scheme (albeit a largely non-violent one), kills everyone, and is back on the road as the novel ends. You won't care about the details and, if you listen through the 14 hours, you still won't remember them, anyway). The book is THAT bad.
Stumble upon a true 5-star novel and you are grateful for heft. Five hundred pages reading ... 15 hours listening ... GREAT! The more, the better. You just don't want the story to end. With A Case of Redemption, though, the 11-hour heft of the novel is a weakness, and redemption comes only in the last 100 minutes or so.
Admittedly, legal thrillers rarely deliver a solid 5-star experience. By their nature, they ARE formulaic (at least usually). The protagonists recognizably fall into one of a very few "types" ~ world weary veteran ... naive young go-getter ... fallen star wounded by life. And, of course, the plots usually follow the same investigation ~ discovery ~ revelation ~ trial ~ verdict pattern. Of course, there are exceptions (Turow, Connelly, early Grisham), and THEY redeem the genre.
A Case of Redemption is not one of those rare and welcome exceptions. But it is not entirely formulaic either. There are surprises here. There is a late plot twist (or two). And it is these surprises that ultimately earn A Case of Redemption a listen.
Otherwise, though, the tale is disappointing.
Character development, for example, is largely unconvincing. Do we really believe a year of binge drinking can just stop, in a few days, because a pretty girl asks you for a favor you aren't sure you should grant? Do we really believe a new job, reluctantly accepted, can instantly vanquish debilitating grief? Do we really believe that at the same time a lawyer is faced with a growing body of lies from his client, he will become increasingly convinced of that client's innocence?
The plot provides little relief. For much of the novel, the plot is entirely predictable. There is really little doubt of the identity of the villain. We can tell who it is before the characters seem to know, even though they have all the information we do (this is a first person narration, after all). And while we come to loath the villain, he is unidimensional; Mitzner never reveals more than a stereotype and only lightly explores motive.
Perhaps least forgivable are the errors of law and practice that litter Mitzner's courtroom scenes. Would it really have been that difficult to fact check this sort of thing?
All these weaknesses notwithstanding, you may well conclude that A Case of Redemption is itself redeemed by the surprising conclusion. For me, it was. The hour or two from the last of the courtroom action, through the end of the novel, made this listen, on balance, a worthwhile investment of time and credit.
IMPORTANT: Since the late plot twists are such "ah ha" moments, you will want to be especially careful of spoilers. Unfortunately, there are some in other reviews here. If you want to experience all the surprises as Mitzner intended (and not at the hands of an Audible reviewer) avoid the reviews entitled, "At Last ... A GOOOD Book" and "Suspenseful."
Finally, a few words about the narration. Collins is an able reader who maintained an appropriate pace throughout his narration. However, he has trouble with some pronunciations (why is this so prevalent among readers?). And, more important, he made a remarkably poor choice in the "voice" he selected for Dan, the main protagonist (and first person narrator). Dan is a 40-something man who has been beaten down by tragedy, which he faced by retreating from the world and into a bottle. Collins "voice" for him, on the other hand, is youthful and immature. The disconnect is especially jarring every time Dan mentions his age.
So, do you spend the credit, and more valuable, 11 hours of your time? If you have not yet experienced legal thrillers by the masters of the genre, go there first. Scott Turow, Michael Connelly or John Grisham can, and often do, deliver full 5-star listens. On the other hand, if you have plumbed those works, enjoy the genre, and relish late plot twists and surprising endings, then redeem your credit here.
Leningrad, in winter, is brutally cold. Real hunger is a gnawing beast. Relief from either, as welcome as it may be, merely releases the exhaustion that the pain of cold and the ache of hunger had kept at bay.
We know this, not because David Benioff told us, but because we experienced it through the remarkable characters of City of Thieves. Benioff crafts his characters so deftly, and with such originality and empathy, that we are drawn into his story completely. We don't read it; we live it.
