The Callahan series is about drinking. Since I don't drink, and kind of wish others wouldn't, either, I have curmudgeonly docked a star from my rating of this audiobook. But I have to admit the whole series does make me laugh. It gets a bit smarmy when it starts describing how all the tavern's patrons love each other so much that they can mind-meld, a la Vulcan. And why did we have to listen to a child-birth during the height of the adventure? I had to dock another star for that bit of gratuitous mush. Like I said: curmudgeonly. All the same, I would recommend the Callahan series to anyone who enjoys outlandish and funny science fiction. And Spider Robinson does an excellent job of reading his own book.
... unless you enjoy pornography, which I don't. Nonetheless, I am listening to Vachss entire Burke series, in sequence, because it does have some significant redeeming qualities: excellent writing, excellent plotting, and excellent narration. If only Andrew Vachss would stop indulging in his ridiculous male sexual fantasies .... (His books would end up a lot shorter!) You stand forewarned: You will hear the "F" word quite a lot. You will have to put up with a lot of misogyny. The female characters are constantly not only offering themselves to Burke, but literally 𝙛o𝙧𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙜 themselves upon him, poor guy. (Burke is described as not too good looking, not in very good shape, and he chain-smokes all day long. I guess that he must have something else going for him ....) We hear frequently about how much Burke is enjoying felatio, but not how he is offering the corresponding service to his partner. The female characters act dingy, and Burke calls them "little girl," or "bitch," interrupts them in the middle of their attempts to communicate with him, and treats them like dirt. ("I have had so much sex with so many women in my life. Some of them I even liked.") The only other author to whom I could even remotely compare Andrew Vachss would be James Ellroy; but Vachss writes even darker and angrier. I probably would never read the Burke series in print; but Phil Gigante's narration has me totally addicted. Gigante can do 𝙖𝙣𝙮𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜. He has the most amazing vocal repertoire of any narrator that I have listened to. I don't even know, for sure, what his natural voice sound like, because he can do so many voices and so many accents so well. It almost justifies the purchase of one of Vachss' Burke series audiobooks just to hear Gigante doing Mama -- the Chinese matriarch of Burke's gang-𝘤𝗎𝘮-family. He does Mama spot-on. Gigante can not only do many different male voices in conversation with each other, but also many different female voices as well; and switch between them instantly when they interrupt each other. In short, I would recommend Vachss' Burke series to anyone who loves good acting, and to most male listeners; but don't start with "Safe House." You need to listen to the Burke series in chronological order, starting with "Flood," otherwise you will miss out on a lot of the ongoing story. Brace yourself for dark, angry, grimy, hard-boiled violence.
In Burke's world, the word "family" means something different from what most of us think of as family. See, Burke never had a biological family -- his mother threw him away at birth, his father was unknown, and the State of New York (its orphanages, foster homes, and prison system) raised him -- so he had to grow a soul-family: fellow convicts, prostitutes, con artists, chiselers, and other bottom-feeders. I am just listening to Vachss' amazing Burke series for the first time in sequential order; and I am watching several penetrating qualities emerge, in the process. First: The Burke series is dark, savage, violent, not easy to listen to, and not for everybody. Second: The Burke series is all about 𝙛𝙖𝙢𝙞𝙡𝙮, according to Burke's definition. Third: Andrew Vachss is a brilliant, talented, sex-obsessed, angry, misogynistic author. Fourth (and this is what keeps me listening): Phil Gigante is a brilliant, immensely talented narrator; and the Vachss/Gigante team was made in heaven. Fifth: The Burke series really, 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙮 needs to be listened to in sequence. Don't start here, with "Footsteps of the Hawk" (the eighth book in the series). It is not the best entry in the series, and you will miss a lot of character development. (The "family" members in this long-running saga -- and the ways in which they each get adopted into the "family" -- play an important role in the Burke series.) If you want to dive in, start at the beginning, with "Flood," and brace yourself for the chill.
