I was real ticked off at John Grisham after "The Broker". That was one bad novel, and I thought he was just trying to cash in on his name. With "The Racketeer" I'm happy to say that the real John Grisham is still alive and kicking.
The book is not exactly a legal thriller, although there is quite a lot of legal res gestae. It's more man-against-the-system, and the outcome is very satisfying. The protagonist, Mal Bannister (aka Max Baldwin) comes off as a very real and believable character. Grisham gives him plenty of depth and charisma, and you'll soon find yourself rooting for him.
The plot has plenty of twists. As the book unfolds explanations of things previously described come out in the narrative, like pulling the strings of a package to wrap it up nice and tight. You may be able to figure out a good bit of what's really going on, but there will be enough left to keep you turning pages (so to speak).
I though J.D. Jackson did a great job. As for his pacing, the narrative made clear that he had made an attempt to change his identity, and part of that change involved speaking more deeply and more slowly.
There were a few stretches required of my imagination. Like, if some hardened criminals wind up with a whole lot of money, are they really going to turn into good guys? And, can an ex-con own a bar? You'd think that would place him in contact with other convicted felons from time to time, which sounds risky to me.
On the whole this was a very good book, and well worth your time.
I have followed lots of references, reviews, and recommendations in looking for new mystery novels at Audible.com. I don't know how I stumbled over Eric Ambler, but I'm glad I did.
Ambler's story-telling, plot, dialog, pace, -- well, everything that makes a great book great -- are without equal. He is a master, and I intend to audio-read everything he has in Audible.com's library.
But recommending Ambler to other readers is like recommending Graham Greene: You already know it's good, and you don't need me to tell you so.
What this book did for me was to introduce me to the narrator Tim Bentinck. Bentinck has the most versatile and believable range of accents of any narrator I have yet encountered. In this book, I thought many times that there must be multiple narrators.
With respect to just two of the accents he portrays: I could not decide if he was a Brit able to put on an uncommonly good American accent, or an American who knew how to do Brit especially well.
Bentinck's range is phenomenal. The best part is, he sounds completely natural in whichever accent he delivers. What I mean by that is, say, consider George Guidall. He is one of the finest narrators in the business. But when you listen to him narrate, you always know it is Guidall! With Bentinck, not so. He really does sound like a lot of different people.
Disclaimer: If it turns out that there really were multiple narrators used in the production of this book, then, as Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, "never mind".
I have downloaded a few other of Bentnick's Ambler narrations. I'm currently into one in which a Dane is portrayed. So far, no reason to change anything I have written. He's good.
I loved the first of Robert Knott's "Robert B. Parker's ..." novels (Ironhorse). It was very faithful to the style of Parker, along with being a great yarn. In particular I liked Titus Welliver as the narrator. Welliver did all the previous Cole-Hitch books, and he was excellent. Rex Linn, not so much.
Linn does a fair job of sounding like a Gary Cooper playing a old time western marshal, as Cole and Hitch are intended. But they sound identical in his rendition. In fact almost everyone sounds the same, with the exception of the Mexicans in the story who sound the same but with an atrocious Mexican accent.
Mexican accents aside, there were other problems with the narration.
You know those parts in dialogs where the author inserts things like "he said", "Hitch replied" (and every prepubescent boy's favorite, "Jack asked")? Welliver did a great job of easing those into the background. WIth Linn, they have the same emphasis as the dialog, and it is jarring.
Equally jarring were the very often repeated one-word responses from Cole or Hitch (Hitch: "It's what we do." Cole: "Is.") Linn just can't pull these off, and he makes Cole's "Is" sound clumsy and inappropriate to the dialog.
I liked the story fine (despite wondering if Parker would have given a woman the nickname "Slingshot"). But given the narration, this book would be a lot better in print than narrated by Linn.
This book is probably Burke's first novel, first published in 1965. It consists of three stories loosely interwoven in Louisiana's seamier sides, including the fight game, blues singers, and prison camps. Early Burke sounds a lot like later Burke so far a tone, mood, and dialog. It's very good writing. But caution: these are not an uplifting stories. The prison camp in particular conjures up images of Cool Hand Luke's camp.
Except for the fact that everyone talks like some bland character from a TV family sitcom.
Not the dialog, Zeisler's narration. Escaped prisoners being chased through the marsh: they all sound the same, like a couple of frat boys talking about cars. Passionate lovemaking? Same thing. The woman even sounds the same, not like any woman I know and certainly not passionate. There's not even an attempt made to make some poor Louisiana coon-ass sound authentic. They're all the same, speaking with near monotone delivery. Everyone sounds like Zeisler ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
Well, all but one. For some reason Zeisler has to take a shot at a British accent. It's terrible, and the story doesn't even need a Brit. Zeisler could have just gone on with his coffee-ordering delivery and no one would be the wiser.
The only reason I can see that Simon and Schuster Audio picked Zeisler for this read is that he does a pretty good job singing some of the blues lyrics sprinkled throughout the book, or at least he has the guts to try. They should have used him for just the lyrics and got someone else, almost anyone else, to do the narration.
