Surely 2013's worst news for followers of the Alan Gregory series was that author Stephen White is pulling the plug. There's a couple more in the pipeline, but the 20th book will be the last.
I've loved this series. There hasn't been a bad book in the lot -- some have been marginally better, some not quite as satisfying, but every installment has delivered plenty of intriguing characters, fascinating stories, white knuckle moments and as always, any number of laugh out loud lines. As soon as I heard the series was ended, I began buying the audio versions of the books -- I've had, and have read, all the paper versions as they came out, but now I also wanted to enjoy the audio books, all of which are read by the incredible Dick Hill, one of the finest and most professional of the narrator crowd. You won't hear any mispronounced words or place names from Dick Hill! He's perfection personified.
All in all, 'Blinded' was a superb production. Before I 'met' Alan Gregory and his wife Lauren, I didn't know anything at all about Multiple Sclerosis -- thank Gd, I didn't know anything about it -- so I've always been fascinated by the details of this terrible disease, as Lauren's struggles with it ebb and flow. There's a lot of that in 'Blinded', as Lauren's 'brain mud' worsens and her condition takes its toll on the whole family. I love Emily the Bouvier, I love Sam Purdy -- love the Minnesota accent done just fine by Dick Hill, love Purdy's homespun wisdom, his forthright sense of justice and fair play. He plays a big part in this book, too. Dr. Diane Esteves, Gregory's partner, plays a lesser role, but she scores several of the belly laugh lines -- no spoiler, but a running joke throughout has to do with having an axe in the head. (You'll have to listen to it, you really will...)
And of course I love the wacky characters -- the clients who come to Dr. Gregory with their issues. There's plenty of those in this book, too. I noticed that a couple book reviewers said the story line was "predictable" -- but once again, I sure as heck didn't predict that ending. I suppose almost every book in a fictional detective series is predictable, in some sense -- you can predict that the main character will survive to fight another day. That said, I can't imagine that many people figured this one out in advance. But even if they had, in these books, it's the journey that's fun, not the arrival at the destination.
'Blinded' is a worthy entry in the Alan Gregory chronicles. I have no doubt that over the years, I'll listen to this one again and again.
I'm about half through -- enjoying individual parts, but the narration makes it very difficult.
Narrator Clare Corbett reads all the characters with the same quick, breathless, inflection, and I found -- at one point -- I was deep into "Lorraine's" story -- the detective -- without realizing we'd left Chloe and Zoe, the mother-to-be and the nanny, the two women who are supposed to be at the center of this story. How we got into the police detective's tale I don't really know.... and I've already backtracked twice. I'll just have to figure it out as we go along.
And yes, there's another problem too: this is another narrator who doesn't pause between these various segments of the story, which makes it even more difficult to follow.
No, I'm not quitting. As I say the various story lines are interesting and compelling enough. I just wish narrators -- who are presumably professionals -- would take the time to make the story more comprehensible, not less.
I don't ask for a thousand voices, I can understand the difficulty of that. But surely just a momentary pause -- one second, maybe -- between the ending of one character's story and the beginning of the next isn't asking too much. Is it?
I wanted to read this book so much I pre-ordered it, something I've done only once before. As a former ND'er, I've been fascinated by the "man camps" serving the state's booming oil industry, and often thought that the whole setup would be a good setting for a novel. When I saw "The Missing Place" reviewed in Country Life magazine, I immediately looked to see where I could find it, and there it was, on Audible. Was I disappointed? Yes and no.
The parts of the book -- the early parts -- deal mostly with the man camps and the whole culture that has sprung up overnight, almost, with the thousands of men, mostly men, who move there to work in the daunting and dangerous mining business. I've read everything I can find on the camps, on life in that part of the State, and thought Littlefield did a very good job in "reporting", as it were, what life is like there, what the people are like, how native residents and the newcomers all manage to live together is such chaos. I enjoyed that part immensely -- in fact, in those early parts of the book, maybe most of the first half, the writing is nothing short of brilliant. Excellent, just excellent, the way she captures the scene, the emotions, the loneliness, the lack of access to most of the things we take for granted in other parts of the country. There aren't any heroes here -- no one comes off as saints, either, which is probably the way it is.