... and 𝙬𝙖𝙮 too much filatio. Although Andrew Vachss' Burke series started promisingly with "Flood;" by "Blue Belle" -- the third entry in the series -- Vachss has sunk far too deeply into male sexual fantasies and outright pornography, marring his otherwise excellent writing and plotting. I think that I will continue listening to a few more entries in the Burke series only because I enjoy narrator Phil Gigante's amazing acting skills so much, and because I am hoping that Vachss will eventually get over it. (I am currently listening to "Blossom" -- the fifth entry in the series -- and I think that it may be taking a turn for the better.) Also, if Burke doesn't stop chain-smoking pretty soon, he is going to die, anyway. (The Burke series went on for 18 entries, up to 2008's "Another Life," so maybe both Vachss and his protagonist got their acts together.) I am not quite ready to give up on Burke just yet ... but "Blue Belle" gets pretty disgusting sometimes.
Think "Sin City." (If you have not yet seen the remarkable 2005 movie, "Sin City," see if you can rent it or borrow it. If you like "Sin City," you will like "Flood.") Imagine Clive Owen playing Burke. Somebody (Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez) should film this book. Talk about New York's 𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙢𝙮 𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙗𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙮! "Flood" combines the hard-boiled detective fiction of the '40s and '50s (think Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler on steroids) -- including all the smoking (OMG, Burke, will you quit smoking before you kill yourself?) with "Sin City"'s over-the-top noir -- including the (unintentionally?) funny male sexual fantasies. Our protagonist, Burke (just one name, thank you very much ... how cool is 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩?) has had a hard life, which has made him tough and cynical. He now mixes with the dregs of society -- the hookers (with hearts of gold, of course), the thieves, the con artists, the convicts, the rejects, the bottom-feeders, and the low-lifes. But wait: Burke has 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙖𝙧𝙙𝙨! You will enjoy watching him take out the trash. What you need to know about author Andrew Vachss is that he is a practicing attorney who devotes himself to protecting abused children; and his protagonist in the Burke series had been abused in childhood. Now Burke deals out revenge to all abusers. I rank narrator Christopher Lane as one of my favorite voice actors: He has a beautiful voice 𝙖𝙣𝙙 chops. I liked "Flood" so much that, before I had even finished listening to it, I went ahead and purchased the next audiobook in the series, "Strega," to which I have almost finished listening now. I recommend "Flood" to any aficionado of old-fashioned, hard-boiled noir.
Yes, "Identical" presents us with a bit of a departure for Turow, particularly if you love his wonderful courtroom scenes; but try to keep your mind open to something new from Turow. You will still find some good courtroom scenes here -- actually, some pretty brilliant legal thinking from Judge Du Bois Lands -- but mostly, in "Identical," Turow is branching off into something like Jeffrey Archer territory: a family drama enacted over decades. For example, if you liked Archer's "Sons of Fortune," then you might enjoy Turow's "Identical." Of course, identical twins present a wealth of plot possibilities for a novelist; and Turow takes full advantage of them to create an intriguing mystery. For instance, did you know that identical twins do not have 𝒆𝙭𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙡𝙮 identical DNA, nor 𝒆𝙭𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙡𝙮 identical fingerprints? Turow uses this phenomenon to construct a legal puzzle. I would not call "Identical" a legal thriller, like Turow's previous offerings. Rather, I would put it more into the legal mystery/drama genre, á 𝘭𝘢 Jeffrey Archer. Although I wouldn't rank narrator Henry Leyva among my favorite narrators, he does have a nice voice, and does an adequate job of reading "Identical" for us. Overall, I would recommend "Identical" to mystery-lovers, and even to Turow fans, as long as you keep your mind open to a departure from form.
"Murder inside the Beltway" was Margaret Truman's final entry in her long-running Capital Crimes series. (She died in 2008 -- the year of this novel's publication -- although the popular series is now being continued by other authors.) All of the Capital Crimes novels are murder mysteries set in Washington, D.C., with its attendant political backdrop. I have listened to many of the Capitol Crimes audiobooks, and someday hope to listen to them all, in chronological order. (Most of them have not yet been recorded, and Audible does not carry many of those that have, as of this writing.) I have noticed that, as the series progressed, so did Ms Truman's cynicism with Washington politics. "Murder inside the Beltway" takes political cynicism to its inevitable conclusion. See if this quote from the novel reminds you of any recent events:
“The Pyle administration had set the standard for lying away its misdeeds: a callous economic policy, leaving millions behind; disastrous foreign incursions sold to the American public through out-and-out falsehoods; abject corruption in myriad agencies and departments; and a litany of disasters that would seem to ensure a one-term presidency.”