If I had it to do over again I would get the print version and try to imagine Will Patton or Mark Hammer narrating it.
Grisham takes us back into the courtroom, a setting in which he excels: The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, and on and on. Including, of course, the wonderful A Time to Kill (1989) with attorney Jake Brigance. In Sycamore Row Jake is back, this time wrapped up in defending a holographic will.
This book is a sequel to A Time to Kill only in that the same lawyers -- Harry Rex Vonner, Lucien Wilbanks, Jake -- are back in the same small Mississippi town, but if you've forgotten the earlier book you won't have any problem reading this. A few references to the trial in A Time to Kill are used to establish Jake as a stand-up guy, which is how he gets dragged into the business with the will in the first place. There are also some KKK types who threaten and harass Jake and his family over his defense of a black man in the earlier book, but all the needed backstory is provided.
The plot is tightly woven and well paced. There are a few elements that seem there just to provide color, like the slick Memphis lawyer who tosses a race-grenade into the courtroom, but then slips from the scene. I do wish Grisham had followed through a bit more with the rednecks, especially the one who was released on parole. I thought for sure that firebrand would be back, and I just love it when they get their comeuppance, but he too was written out of the plot.
It's a different kind of law than what we usually get in courtroom novels. It centers around a holographic will handwritten by a man on the eve of his suicide by hanging (from a sycamore tree, a fact you should keep in mind). It's established pretty early on that his kids, son and daughter, don't have much time for the old man, so you won't be surprised to learn they don't make out too well in this will. And of course, there's an earlier will out there, all lawyerly and notarized, in which the kids fare much better. Which will wins? Read on.
Michael Beck is excellent. He has a nice, unaffected style when he's just narrating, and then shows a great range of characterizations of the southerners portrayed here. From my short time living in Mississippi I can say the accents seem quite authentic. Beck gives each of the major characters his own distinct voice and keeps them consistent throughout the book.
No more free passes for Mister Grisham, not after the hugely disappointing The Broker. Now I approach every new Grisham book as a I would a new author. Interestingly this book is a sequel to one Grisham wrote when he was a new author and yes, it's just as good.
Somewhere in the first chapter I went back to Audible to make sure I hadn't bought a book by someone with a similar name. Nope, Max Allan Collins it says. I checked the copyright date, thinking this must be a re-released version of really early book, but no, 2013 it is.
The dialog is strange. One second a person is screaming hysterically, the next speaking calmly to the killer, then more hysteria. And what a strange plot - a traumatized teenager is institutionalized and doesn't speak one word for ten years, then sees a news report on TV and is instantly as normal as apple pie. Well, maybe rhubarb pie.
I had read almost everything Collins has written and loved it. This book was a big disappointment. It is so different from his usual tight plots and sparkling dialog that I wondered if he hadn't collaborated with someone but forgot to mention it to the publisher.
It seems to get a little better as time goes on, but sure never rose to the level of good. I think listening to Dan John Miller kept reminding me of the many hours I spent with him and Nate Heller, and that kept my hopes alive.
If you've never read Collins before, do yourself a favor and don't start with this one. Read everything else he's ever written first, you'll thank me.
I bought the print version for one main reason: to give to my wife, who always figures out the whodunnits while I am still floundering amid the clues and red herrings. Let's see her sort THIS one out!
You won't be able to say that the clues are obscure or concealed. Inspector Appleby reviews the facts and summarizes the case frequently, just in case you might have missed something. There was one bit that I thought was downplayed a bit for all its significance, but since my wife is an RN she should probably pick up on it. We'll see.
Anyway, it's classic stuff, English manor house, motives, means, opportunities, spies, a very clever mystery writer guest, and an even more clever inspector. There's an anagram that's about as subtle as Rumred, and a little forensic stuff for good measure. High society and political bigwigs in antebellum (WWII) England round out the cast.
Some knowledge of Shakespeare's Hamlet will help, maybe just the Cliff Notes or Wikipedia version.
Great narration. My first Matt Addis, and I'm looking forward to many more.
The only downside to reading this book is, I feel a little like I did when I first read Ngaio Marsh and then discovered that she had written scores of like books! Innes wrote a lot of books too. So many great books, so few credits remain. Maybe Audible will let me renew early.
It's not completely clear whether this book is all-original by Robert Knott, or his completion of a Robert B. Parker manuscript. The title sure suggests Parker started it, and the text copyright is given as "the estate of Robert B. Parker". But an author interview online makes it sound like Knott wrote the whole thing. Knott does appear to be uniquely qualified to pick up Parker's torch, as he co-wrote (with Ed Harris) the screenplay for Appaloosa, based on the first book in the Parker series.