But then something happens -- can't even identify exactly what the problem is, but the book abandons the original tale (two radically different mothers, both searching for sons who have gone missing) and ranges off into something like conspiracy theory, weighing in on who, exactly, might have been responsible for the missing men. The mothers take leave of their senses, and in several totally ridiculous scenes begin showing up and accusing all sorts of people and institutions of evil acts, including (of course) the drilling company, but also the local Indian tribes, the BIA and assorted other interested parties. All of that is nothing short of bizarre -- the only mystery being why some of those tough customers didn't take legal action (or worse) against these two nutty women who barge unto private property and began throwing accusations of criminality around, all with no proof whatever.
From there, the book never really recovers. The "missing son" element is resolved, and from there, the book moves into a mother-love chronicle, which some readers might like, but wasn't what I had in mind. I finished listening, but the glow was most definitely gone.
Bottom line: Littlefield is to be commended for having broken ground with a novel set, at least partly, in the absolutely unique man camps of North Dakota. I presume she had to actually go there, to come up with such an accurate account -- which couldn't have been easy. That part of the book is brilliant, absolutely fascinating and deserves to be read.
Having said that, she would have been better off ending the book at a certain point -- which point I won't specify, for fear of giving spoilers, but anyone who reads the book will see where it changes from one story to another very different tale. There were two books here, and combining them wasn't the best idea.
While I'm glad I read it. I don't see myself going back to listen to this one again. I'll be waiting for more novels set in this highly unique location.
It's good to remember how good these early Scarpetta books are, before the dreadful Lucy co-opted the series with her myriad of woes. "All That Remains" has Scarpetta at her best -- dedicated to her job, interesting with her cooking skills, open and friendly -- and most of all, being nice to Marino -- as compared to latter books, where she openly makes fun of him. I suppose Patricia Cornwell took a lot of heat from her feminist friends, for her early books like this that had Marino as a "good' character, in spite of his rough exterior. Too bad Cornwell caved in. I like Marino, always have. And in this book, you can see why.
Interesting, too, to hear this book read -- first time for me, although I've probably read it twice, maybe more. For Scarpetta fans, we know that Benton Wesley continues to play a major role throughout this series. In print, he seems like an okay-enough guy, maybe as good a counterpart for Kay as any man could be. But hearing how narrator C. J. Critt renders him, the voice she gives him, he comes across as a total loser as a human, friend or certainly love interest -- he sounds cold, nasty and self-absorbed. No criticism of Miz Critt intended -- her interpretation is just as valid as mine. It was just interesting to see this character in a very different way.
Good listen. I enjoyed it.
Not my usual genre, but I remember the whole issue, if not the book, from the 1970's. I don't think I ever saw the film. Maybe I read the book, but if I did, it surely didn't affect me as much as having had it read to me now by Ray Porter, who really does an outstanding job. His voice alone lends credibility to the horrendous tale -- really fine narration.
As I recall, back in the '70's, I was an uber-confident young toots who thought she knew pretty much everything -- silly, but that's what being young and pretty successful does to you. I'm reasonably sure I would have poo-poo'ed this story back then, written it off as pure fiction. Laughed at it, maybe -- enjoyed it, without ever seriously considering that it might be true.
Today, I'm older and wiser and I don't know nearly as many things as I did, back then. So now? I'm more inclined to believe it than not. In the ensuing years, I've seen a lot of things I never would have thought were possible -- not angels, demons, UFO's or anything like that -- just things that I would have pronounced "impossible" back then, that I now understand to have actually happened. I've learned a lot in coming to understand how little I know.
Which made this book all the more troublesome -- in the sense of frightening -- to me. Twice, I had to stop listening, go do something else, before I could return to it. If you allow yourself to offer even the tiniest bit of consideration that it just might be true, you're in for a heck of a ride.