Regarding Washington politics, Margaret Truman frequently quotes her famous father's statement: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." As with the other Capital Crimes entries, in "Murder inside the Beltway" Truman weaves police procedurals in with the political shenanigans. Here, we have some police shenanigans woven in, as well, including a bad cop on the take. I deducted a star from my overall rating of this audiobook, only because the character development of this bad cop -- Walt Hatcher, a bigoted, foul-mouthed, corrupt veteran of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department -- has a sweet, but inconsistent and unbelievable relationship with his wife. Otherwise, "Murder inside the Beltway" has a well-developed, intriguing plot.
The narrator, Patrick Lawlor, does have an odd voice, as some other reviewers have pointed out; but he does have some acting chops, including the perfect, raspy voice for the unlikable Walt Hatcher. What he lacks in vocal repertoire he can frequently compensate for with inflection. I didn't mind his voice; but I suggest that, if you are contemplating purchasing this audiobook, you listen to the 4-minute sample that Audible provides, to see if Lawlor's voice bothers you. Otherwise, I recommend this audiobook to all mystery/thriller fans.
"The Night Monster" is the third -- and, as of this writing, the most recent -- entry in Swain's Jack Carpenter series. However, I do not think that Swain will let the series end here; because in this novel our hero -- Jack Carpenter -- meets and works with Swain's previous protagonist, Tony Valentine (whom I miss, and gladly welcomed back). In case you have not yet listened to any of the Jack Carpenter audiobooks -- or any of the Tony Valentine audiobooks, for that matter -- I would suggest backtracking a bit before you start "The Night Monster," and listen to some of Swain's previous entries in both series. Swain started off with the captivating Tony Valentine series, which followed the adventures of a P.I. specializing in catching gambling cheaters. The Tony Valentine series had seven fascinating entries, running through 2006, and ranging all over the U.S. map -- wherever gambling casinos can be found. Then Swain began the Jack Carpenter series (with only three episodes, so far), following a South Florida P.I. with an entirely different specialty: locating missing children. Then, in 2012, Swain entered the burgeoning supernatural detective genre with his wonderfully entertaining Peter Warlock series, taking place in New York City. Is this author versatile, or what? He not only has versatility, he also possesses 𝙩𝙖𝙡𝙚𝙣𝙩: in both the writing and plotting departments. Plus, he keeps getting better. I have not regretted for a moment having invested in Swain's entire audiobook o𝙚𝒖𝙫𝙧𝙚. However -- recognizing that you may not want to make such a large investment sight unseen -- I would suggest listening to "Sucker Bet" before starting "The Night Monster," just so you can first meet Tony Valentine in approximately the same environment where you will re-encounter him here.
I like narrator Peter J. Fernandez' voice and acting skills just fine in "The Night Monster." I appreciate that he reads slowly and enunciates clearly; however, I suspect that his slow delivery may irritate some listeners. I would suggest listening to the sample that Audible provides, before purchasing "The Night Monster," if you think that slow narration may turn you off. Otherwise, I recommend this audiobook to anyone who enjoys mystery-thrillers with ingenious, complex plots.
Although Audible has not yet designated it as such, "Loaded Dice" actually comes fourth in Swain's Tony Valentine series. Unfortunately, the first two entries in the series -- "Grift Sense" and "Funny Money" -- have not yet been recorded on audiobooks, as far as I know; so we have no choice but to start in the middle of this entertaining series. (I always prefer to listen to series novels in chronological order.) I recommend listening to "Sucker Bet" (#3 in the Tony Valentine series) before starting "Loaded Dice," just to pick up some backstory: Tony Valentine, retired Atlantic City cop, now works as a consultant to gambling casinos, exposing grifters. I enjoy this series a great deal. Swain clearly knows whereof he speaks, showing us the many -- frequently cunningly clever -- ways in which people can cheat the gambling establishments out of large sums. Most of these tricks involve deft sleight-of-hand, almost like that practiced by magicians. In "Loaded Dice," we get the additional element of Muslim terrorists thrown in, as well. Clearly this series will not suit everybody; however, I think that anybody who enjoys poker or craps or Las Vegas will probably get a kick out of all of James Swain's Tony Valentine novels. Narrator Paul Boehmer does not have a beautiful voice, but does a better-than-adequate job narrating "Loaded Dice."
