The author, Greg Iles, is a novelist who conveys the nuances of life in the deep South with the insight that only a native can. Dick Hill is on my short list of favorite audiobook narrators and to my ear, he is the true voice of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch. However, he is not the right choice to perform the accent of any character from a setting in the modern South. He uses bits and pieces of southern caricature snipped from Amos and Andy meets Gone With the Wind to produce his interpretation of contemporary life in the American South. These voices do not approach an accurate representation of what the well educated professional people in Greg Iles' stories should sound like. Rather, the accents are a mixture of antebellum field hands mixed with gangsta rap. Examples: "Wut fo" (What for?) and "Close da do" (Close the door). Equally unfortunate is his lack of knowledge of the correct pronunciation of place names: Natchez, Baton Rouge, Biloxi are examples. It is almost as if someone played a cruel joke on Hill by misdirecting him to repeatedly pronounce them in the most hysterical way possible. The credibility of an otherwise excellent reader is undermined by his lack of knowledge of the subject he has been asked to convey.
The clever and well-conceived story is spoiled by the distraction of the inaccurate narration.
There may be a political/military thriller of intrigue and treachery in here somewhere, but to get to it, a listener would have to overlook the most incompetent and annoying reader ever heard on Audible.
I could have sworn I was listening to a drunken Walter Matthau with a mouthful of marbles, trying to distinguish voices by slurring and whining. He attempted to add drama to his reading by pausing awkwardly and throwing in an occasional inflection or lilt to add emphasis on all the wrong words.
Thomas Block is now officially blacklisted from my candidates for future purchase.
The author freely mixes bits of modern parlance with his overuse of contrived Dickensian language. He wallows in the vernacular of the time, trying to convey a sense of life in 1699 America, but ultimately, the overuse is a distraction. Why say something plainly when you can force layers of awkward similes to make it sound "authentic". Edoardo Ballerini delivers this babble well, but he is unable to salvage the author's exuberance for flowery gibberish.
McCammon's attempts at eroticism come off as unfortunate and gratuitous sexual exploitation of his readers/listeners that would likely drive even Ken Follett to rethink what he believes the average reader secretly desires. McCammon is willing, even eager, to put a tawdry spin on nearly everything his poor characters do. After so much grungy titillation threatens the morality of his characters, his credibility takes a serious hit.
And when considering his trustworthiness as an author of historical fiction, his cavalier use of artistic license has to be challenged. His fact checking becomes secondary to inadvertently painting an inaccurate, but convenient portrait of life in the colonies. As a small example, the place where a blacksmith works is a smithy and he is referred to as a smith, not the other way round. The inaccuracies are troubling and they become such a distraction, that they undermine the strengths that an otherwise good story might have capitalized on.
This genre demands a lot from the reader/listener - not just a suspension of disbelief, but also a willingness to accept a bankrupt morality that doesn't exist in real life.
From the beginning, we know that no matter how hairy it gets for our hero, he's going to find some extraordinary way to get through the mess he's in, only to find himself in the next even more incredible predicament that he will once again will find a way to annihilate his opponent, and so on.
In The Gray Man, our badass ultradude is just another cardboard cutout superman who's deeper motives are never challenged and whose character is never examined in detail. He simply goes his everyday assassin way, killing everyone who's trying (unjustly) to kill him first.
On the plus side, you can casually listen to this book and not miss a thing. We know that he's going to make it to the next book, so we don't have to pay close attention to the shallow plot.
Carofiglio has imagined this story from the benefit of his real life experiences as an Italian magistrate (similar to much better known attorneys-turned-authors, Grisham and Turow). The peculiarities of the italian legal system are effortlessly woven into the routine of the main character's life so that they are interesting to outsiders, and easily understood.
Patrick Creagh's fluid translation coupled with Sean Barrett's elegant and versatile voice gives the illusion that this book was originally written in English. It is easy to take their efforts for granted, but successfully translated audiobooks are not that common ("The Thief" comes to mind as a poor effort).
Nakamura's plot is actually clever and occasionally suspenseful, but the translation and reading spoil any chance of appreciation for the writing. The translator chose to occasionally insert bits of out-of-place american slang for these japanese characters speaking in their native country. The result sounded preposterous and highlighted the deficiency of the translation.
Charlie Thurston (the reader) has such a limited range that he attempted to distinguish the voices by simply deepening his voice and slowing the pace of delivery. That might work if there were only two characters, but instead, every male other than the protagonist sounded identical. It reminded me of a child trying naively to imitate the voice of an adult. I am reminded of five-year-old Danny in Kubrick's The Shining, talking to his finger in that scary gravelly murmur.
This novel successfully took me to a distant and unfamiliar place and time. When I'm on the streets of New York these days, my mind's eye is often looking for the past, imagining the millions who've walked on every sidewalk or lived in any one of the scores of small apartments. In a place that has so many people, most of them transient, I'm fascinated by all of the life that must have taken place on a given spot.
Armor Towles' novel about one young woman's experiences of Manhattan in the late 30's illustrates what life there might have been like. Other reviewers have said it may not be a perfect picture of the city or it's people at that time, but it is a delightfully credible and believable story.
John Knowles' coming-of-age introspective is a well written tale that captures the turbulence, excitement and controversy of America's role in World War II, especially from the perspective of draft age young men. It also reveals the very personal interaction and peer rivalries of this group of elite boarding school boys.
Unfortunately, this classic has been undermined by the excessive use of unnecessary sound effects and distracting long musical interludes. Matthew Modine has turned in memorable performances as a movie actor, but his dull uninspired recitation of this story is like a summer camp letter to his mom. His monotone reading is only sparked when he stumbles over new parts of the story that he apparently had never read before undertaking this project.
As I listened to Peter Forbes in his wonderfully accented Scottish, describing the diverse and desolate landscape of these islands, I came upon an idea to "see" the countryside more fully. l used the Street View feature in Google Maps to "drive" around the Outer Hebrides as I listened.
By following the author's detailed descriptions of prominent physical features in the story, I easily found landmarks, settlements, and roadways. This gave me a much deeper appreciation of the setting while adding great credibility to Peter May's illustration of these places he obviously knows well.
As for the story itself, I came to admire May's device of occasionally inserting chapters written in the first person voice of the elderly Tormod Macdonald, who gives us insight into the frustration of what it must be like to live with dementia.
For valuable background of this second piece of the Lewis trilogy, I recommend listening to The Blackhouse before enjoying The Lewis Man. The third part, The Chase Men, is due out in 2013.
I actually came across the word "unputdownable" while searching my thesaurus for a word to describe this audiobook. Peter May has created a believable cast of characters to take us through a bleak but memorable landscape that is plagued with the baggage of fractured relationships of every kind. Peter Forbes beautiful scottish gives the story authenticity and credibility as he reads it with a confidence that made me think he could have lived it.
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