Whatever -- it's a great listen, not to be missed.
It's almost impossible to listen to. I got just over five hours in -- about two of which were spent backtracking -- before finally giving up. But because this is a local author for me, and because the series is getting great reviews, I bought the book again for my iPad. Reading from my iPad, it's an excellent book, really good -- it's just not suitable for audio format, at least by this narrator.
Two issues: first, there are about a dozen young women who enter into the story, with roles of varying importance. And that's in addition to protagonist Lizzy, her sister Cathy and her assistant Jessica. Maybe because there are so very many young female players, the narrator makes no distinction whatever in their voices -- how could she, after all? It would range on impossible to create differing voices for each and keep them all straight. So she just reads straight through.
But second, that plays into another issue: Each chapter is divided into a great many sub-parts. In the print version, some are set off by bold day/time headers, some are divided by three little dots, some only by extra spacing between one and the next. These separations are critical -- usually they mean we're switching from one person's story to another's. But again, the narrator reads straight through, with no significant pause between them.
The result is an incomprehensible mess. Whose story is being told at any given time is up for grabs -- Who's talking, now, anyway? How do you know it's not just a continuation of whatever story came just before?
This doesn't work for me at all -- almost always, I listen to audio books when I'm doing something else. Maybe if I had the time to just sit and listen, concentrate, and maybe take a few notes, I could keep up with it, but as an audio book? This book just isn't suited to the genre.
Having said all that, this really is a good book -- I'm looking forward to all the other Lizzie Gardner book, but only for my iPad.
I wonder if the time will ever come when authors will structure their stories with audio book performances in mind? I look forward to that day!
I never buy a book featuring dog characters unless I can find out, first, if the dog survives. There are too many things to be sad about, without weeping over fictional dead dogs. I saw this book, with a gorgeous dog on the cover and was tempted. Fortunately, some other compassionate reviewer hinted that yes, the dog was alive and wagging his tail at the end, so I clicked on "buy".
Well, okay. I liked the dog -- "Joe" -- whom she acquires in a totally hilarious situation, one of many parts of the book that are so funny I laughed till I cried. If you've ever owned a BIG dog, you'll love these tales -- they're very funny, and absolutely true. That was the good part.
But sad to say, the major focus of the book is Van's -- the protagonist -- life-long infatuation with a weak and shallow character named Peter, who, in the beginning of the book, is getting married to Van's best girlfriend. There's not much to recommend about Peter -- he has his moments, maybe, but really, he's not worth it -- so listening to Van mope over him for the better part of the book got a little silly.
If it hadn't been for the great 'dog' stories in this book -- and the promise of more, if I'd just keep listening -- I'd have given up on the love story, because indeed, a more worthy man came along. And as you might expect, there was all the traditional, tried and true, scenes of fighting and making up with this new guy -- but at least he was a more worthy human than Peter had been. No hot erotic scenes that I recall, just a lot of mental lust that really didn't interest me -- all I wanted was to hear more about the dog.
So? The parts about Joe, the dog, are really good. I'm still laughing at the memory of some of them -- they make the book itself well worth the credit. As for the rest? Eh.
Okay -- it's not believable. No winsome young white heterosexual lass like Ollie would ever be hired as the White House Chef -- that's a patronage position, and would go to someone with political clout, or as a bow to some interest group. At least in these post-JFK days, cooking ability has very little to do with it.
And right, one would assume that security in the White House would be a whole lot better than it was in this book -- or at least one WOULD have assumed that, up until the several recent and very serious breaches of security have made the headlines. Now that part of the plot doesn't seem so far fetched at all.
But okay, this is fiction, for crying out loud! It doesn't have to echo real life -- and there were so many more things to really like about this book I couldn't stop listening.