City of Thieves is a character-driven tale set in Leningrad at war. We travel with Benioff's protagonists, Lev and Kolya, through this besieged city, on a quest that is both trivial and life-threatening, to find a dozen eggs. Their fear, their hunger, their rage, their hope, their grief ... these aren't emotions we read about. We feel them, and empathize because Benioff has drawn his characters so robustly.
Benioff has done this, in large part, through the little details he has sprinkled so generously throughout the narration. In many ways, the details carry us forward, through a very tight plot, that never really loses intensity. The details create the mental images that endure ... the *giant's" rooms, the city's defenses, the Colonel's petty corruption, the Nazi's instances of unimaginable cruelty, and much, much more.
What might otherwise be a soul-crushing story, is made bearable (and even somehow ennobling) by regular injections humor ~ often war-weary or cynical ~ but real enough and creative enough, that you will find yourself smiling and laughing much more often than you would expect. At least I did.
Even the profanity is wildly imaginative and, far from being gratuitous, is an important, and welcome, part of the story.
City of Thieves is narrated wonderfully by Ron Perlman. Here, the narration really does add to the story. Characters are presented faithfully; their voices ring true and are just what you would expect for them. Pace is flawless; pronunciation equally so (something that is increasingly rare in audiobooks these days)
City of Thieves is more than worth the time and the credit. This one is a keeper. Do yourself a favor.
Any time Lincoln Rhyme is called into action, I can count on Jeffrey Deaver to deliver hours of enjoyable diversion, either in print or on audio. Any time, that is, until now.
In print, The Kill Room might equal Deaver's earlier works. I wouldn't know. I made the mistake of listening to the tale. And the new, multi-voiced narration of this work harms the story-telling so greatly, it surprises me that any audio producer would sacrifice his reputation by allowing it to reach listeners.
Audio casting is remarkably bad. Rhyme is presented in a weak, petulant voice, undermining the gravitas that our disabled forensic investigator presented in early audiobooks (and films). Sachs is even worse, portrayed with a voice that is not serious and is almost flitty. All this is even more disappointing since previous narrators, including the great George Guidall and Dennis Boutsikaris, performed so outstandingly that they enhanced Deaver's work.
Worse, something went wrong technically with the merging of these voices. You can hear that these two voices were not actually recorded at the same time and that Sachs was spliced into the overall audio. This is so jarring and so noticeable, it is unforgivable that professionals would not have corrected it before releasing the "finished" product.
There are worse narrations in the Audible catalog, but none for such a high-profile, popular novelist. How did this happen?
Narration aside, the plot is interesting and offers a few surprises. Rhyme continues to be developed nicely as a character, as does Sachs. This may not be Deaver's "A" game, but it isn't too far off the mark.
In short, The Kill Room is worth a READ, but not a listen. This time, buy the BOOK.
The Ironman Triathlon comes to our little Island this week which seemed a good enough reason to dust off Richard Bachman/Stephen King's The Long Walk. I've read the book but had not listened to the audio before.
First observation ~ in this case, the audio is better than the book. Kirby Heyborne is first rate; his characterizations are distinct and consistent. As the characters move from fatigue to exhaustion to agony and beyond, you can hear the transformations in his voice. The guy is very good.
So, of course, is the book. If you are new to Stephen King's Richard Bachman period, you should know that the Bachman books are fairly described as King's darker ones. Yes, it is hard to accept that Pet Cemetery, Carrie, The Shining and the rest of King's oeuvre don't represent the limit of King's horror. They don't. Listen to The Long Walk and you will understand why.
The difference between King writing as King and King writing as Bachman ~ especially here in The Long Walk ~ is the presence or absence of hope. Even in the darkest of the King novels (perhaps, Pet Cemetery), the characters never abandon hope, even when that hope is ultimately self-destructive.
The Bachman books are different. Hope ~ for success, redemption, love, almost anything ~ is stripped away from the characters, sometimes dramatically all-at-once, sometimes incrementally. We, the readers, are then faced with what is left. Often, that is a new and profound terror.
