With "Dead Irish" John Lescroat begins his wonderful San Francisco-based thriller series, introducing many of the characters who populate subsequent episodes. I call the series soap-opera thrillers -- meaning no disparagement whatsoever -- because Lescroart devotes so much attention to character development. He makes us feel a real connection to his characters and the intricacies of their lives. I can see how this degree of character development might annoy some thriller fans who want plenty of action, without non-essential distractions. And to those people I would not recommend Lescroart's novels. But Lescroart clearly had a series in mind when he began it with "Dead Irish," wanting to establish his characters' motivations and emotional underpinnings. Lescroart writes well to start with, improving with each installment, providing us with a chain of very enjoyable audiobooks. Although each episode can stand alone -- since Lescroart always fills in the details we need to know from previous episodes -- I recommend listening to this series in chronological sequence, in order to fully appreciate the developing story. David Colacci has the perfect voice and acting chops to read these audiobooks, using the same voices for each character throughout the series. I only regret that Mr. Colacci wasn't tapped to read all the Lescroart audiobooks, because the other readers break the consistency Colacci had established. I highly recommend the entire series to all thriller-lovers who have the patience for good character development and intricate plotting.
Thriller-lovers will enjoy the whole Alex Hawke series. Just don’t expect realism, O.K.? Alex Hawke is a cross between James Bond and Dirk Pitt: an impossible super-human super-hero. In the Alex Hawke series, the good guys always save the world in just the nick of time; our hero is a tall, dark, and handsome babe-magnet; the good guys always manage head-shots with one bullet, while the bad guys usually miss altogether, but might manage to hit our hero in the shoulder; and our hero always recovers from grievous wounds in record time, with no lingering sequela. Oh, and to top it all off: Alex Hawke — a Peer of the Realm, mind you — happens to have more money than God; so he can buy lots of great toys, like the fabulous armored speed yacht that our heroes use in “Spy” to root out the bad guys from their hidden Amazonian lair. If far-fetched, fantastic thriller plots offend you, I would steer you away from the Alex Hawke series. Maybe choose John Le Carré, instead. I, personally, use escape fiction to take a break from reality, so I enjoy the Alex Hawke series immensely.
On the other hand, I hope that Islamic terrorists don’t read “Spy,” because it might give them ideas! Here, Mr. Bell coins the word “Jihadistas” to describe an unholy alliance between Mexican Reconquistadores and Islamic Jihadists. He places the political hot-potatos of illegal immigration and the porous, violent Mexican/American border at the heart of “Spy”’s plot. The resulting scenario — if Mr. Bell is not making it up out of whole cloth — would be very scary, indeed ….
Narrator John Shea has a nice voice, and does a good job of dramatizing “Spy” for us. He has lots of voices and credible accents at his command to help distinguish the characters from one another. Although he makes little attempt to voice female characters differently from male characters, I hesitate to criticize him for that, since thespian attempts at gender-crossing sometimes flop hilariously. For the character of Stokely Jones — the big (“approximately the size of an armoire”), black co-hero of “Spy,” Mr. Shea always uses a laughing voice — which generally works, since Stoke usually does have pretty funny lines — but sometimes this voice for Stoke does not work in “Spy,” like when our good guys are engaged in hairy combat. Aside from those minor quibbles, I like John Shea’s narration of the entire Hawke series very much.
In summary, I would recommend “Spy” to all thriller-lovers, provided that you are not expecting realism, and that you are not thinking of illegal immigration as a racist issue. You can probably get away with listening to “Spy” (the fourth in the Alex Hawke series) out of series sequence, since each novel in the series does not rely too much on previous episodes. Indeed — as of this writing — we have no option but to listen to this series out-of-sequence, since Audible has not yet provided us with the 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙨𝙩 installment, “Hawke.” (Hopefully, by the time you read this, “Hawke” will have been published in audio form!)
“Dream Sky” ends with a cliff-hanger that almost irresistibly compels us to immediately purchase the next entry in the Project Eden series. Prepare yourself to budget for two audiobooks in quick succession: You will want to know what happens next. Technically, 𝙩𝙝𝙚o𝙧𝙚𝙩𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙮, you can listen to any of the Project Eden audiobooks without having listened to its predecessors; because author Brett Battles does us the courtesy of including, at the beginning of each episode, a “What Went Before” chapter that summarizes the story so far. However, I think that you will miss a lot of this saga if you don’t start at the beginning, with “Sick”. The Project Eden series is really one long story published in several pieces, of which “Dream Sky” is the sixth piece.