Ollie got her first "Atta girl!" from me when she unabashedly went out to the firing range to practice -- now remember, Ollie is not a PI, she's not a detective, not in law enforcement. She's a cook, an artist, and still she likes to shoot! Good deal -- a nascent Sarah Palin, right there. Ollie could probably plug a boar with the best of 'em. Not only that, but she reveres her father, who was killed in the service. She regularly goes to Arlington Cemetery to honor him, seek his presence and consolation. That's nice; nice to see a young girl who honors and respects her dead father. AND she gets goose bumps when she hears the Star Spangled Banner! Are you seeing a pattern, here? We actually have a conservative protagonist -- something so rare in contemporary fiction that it deserves to be celebrated. I like that.
True, she should dump that boyfriend of hers -- any man who repeatedly talks to her as though she's "a wayward second grader" deserves to be dumped, and fast. She doesn't deserve that -- she deserves someone a whole lot better than that weasel. But maybe she takes care of him in a subsequent book.
All in all it was a great listen -- lots of red herrings. I had several resolutions in mind, all through the book, and none of them were right. The ending was fine -- took me by surprise. I also loved all the tidbits of information about cooking in the White House -- they may be fiction, too, for all I know, but it sounded plausible enough. I resonated with the evil political appointee who was trying to run the show -- that was one character who was most definitely NOT fictional. Those kind of turkeys exist, oh, yes they do. As do ambitious characters like Laurel Ann -- that wasn't fiction either.
Good book! I've already added two more by Julie Hyzy to my wish list. Good light reading!
I was so delighted to see this whole series on Audible -- at least it appears the first 15 are here, those that Michael Gruber either wrote, or co-wrote, depending on who you believe. The books with Gruber are excellent, just excellent -- action packed, filled with moments of pure hilarity followed by white-knuckle situations, all played out with very likable characters, and best of all, so filled with inside stories of what goes on in the legal system it's impossible to put down.
This is the first of the series, where Butch and the love of his life, Marlene Ciampi meet -- a good introduction, because the series gets even more interesting later, after they're married and have a child who turns out to be a language prodigy, speaking any number of languages fluently, including Chinese. Her unique abilities lead the books in whole new directions and every one of them are just marvelous.
I read the whole series when they started to come out in the 1980's. I loved them so much I packed and moved my creased and tattered paperbacks every time I moved for decades. Now that I can get them on Audible -- or on Kindle, I see -- I can finally let the paper versions go.
As I listened to this one again, I was reminded of how little things have changed in the world of criminal justice since the 1980's. The same people are still committing the same crimes, being put into the same criminal justice systems, with the same woeful result. As Butch Karp remarks, "The criminal justice system is not just, but it most certainly is criminal." Yes, it was in 1988, and still is today -- which makes for some really good books, if nothing else.
Normally I wouldn't even have read this book, but I'd come across a free copy of Kellerman's immediately prior book, "The Beast", which alluded to Peter Decker's retirement from LAPD and his and Rina's move to the East Coast, and that piqued my interest. Curious about how that could happen, I bought this one.
Sigh. Faye Kellerman wrote some of the world's finest fiction in the early books in this series -- Ritual Bath, Sacred and Profane, etc etc. They were -- and remain -- exquisite, in any sense you want to consider them. Informative, interesting, great characters, unique world, they are absolutely fascinating, just the best. I've read and listened to the first five or six many times over. Then? I don't know what happened, but the books became clunkers -- maybe she got tired of her characters herself, I don't know. In any event, I stopped reading them.
So here we are, in 2014, 28 years after the publication meeting Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus in "Ritual Bath", and I realized I've grown up with these people. And they've aged too -- there's no Kinsey Millhone fantasy-life going on here: they don't remain ever-youthful, stuck in 1986. They've grown up, now grown old -- and boy, they never seem to be able to stop talking about it.
That's one of the main problems with this book. Since I consumed this as an audible book, I can't account for actual pages, but it seems to me that there are very few pages in this book where there isn't some agonizing reference to their advanced ages. Newbie rich-kid and resident twerp Tyler McAdams constantly refers to Decker as "Old Man", which is insolent enough, but that's just for starters. Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver -- Decker's former partner/coworkers, make cameo appearances, and they, too, grouse about growing old. Then Rina starts chiming in, reminding Decker that he ISN'T old, which means, of course, that he is.