The Long Walk is the archetype for such a plot. It is an amazingly compelling, step-by-step telling of the defining contest in an America that is recognizable to us, but has somehow strayed far off course. We are given just a few hints of how this happened and they are offered in passing, not as central plot elements. What the plot focuses on is the defining manifestation of this redrawn America ~ The Long Walk. Through it, we can see the contours of this new America.
And all that is just background. The story you will remember, the story King tells, is of the boys on this long walk. Avoiding spoilers, we watch them begin their competition as any boys would ~ with bluster and bravado, good humor and mischief. We watch as they test themselves, over a very long walk (recounted in a long 10+ hour tale). We watch them slowly stripped of, well, everything. And, in the end, we find ourselves, too, stripped of hope.
This is not horror in the sense of monsters and dungeons. There are no "gotcha" moments, no cheap thrills. This is a higher grade, more insidious terror. And, that makes it all the more compelling.
Spend the credit. Listen to the novel. Don't worry, you'll still be able to fall asleep afterwards. You just might not like your dreams.
John Sandford is a terrific writer and the creator of both the Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers mystery series. Both series have given fans some great reads (or listens) and Sandford has certainly earned his place among the very best crime/mystery writers. I'm a fan and I've read (or listened to) everyone one of his books, many more than once.
I'm glad I read this latest Virgil Flowers mystery and, as a fan, will be unlikely to miss the next one. Mad River is an enjoyable, sometimes suspenseful listen. If you are a fan, its worth the credit.
That said, this is not the right book to introduce you to Virgil Flowers or to hook you on the series. Something is going on with John Sandford and it is not leading to great books. It seems Sandford is losing steam with both his series. Plots, character development, local color are all a bit less compelling than they once were.
Perhaps this is understandable with the long-running (22-book) Davenport series. But Sandford's Virgil Flowers offerings (of which this is the 6th) have seemed a fresh and exciting new start. That may yet prove out, but this latest novel is merely a good tale from an author we know can produce great ones.
Listening to Mad River was more like listening to a straight chronology of events than to a novel. The events were well-related and the new characters were engaging enough (although by no means compelling). But it seemed like this story was something Sandford just had to get off his chest, so he told it too straight. As a result, much of the spark Sandford brings to his tales (GREAT local color, plot twists, solid character development) are missing.
I don't want to be too harsh here. If we weren't talking about John Sandford here, the story would probably rate a 4 instead of a 3. I'm not sorry I spent time with this audio, and the plot was sufficiently interesting to be remembered. But if this type of story-telling is the new normal for John Sandford, I'm not sure how long I will be anxiously anticipating his next work.
The best advice I can offer (as others have) is that this is certainly a creditworthy mystery for the Virgil Flowers/John Sandford/Lucas Davenport fan. For everyone else, start with the earlier works and become a fan, first.
How did I miss Chris Grabenstein for all these years? The guy is a terrific writer with a light touch, solid character development and engaging plot lines. Every one of his Ceepak mysteries is worth a listen ~ Fun House, his latest, is no exception.
Here, you can expect the same fast paced action, Ceepak understatement, and Danny Boyle humor we enjoyed in the first six mysteries. You also are rewarded with a terrific values clash between the straight-laced Ceepak and the anything-for-ratings world of Reality TV. Even if we had not been punished by the dominance of reality TV for a decade now, it would be easy to hate its minions from this mystery alone. They are detestable and Grabenstein shines a spotlight on them.
Fun House is just that ~ a fun read. Danny Boyle and John Ceepak continue to develop as characters, and their town of Sea Haven continues to come alive with return appearances from locals and wonderful descriptions of this Down the Shore beach town. Delivery could NOT be better ~ Jeff Woodman has these characters down cold.
Enough review. This one will keep you hooked and make you laugh. Grab it. Listen. Kinda like a funnel cake ~ you'll enjoy it while you're listening and still have room for more.
