After several listens to books by Bryce Courtenay, it strikes me that this author's books, narrated by Humphrey Bower, represent something of the ideal in mainstream, audiobook fiction. The stories are vivid, well-plotted, with stirring story arcs. The narration is superb, with Bower handling a variety of accents and personalities and sexes in deft and entrancing form.
Yes, Peekay's accomplishments strain credulity. But only if you stop to add it up in a dispassionate accounting. Swept along by the story, it is not an issue. He is ruled by a genuine sense of humility that saves the day. The story is marked by great struggles to overcome injustices and stiff odds, some perhaps stereotyped villains and saints, but also nuanced and unique characters to balance it out.
There are two early significant characters that I expected might reappear. One, the 'good' one I thought surely should; the other, the 'bad' I thought could. Only one did reappear and it was the latter. I was surprised it was not both. This is not the kind of story to worry too much about convenient twists and turns.
The German character Doc is wonderful, especially the way that Bowers brings him to life. I never tired of his superlative 'absodoodle'. On occasion it brought tears to my eyes. Of all the audiobooks I have listened to in the past ten years, only the Courtenay/Bower combination has done that - and consistently.
This is the most outstanding entry yet in the fine series featuring Peter Diamond, a beautifully told, highly engaging story with shocks, twists and turns and stories within the story. I just wish Audible carried more of the series, and that I encountered this narrator Steve Hodson more often. He delivers a range of distinctive voices and accents, which bring characters fully to life. The author Lovesey created a rich and compelling character in Diamond, distinctive for his very human flaws. Nothing pat about the characters or the story, unlike the formulaic approach of lesser mystery/crime fiction writers. But while some of the Diamond novels have been thinner (such as Bloodhounds) this is substantial and satisfying.
Hayden Stone is a likeable cool cat, part old school government agent, part James Bond maverick. He ably takes on some very bad guys in this engaging yarn that brings us inside today's complicated fight to contain global terrorism. Some of the appeal of the tale lies in following Hayden's mixed success with the opposite sex.
One of Kerns' best constructs is the lead terrorist, a complex and very deadly bad guy. One of his weaker characters is a man whose corruption is too obvious/predictable. This detracts from the suspense the author is building.
Overall, Kerns has created a protagonist we want to follow on subsequent missions.The narrator does a fine job of bringing these characters to life. I look forward to the next installment.
I have read or listened to all of Connelly's Bosch books as well as the Michael Haller tales, and I cannot recall a weaker effort. Connelly sets a pretty high standard so I don't think this is a bad book. But the best things about it are recycled from earlier works, largely Bosch's prickly, driven nature, his trouble with relationships at work and in his personal life, and some of the atmosphere of L.A. and the world of cops.
The story tumbles out in fits and starts and the intrigue is minimal. Tension begins to build in the last third only to wane amid a clunky, tired plot line and cliched 'action' scenes at the end.
The narrator McConnohie is not an asset. His voice seems better suited for commercials than drama - too smooth, with a cadence that projects an insincere earnestness. His narration lacks the grit and depth that might have brought Bosch more to life.
Sandford is a pro and does not compose a bad tale. But this for me is the most disappointing of all of his titles that I have read or listened to. Sanderson often features bad guys who are bumbling, amoral and cretinous; this particular lot are off-putting with no redeeming quirks or original touches.
And within Sandford's oeuvre, the gap is widening between the delightful Virgil Flowers stories, and those starring his original lead character, Lucas Davenport. A healthy dose of credit goes to the Flowers' narrator Eric Conger, who gives Flowers a winning charm and warmth, along with a vocal inflection that embodies Minnesota country. The Flowers novels are truly funny and compelling; there is just a shadow of that delight in the Davenport books.
This unusual and affecting book at times presents worlds so bleak, so terribly sad, that the passive act of listening further is called into question. But listening on is richly rewarded. We hear the parallel stories of two males, one middle-aged and almost immobilized by the physical infirmities of his great bulk; the other young and physically gifted. Both are trapped into narrow lives with what seems few possibilities for escape or true fulfillment.
It is at first hard to absorb the sad tale of enormous Arthur Ott, a very bright man who in severe depression has eaten his way into ten years of shuffling no further than within a few rooms of his Brooklyn townhouse. Salvation of a sorts arrives once he is moved by a letter to invite hired help into his house.
Kel Keller's is a coming of age story of sorts - a high school phenom baseball player burdened with crippling secrets. Kel's story seems so far from Arthur's - the only tie is the letter writer to Arthur. I came to love both men's stories, though more seemed at stake with Kel's. I applaud the imaginative power of the author to create such convincing worlds.