So more than a "mystery" -- and a slower moving, less exciting mystery would be hard to find -- this book is a meditation on growing old, both them and me. I couldn't help remembering who I was, when I first came across those first books, back in the mid-80's, where I was, how I, too, have changed and grown... well, for me, I've matured, not grown old. They story line here focuses on art theft and forgery -- "art" in the broadest possible sense, everything from paintings to icons to books to tapestries and funerary art -- and I confess I felt inundated with way too many factoids about all of it. Someone wanted to get that whole Master's thesis research in here, I'd say, but except for those students of art history among us, I'd guess that most readers will tune out for most of it. Nice to see the infamous and very real legal battle over the Chabad library as a fictional plot point -- surely the first time ever, for that. But still, most of this is too detailed for a lot of us.
Which means we're left with a book on aging.... and what to do after retirement. Scott Oliver has also retired and is at loose ends, wondering where to move, what to do with himself. Peter doesn't seem too happy in his new quasi-retirement status. Marge Dunn at least has her new love, and Rina? Well, she's happy doing whatever she does -- although she's come a long way since Ritual Bath, too. (To think of that early Rina, from 1986, who now, in this book, happily agrees to live -- and eat! -- in the home of a non-Jew is interesting all by itself. Really, Rina? Wow.)
The thing is, I'll now probably buy whatever book Kellerman writes next, to see what follows this one. Personally, I don't think this living-on-the-east-coast thing is going to work out. I think that sooner rather than later, attending Grandparent's Day at the elementary schools isn't going to be enough for this pair. Or maybe I'm just projecting. I am, after all, simply mature, not "old" like Peter Decker.
Do you have any series of paper books that you love so much, you're a little afraid to try the audible version, afraid they're going to screw it up somehow? This was one of mine. I love the three Dave Guerney books so much I held off listening to this first one. I wasn't familiar with the narrator, and who knows what could have happened....
This is a magnificent series. After reading this book for the first time -- paper version -- I actually emailed author John Verdon, gushing all over the place, telling him how much I loved the book. He responded with great kindness. I've done that very rarely, but it's always nice to know there's a real human there, plotting, writing, working to give us the great reading material we 'constant readers' -- so to speak -- enjoy so much.
Anyway, I needn't have worried -- this book is great. It has something for everyone -- unique and interesting characters, a great location -- Verdon makes you SEE the beauty of the snowy landscape -- plenty of curious murders plus a surprise ending, all wrapped up in a real puzzle, sure to please the who-dun-it lovers.
Personally, I mostly enjoy the character of Dave Guerney, a retired (not so very retired at all) detective who gets back into the game when a long-ago friend makes an appearance and begs for help. I have a love-hate thing with the character of Madeline, Guerney's wife. In subsequent books, I think of her much like "Helen", the eternal, troubled, difficult, love of Detective Inspector Lynley, in that I have to wonder if this woman is really worth all the angst she causes. Madeline is like that too -- more in the next book than this one. But why, oh why, do women marry police detectives, then spend the rest of their lives trying to get him to do something else?
What's so good about John Verdon's writing are all the little extras he throws in, wry observations, clever analogies.... and in this book, one of the characters gives a pop-psychology class, and Verdon quotes a significant part of the lecture. I blush to admit that a little piece of wisdom in that "class" hit me exactly when I needed to hear it. No, I don't run my life by the wisdom found in books of detective fiction, but the scope of Verdon's writing -- and apparently his knowledge -- is amazing, and delightful to come across.
The narrator was just fine -- if there was any minute downside to this book, it's that there were any number of places where -- apparently -- words, or a complete sentence -- had to be read over again, so it's a little jarring when that happens. You can hear the disjuncture -- but it's not enough to detract from the book itself.
I'm now looking forward to the next two books on Audible -- no more fear!
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