Chris Grabenstein's debut novel offers exactly what you would expect from any amusement park fare ~ a bit of excitement ~ treats that are tasty but not especially filling ~ plenty of twists and turns ~ a fun ride. Add in a couple of well-drawn, likeable characters and a plot that is well-paced and at least a little unpredictable and you have a terrific escapist listen.
Tilt-A-Whirl is the first in an ongoing series of mysteries, set in a New Jersey beach town and featuring MP turned beach cop John Ceepak. Ceepak seems to be modeled after Dragnet's Joe Friday ~ straight-laced and spare with words. He is every bit as engaging as is his young partner, and our narrator.
This is an escapist mystery ~ a guilty pleasure, perhaps, but a pleasure all the same. Not great literature, to be sure, and worlds will not end if our heroes fail. But this a great good time, which is pretty much everything you can expect from a novel named after an amusement park ride and bearing a pink cover. We get the full ride with this listen and it is more than enough to satisfy.
Spend the credit here. You won't be disappointed.
I have listened my way through Sue Grafton's alphabet and been rewarded with better and better tales. This is no exception.
This is a nice listen ~ an exciting story with engaging characters we can grow to care about.
Grafton is particularly successful in "maturing" Kinsey ~ the irreverence is still present, but it is less overpowering. Instead, we meet a more grown-up Kinsey, someone capable of really caring about others (even a cat!), of intense self-examination, of emotional growth and of committed romance. This is not the Kinsey of the early alphabet ~ this is a much more real character and one it is much easier to care for.
It is especially welcome to see Kinsey begin to develop friendships (romantic and otherwise). Such relationships have never seemed quite real in the past, in part because Grafton crafted Kinsey as a loner. Now the shell is cracking a bit, and a new Kinsey seems to be emerging.
The other characters are equally well developed. We can empathize with them, become frustrated by them, or disapprove of their behavior. We learn a bit more about the regulars (Henry, William, Rosie) and we meet some very well drawn episodic characters.
Grafton does an especially good job with the "villains" ~ both great and small. They are certainly bad enough, but Grafton gives them credible motivations for their behavior. No one likes to admit they are evil and these "bad guys" all have their own motivations and explanations that leave them less blameworthy, less evil (at least in their own eyes). This is how the real world works, and it is refreshing to see it reflected so aptly in fiction.
I've read through some of the other reviews and I do not understand the thoroughly negative ones. Grafton has never rushed her stories, and the extra details she offers help round out her characters and the world they inhabit. This leads to longish (11 hour) but certainly not overly long tales and, importantly, a series that develops and matures. Too long for you? Speed up your playback or shift to an abridged version.
For me, and happily for most other reviewers, this is just the right length and a creditworthy addition to the Kinsey Millhone series. With it, Sue Grafton is coming into her own. It almost makes you sorry the alphabet has only 26 letters.
This is a new development in Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series: a Kinsey mystery based on a real life crime. Grafton recounts the details in an afternote. Wait for it following Kinsey's formulaic "Respectfully Submitted" sign-off. The Afternote is worth a listen. So is Quarry itself.
Grafton's mysteries are usually simple, diverting pleasures ~ especially with Judy Kaye narrating. Grafton delivers here, too, but there is also an interesting "deeper" theme. As she has done haltingly in earlier novels, Grafton touches on and explores the nature of family throughout this tale. For her, as for Kinsey, family is a broad notion, encompassing traditional families (functional and not) as well as the familial relationships that develop between friends and colleagues.
Kinsey is buffeted (gently) by this recurring theme, throughout Quarry. Keep an ear out for developments in her relationships with her estranged Aunts and Cousins, with Henry (and his new friends), with Stacy and Dolan (and even the 90+ year old Dentist she visits), and with her memories of her own parents (which are explored more deeply than in the past). It is all a nice counterpoint to the more formal plot which, in turn, has its own familial components.
Of course, as the comedian Dennis Miller observes: That's just my opinion. I could be wrong. About the family theme, that is. No worries about the novel itself ~ nothing wrong there ~ it's an easy, pleasant diversion.
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