The title, "Triple Cross," has a dual meaning, here, referring not only to the 14-year-old triplet children of protagonist Mickey Hennessy -- who play a significant part in the story -- but also to the three-phase unfolding of the villains' motives. At first, we kind of get behind the invaders' stated goals:
"The government has become a mouthpiece for the corporations, no matter what political party holds power. ... The future lies in a third direction, through a dangerous crossroads, where global corporate power has to be challenged, held accountable, and defeated."
Indeed, the invaders call themselves "The Third Position Army," allegedly offering an alternative to international corporate greed and corruption. They propose to try the worst offenders in the Court of Public Opinion -- live over the internet -- allowing the People to vote on the guilt of these Bad Boys, then proposing appropriate punishment. Accordingly, a fat cat senator is tried first, his indiscretions exposed, the People vote him guilty by the millions, and the Third Position Army sentences him to humiliating public exposure. Just deserts, right?
But wait -- then the Army starts going overboard, killing people. Oops. Now they are behaving as badly as the Bad Guys. We feel betrayed! By the end, we get betrayed yet again: Triple Cross.
"Triple Cross" is not a deep, important book; but it entertains well. It has a plausible, interesting, exciting plot with likable protagonists. Narrator Lloyd James does not have a beautiful voice, but does a pretty good job distinguishing the characters from one another. I recommend this audiobook to anyone looking for fun escape fiction.
First, I think that I should tell you why you might 𝙣o𝙩 want to purchase "The Skorpion Directive," as this novel will not suit everyone. Don't buy this audiobook if you have not yet listened its Micah Dalton series predecessors -- starting with "The Echelon Vendetta" (2007) -- because you will miss out on the continuity and some of the allusions. Secondly, don't buy this audiobook if you object to right-wing proselytizing. Yes, David Stone has a right-of-center political stance ... but, then, so do Tom Clancy, Patrick Robinson, Stephen Hunter, and most of the other Military Thriller writers. I consider myself to have pretty liberal sensibilities -- and I am sticking to them! -- but I would regret missing out on these writers who, despite their right-wing stances, offer us some pretty exciting stories. Stone, in particular, is not only a good story-teller, but also a surprisingly good writer. Some of his descriptions qualify as poetry ... but he does proselytize:
"Here, at the end of my life, I've come to realize that the only reliable law is the law of unintended consequences. This new administration [referring to the Obama administration], for the most part, is neither stupid nor blindly partisan ... although some of the younger staffers at the White House seem to think it clever to act like junkyard dogs, as if political combat were the same as actual combat. But, then, when the young Turks in any new government aren't prating to their elders, they're preening in their shaving mirrors. They all share the same delusions of adequacy. The previous administration persuaded itself that it had the power to impose a kind of Junior-League Republicanism on murderous tribal theocracies. The new one imagines that it can impose the asinine Marcusian sophistries of Norm Chompsky and the Harvard faculty of humanities on the people of America; as if Socialism had not already been tried many times before, only to collapse in ruins -- frequently very bloody ruins. And God only knows what sort of grotesque ideological calliope the next army of enthusiasts will ride in on, horns blatting and banners ablaze. My consolation is that I'll probably not be around when the wheels fall off again."
In his Micah Dalton series, Stone consistently pursues an agenda: The C.I.A. should be allowed to do its job, unencumbered with liberal fetters. He makes a pretty good case for this agenda, showing through Micah Dalton's tribulations how the C.I.A. agents are hampered by government restrictions. In his Micah Dalton series, Stone has Dalton endure some hair-raising, terrifyingly realistic adventures. Don't buy 𝙖𝙣𝙮 of Stone's Micah Dalton audiobooks if graphic descriptions of violence make you queazy.
The narrator of "The Skorpion Directive," Jason Culp, has a slightly odd voice, but very good acting skills. He has many voices and accents at his command to distinguish all the characters from one another. I would recommend "The Skorpion Directive" to anyone who enjoys the Military Thriller genre, with the above-mentioned caveats.
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