I can’t explain why this series causes such addictive, compulsive listening. It deals with a pretty scary — if far-fetched — scenario: What if a nefarious cabal of ego-centric, power-hungry conspirators hatched a plot to rid the world of most of its human population, leaving only them and their hand-picked survivors to re-build civilization according to their own specifications? I, personally, have trouble with scary, dark audiobook stories; because I get so emotionally sucked into the plots. Nonetheless, this series kept me listening, despite its “Yikes!” factor. I was rooting for the Good Guys and hating the despicable Bad Guys obsessively all the way through.
Maybe narrator Macleod Andrews had something to do with my relentless listening to the Project Eden series. Mr. Andrews has the rare Acting Gift: He is one of those natural-born actors, who can change voices and accents so effortlessly that he makes it sound easy. For me, the narrator counts every bit as much as the story. A good narrator can rescue a mediocre story, and can influence me to purchase an audiobook that I might not otherwise consider.
I recommend “Dream Sky” to all thriller-lovers, with the proviso that you first listen to its predecessors in the Project Eden series.
I only recently discovered Brett Battles — thanks to Audible’s Daily Deals — and have just finished listening to his entire Jonathan Quinn series in sequence. (I have now started listening to Mr. Battles’ Eden Project series, so I guess that shows you that I like this author!) I recommend the entire Jonathan Quinn series to all thriller-lovers; but I especially enjoyed this eighth (actually ninth, if you count “Becoming Quinn” — which you should) entry in the series. However, you really, 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙮 do need to listen to this series in sequence: Don’t start here with “The Discarded,” or you will miss out on a lot of the fun. (One slight exception applies here: You might want to start with what Audible calls "#4.1" in the series — “Becoming Quinn” — where Battles goes back to Quinn’s emergence as a Cleaner. Alternatively, you can listen to these audiobooks in literal chronological sequence. I think that either way would work, enjoyment-wise. I decided to start with the prequel, and did not regret doing so.)
In Battles’ Jonathan Quinn series, I particularly like the way Quinn’s team gradually grows with each novel; starting with him as a lone operator, and proceeding to where, in this episode, he is working with five other people — in a beautiful display of teamwork — to perform their most heroic feat to date. How on earth does a Cleaner get to doing heroics? You will just have to listen to the series to find out! I only regretted that the Abraham character introduced in this episode did not survive to join the team for future outings. (Sorry, spoiler-haters.) I guess that Battles decided that Abraham, at age 60, could not keep up with the others in future adventures. (As one who has decidedly past the 60 mark — never mind how far past! — I beg to differ!)
Regarding my mediocre rating of Scott Brick’s narration of “The Discarded”: I apologize to all Scott Brick aficionados. If you don’t already know whether you like Mr. Brick’s voice, I suggest that you listen to the 4-minute sample excerpt that Audible provides, to determine if his voice bothers you sufficiently to bypass this series. I, personally, have trouble with his nasal timbre and some of his inflections; but I have to acknowledge that Mr. Brick has good acting skills, and, for the most part, distinguishes the characters from one another adequately. Obviously, my own distaste for his voice did not deter me from purchasing the whole series! Aside from that one complaint — and my caveat about listening to the Jonathan Quinn series in sequence — I highly recommend “The Discarded” to all thriller-lovers.