In any case, if it didn't have Knott's name on it you wouldn't guess it wasn't written by Parker. It's written completely in the style that Parker developed for Marshall Virgil Cole and his Deputy Everett Hitch - tough, laconic, fair-minded, decisive, courteous to the ladies and the bad guys' worst nightmares. A little like having two Gary Coopers in High Noon. Virgil does have a breaking point though. He would normally not kill a man unless he was looking him in the eye, but this one SOB abused horses, so ...
Virgil and Everett are back, wrapped up with train robbers of the meanest sort and damsels in distress of the purest sort. The book's a classic western in the tradition of Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. There's never any doubt that the good guys are going to prevail, but it's a lot of fun to watch them do it.
Titus Welliver has narrated every book in the Cole-Hitch audiobook series, and he's the perfect man for the job. Some of the dialog between Virgil and Everett consists of a series of one or two word statements (they never quite say "yup"); Welliver delivers these lines flawlessly, and you're never aware of the author's "Virgil said" or "Everett said". It's like listening to a dialog in a movie.
Newcomers to the series shouldn't miss out on much by starting with this book or any other in the series - the back-story is suggested but not necessary to enjoy the book. Virgil's girlfriend Allie French doesn't make an appearance, but there are several references to her, none necessary to the plot.
This is a great read. I hope Robert Knott carries right on with this remarkable series.
P.S. One quibble: Virgil and Everett backtrack along a railroad line to find Bloody Bob Brandice, who jumped off a quarter-mile back. When Everett says they walked "about a hundred furlongs or so" that tells me he's never watched a horse race. Maybe a hundred rods, if he wants old English measures.
Gingrich and Forstchen had a great idea when they came up with what they called "Active History": examining how history would have changed by altering a single pivotal event. What would have happened if Robert E. Lee had won at Gettysburg? What would have happened if the Japanese had pressed their immediate advantage at Pearl Harbor and wiped out the Naval Base's ship repair facilities? It's a wonderful concept, and made for many hours of fascinating reading.
This book is just a history story. Nothing is changed. They have just taken the bare facts of Washington's assault on Trenton and puts words in the mouths of the characters, some historical and some fictional. They tell us how cold it was, how ill-equipped the troops were, and generally they try to add verisimilitude. They let us listen in as Thomas Paine, sitting by a camp fire, hears some soldier talk about how trying the times were, trying his very soul ("Catchy phrase - maybe I can use it!")
The narration was way over the top. I kept getting flashbacks of Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live in his role as "Master Thespian", flinging out his arm and declaring "Acting!" Dufris narrates as if he were auditioning for some stage production, playing each character and scene as larger than life.
A mighty big disappointment to me. I won't be reading the rest in this series. Maybe G&F will come up with some more "active history" and win me back.
Nobody's reading reviews of this book trying to decide if it's worth reading. Scott Turow's fame plus the fact that Presumed Innocent was made into a Harrison Ford movie pretty much guarantees that.
But is it worth reading again? Absolutely. I had previously read the print version and seen the movie, and now I've listened to the audio version. Knowing whodunnit from the outset didn't take anything away from Turow's artistry - it's just a treat to hear a great storyteller tell a great story. And Edward Herrmann is just the right guy to give voice to this excellent bit of courtroom drama.
So, if they make it a musical, I'll go see that too!
I picked this book up from Audible's list of Edgar winners (best in show, 1983). I was drawn to the publisher's description of a protagonist who sounds a lot like Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford. Both called Doc (Ford a PhD, Adams a surgeon), both live on the water, both are a lot smarter than the villains who surround them. Boyer's Doc Adams is not an ex-black ops guy, but he seems to have picked up some moves somewhere that Doc Ford would appreciate. I expect Rick Boyer would like to have had White's success, but he hasn't, and this book may hold a clue to why.
The plot seemed weak and not particularly credible. I was never convinced that Doc Adams had any good reason to set out trying to locate the boat he initially sees high and dry on the novel's eponymous shoal. The police in the novel were portrayed as amiable dunces, willing to go along with Doc Adams and usually defer to him. The incident in which Doc Adams' wrist is broken comes out of the blue, making you think it's something sinister. It's not, and it makes no serious contribution to the plot, except to give the hero time off from work to be a hero.
It's become obligatory in the genre for the good guy to suffer grievous bodily harm at the hands of the bad guys. Doc Adams does. A lot of authors describe these beating in detail. Boyer just says, through Adams' voice, that he couldn't describe it. And, like all those other beat-up good guys, Adams comes right back, complaining every few paragraphs of this ache or that pain or of feeling woozy. Not credible.
That said, Boyer does paint very fine scenes for his characters to act in. The atmosphere of New England's waterways and watermen is compelling. You can feel the rain and wind when Adams is off on his solo quest to find the missing ship. The dialog is good too, intelligent, and witty when needed. This sort of textured writing would make a decent plot into a first-class book.
Christopher Lane has one of those radio announcer voices that are very easy to listen to. He has a good range of different characterizations that let him consistently identify the character speaking. His female voice is pretty good too, although if I heard it in a singles' bar I would definitely be sneaking a peek at the old adam's apple.
On the whole, a book for a slow day.
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