My only quibble, the only reason I do not give five stars, is in the way the author decided to conclude this novel. Yes, 'literary fiction' does not tend to wrap stories up in a bow, or necessarily lead us through travails to a happy ending. But the entire story built to a convergence of two worlds, of two lives. The author chose to leave threads dangling to a degree that, instead of letting me enjoy fashioning my own ending, left me feeling short-changed. Very good stories often leave us wanting more, even as we are left with much to savor and be content with. In this case, it felt incomplete to an unsatisfactory degree.
At the outset this seemed a glib send-up of big time advertising (a rather easy target for satire and ridicule). It centered on one particular flack, a funny but shallow man drifting through life, hiding behind one-liners. Initially it was hard to care about the protagonist and my attention wavered. Then a moving, dramatic back story slowly but steadily came to life and made the listen well worthwhile and quite engaging. The quality of the audiobook is greatly boosted by the excellent, versatile narration of Robert Petkoff. One mild complaint is the at times lengthy and somewhat tedious spells of introspection by the main character Finbar, mulling over the same doubts and fears and mental roadblocks. All in all a fine tale and excellent audiobook.
Virgil Flowers is one of the best characters of contemporary crime/mystery fiction, and arguably the most appealing of all in audiobook format. Kudos to the author John Sandford, who made his fame with his character Lucas Davenport. Davenport and the Prey novels are fine, but I find the Flowers stories to be clearly superior. And much credit goes to the narrator Eric Conger. For my money, he expands upon the author's creation with what he brings to the reading: the warmth and uniqueness of the voice, the inflections, attitude, personality. No hammy "Minnesota" accent, but a delivery that feels authentic. Beyond his portrayal of Virgil, he handles a range of characters with aplomb. Simply exceptional.
Early reviews to the contrary, I found the plot and substance of Shock Wave to be superior to the preceding Flowers novels. I expected the 'PyeMart' thread to be heavy handed; it is not. There is a unique cast of characters and no obvious solution to the mystery. The balance of humor and seriousness is satisfying,and for the first time, Virgil's personal life is a bit more complex and realistic (for all his charm, a new conquest isn't so easy).
So many contemporary crime stories are diminished by either wooden characters or depressingly grim circumstances. The Flowers' novels thankfully have neither, But they also do not veer towards Carl Hiassen-like parody and lampooning (as good as Hiassen is for what he does). We need more crime novels of the serious yet thoughtful and also most cleverly entertaining mode that Sandford delivers with Virgil Flowers. Too rare!
Frankly I was disappointed in the quality of this story. I found the central character unlikable and unreliable and the mystery quite thin - it was pretty obvious fairly early on 'who done it'. And I was bothered at how the main character over and over castigated his family, telling us what horrible people they were, of course he would be shut of them. Not only is the portrait that emerges far more nuanced but, excepting the father and the oldest brother, they prove sympathetic, and the three other siblings very decent. The disconnect does not seem intentional to advance the story in an interesting way, just poor story telling.
The writer provides some nice description and atmosphere and the narrator is strong.
I found John Sandford's 'Prey' series to be okay, pretty good, and Lucas Davenport a better than average lead character for a mystery/crime series.
But with Virgil Flowers the author has struck gold. Virgil is immensely likable, and a far more unique creation. And Eric Conger is a superb narrator, he makes these stories immensely enjoyable to listen to. The plots vary a little in quality (and frankly none are great literary achievements) but they are plenty good enough because the character and the narrator are so winning.
I really wanted to like this book because I admire John Grisham as a person and I want to resist the image he carries in some 'literary snob' corners as being a bit of a hack. This book will not help change that image. The story was for the most part predictable, had an oddly slow pace unrelieved by interesting characters, and the author showed no knack for thrill, suspense or mystery. The narrator was pretty mediocre, which didn't help. Yes, Travis Boyette is creepy, but the combination of the slimy voice of his character played off the do-goody/whiny voice of the 'pastor' Schroeder made for an unpleasant listen.
Donte Drumm is done wrong by the system and it is almost torture to slog through his slow descent. There just are no unique twists or turns here, no surprises, no richness, no depth.
Somehow there was some sense of satisfaction at having stayed with it to the end, (I did like some small touches, such as how the football team resolves its issues) but overall it is pretty thin gruel. Too bad, because the heart of the story is in the right place.
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