Although “The Rising” completes Kelley Armstrong’s “Darkness Rising” trilogy, the trilogy, itself, is one long story — not three episodes in a series. For this reason, I advise you not to begin listening to “The Rising” without first having listened to “The Gathering” and “The Calling,” in that order. Otherwise, the story will seem disjointed and puzzling: “The Rising” picks up exactly where “The Calling” ends, just as “The Calling” picks up exactly where “The Gathering” ends. The Darkness Rising trilogy falls under several fiction genres: Young Adult, Fantasy/Supernatural, Thriller, and — yes, alas — Romance. I usually avoid Romance audiobooks; and The Darkness Rising Trilogy has all the usual Romance elements, including the one-or-more (in this case, two) handsome men (a good boy and a bad boy, of course) hopelessly, helplessly, devotedly, unconditionally in love with our beautiful heroine, never asking more of her than a little cuddling and kissing. (Hey, guys — if you want to know what women want, read Romance novels!) However, Kelley Armstrong can actually write well, and she has composed a pretty interesting plot, here. Best of all, the audiobook publisher selected the perfect actress to narrate this trilogy: Jennifer Ikeda. She has a lovely voice, and excellent acting chops, allowing her to clearly distinguish all the characters — including the guys — from each other, while always delivering the exactly right inflections. For me, the narrator can make or break an audiobook — even rescuing a mediocre book or ruining a good book — so Ms Ikeda kept me listening to “The Rising,” despite the Romance elements. I would recommend The Darkness Rising trilogy to young women, lovers of Romance fiction, and anyone who enjoys the Supernatural genre. (You 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 need to suspend disbelief here, folks.) Just remember to budget for all three audiobooks, because none of them stands alone.
Although "Nobody's Child" brings us the fourth episode in Ms Hellmann's Georgia Davis series, and although it does refer back to events that took place in some of the previous installments, this novel stands alone well: You can enjoy it even if you have not already listened to its series predecessors (but it will make you want to do so!). You will like the character of Georgia Davis: She feels like a real person -- albeit exceptionally smart, but sill real -- because Ms Hellmann really knows how to develop character ... and write, and plot! The word "gritty" always comes to my mind when I listen to Ms Hellmann's Chicago-based novels -- Yikes! Talk about a "seamy underbelly"! -- and "Nobody's Child" digs right down into the grit. I want to hope that Ms Hellmann is exaggerating a bit -- or even just making it all up out of whole cloth -- when she describes the dreadful criminal enterprise at the heart of "Nobody's Child." I want to believe that people would never sink to such abominations in order to satisfy their greed; but I know that Ms Hellmann always does her research, and that she is probably exposing a true horror that none of us wants to see. Of course, Georgia Davis manages to penetrate the web of deception and cruelty spun by these wicked people (in this case, Russian mobsters), and to do so very cleverly: by setting mobster against mobster. (Take that, you wicked people!) In the process, she escapes death by the skin of her teeth; and emerges from her adventure with a new sister and a new boyfriend. (Whew!) Unfortunately, I have to say that "Nobody's Child" deserved a better narrator. Although Beth Richmond has an undeniably beautiful voice, I would have preferred a narrator with better acting skills ... even if she did not have such a pretty voice. In particular, this novel requires good Russian accents and better vocal distinction between characters. Aside from this one criticism (and I admit to a fussy predilection for good acting), I recommend "Nobody's Child" to any lover of gritty detective fiction.
"Legacies" falls almost -- but, fortunately, not quite -- into the Psychological Thriller genre. Unlike its predecessor in the Repairman Jack series -- "The Tomb" -- "Legacies" does not contain any supernatural components; but, rather, unfolds a compelling mystery. Spoiler-haters should, perhaps, stop reading here; but I honestly don't think that you will regret learning the kernel of this story ahead-of-time, since "Legacies" will still remain a gripping audiobook. Like any novel concerning a discovery that would have changed the world -- had it really been discovered -- author F.P. Wilson has to figure out a way to "un-discover" the scientific breakthrough at the heart of "Legacies" -- in this case, an inexhaustible source of clean energy -- before the book ends. I looked forward to seeing how Wilson would manage this "un-discovery" at the end of "Legacies," and he did not disappoint me. (No, I won't spoil the surprise 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 much: You will just have to listen to the audiobook to learn why we do not now have this much-needed discovery!) I liked the way that Wilson 𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘥𝘶𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 -- ever so slowly -- introduces us to the bad guys -- Saudi princeling Kemel Muhallal (remember that "Legacies" was published back in 1998, well before 9/11); his mercenary muscle-man, Sam Baker; the enigmatic Japanese agent, Yoshio (who turns out to be not such a very bad guy, after all); and co-protagonist Alicia's detested half-brother, Thomas -- whose nefarious motives we must learn at the same pace at which Repairman Jack laboriously uncovers them. "Legacies" keeps us on the edge of our seats all the way through the audiobook, wondering why Alicia does not want her father's legacy, and why seemingly everyone else does. I deducted a star from my rating of narrator Christopher Price's performance, only because Joe Barrett -- the narrator of "The Tomb" (the previous Repairman Jack audiobook) -- did a better job; and I wish that the publishers had continued to use Mr. Barrett to narrate the rest of the series. Mr. Price does an adequate, if not stellar, job of narrating "Legacies," although he mispronounces some uncommon words -- like "antimacassar" -- and some common words, like "Julio." Also, Mr. Price doesn't have the repertoire of voices and accents that Joe Barrett has. (I loved the way that Mr. Barrett voiced Yiddish character Abe Grossman in "The Tomb." Mr. Price just doesn't even try ... not that I blame him.) Otherwise, I highly recommend "Legacies" to all thriller-lovers, although you will enjoy it even more if you listen to "The Tomb" first.
I am just beginning to listen to F.P. Wilson's Repairman Jack series for the first time (I have now reached #3: "Conspiracies"); and, so far, I love it. "The Tomb" starts it all off with a bang, and leaves you hungry for more of Jack's adventures. If you like true thrillers -- with just a soupçon of the supernatural -- then you will enjoy "The Tomb." I liked Wilson's incorporation of the (alleged, but probably apocryphal) pre-Vedic humanoid monsters called Rakoshi into the story. These Rakoshi -- governed by the Hindu goddess Kali -- embody all of the evil and malevolence of humankind, with none of the good. Jack must overcome these virtually invincible demons with only his wits (Jack has lots of wits), since not much can harm them. Very personal incentives motivate him to succeed, or to die trying. Other reviewers have rightly compared Repairman Jack with Lee Child's protagonist, Jack Reacher ... except with that added touch of the supernatural. Like Jack Reacher, Repairman Jack lives outside the laws and conventions of society -- for instance, he has no last name and no Social Security number -- while still fighting for the good, against wickedness. Unlike Reacher, however, Repairman Jack stays put in NYC, pretty much. Author F. P. Wilson -- whom, I understand, has an M.D., and still practices medicine -- writes beautifully and intelligently. Narrator Joe Barrett does an excellent job of reading "The Tomb," harnessing many different voices and accents (including the difficult Hindi accent) to clearly distinguish all the characters from one another. It disappointed me to discover that the audiobook publishers did not employ Mr. Barrett to narrate the rest of the Repairman Jack series. (The subsequent narrator, Christopher Price, does okay, but not as well as Mr. Barrett.) In short, I highly recommend "The Tomb" to all thriller-lovers who aren't put off by a touch of the supernatural.
If you have been enjoying Randy Wayne White's delightful "Doc" Ford series for the past twenty episodes, don't despair: White's new Hannah Smith series does not stray far from home. We are still frolicking along Florida's west coast, with Doc and his Dinkins Bay buddies. Now, though, we are seeing all the action through the eyes of a different character, Hannah Smith. Indeed, White took a big chance writing from a woman's point of view: Men writing female protagonists usually doesn't work; but White pulls it off. Why do you suppose that White can convey a woman's perspective so well, while most male writers fail? It might have something to do with the fact that he was raised by a loving family of 𝙚𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩 women: his mother and her seven sisters! (Eat your heart out, Bertie Wooster.) Mainly, though, any female reader of White's novels will perceive that he really likes women. These early Hanna Smith novels remind me a bit of Nevada Barr's formidable protagonist, Anna Pigeon, except with more humor. If you like a tough, smart, fearless heroine, then you will probably enjoy the Hannah Smith series. Incidentally, if you look up White's locales in an atlas (or MapQuest or GoogleMaps, in case you don't remember atlases), you will find that Sanibel Island, Dinkins Bay, Captiva Island, and all the other improbable-sounding, too-good-to-be-true settings for White's novels really do exist. Similarly, White has based the character of Hannah Smith and her Florida forebears on real historical Florida women. "Deceived"'s narrator, Renee Raudman, does an excellent job of narrating this audiobook. At first, I thought that I would not like her narration, because she has such a "young" voice; but it turns out that she definitely has the acting chops for these novels. I would offer two suggestions to you, if you are contemplating buying "Deceived." First, listen to at least some (preferably all) of the Doc Ford novels first, so that you will get to know the lovable, eccentric Dinkins Bay denizens, and so that you will understand why it is so funny that Hannah worries about Doc. Secondly, I think that the Hannah Smith novels are meant to interleave with the Doc Ford novels, rather than being read as a separate series: Listen to them in chronological order.
... 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.
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