San Anselmo, CA, United States | Member Since 2006
Swag is the story of Ernest Stickley, Stick, and Frank Ryan. Yes, that's right, Frank and Ernest. These two guys rob 32 stores in three months, and think it's easy. Then they get together with a hustler named Sportree and his sidekick Leon Woody, and the four of them plus a guy named Bobby Ruiz, and they plan a robbery of J.L. Hudson, one of the largest department stores in Detroit. The robbery goes badly wrong, with a witness and Bobby Ruiz dying. The noose begins to tighten on Frank and Ernest. Both of them have been romancing several "career girls" in the apartment complex they live in. They party hearty. Stolen money and booze fuels a lifestyle which they love, but Stick wants out, knowing that the ride has to stop sometime. Leonard is not at his absolute best here, but, again, the combination of the two of these guys, Leonard and Muller, is just plain fun. Along the way Stick has to kill four guys, which is clearly not what he has intended at all. Stick is a recurring character, with a book named after him, and we know that he is not a killer, actually just a lost man who gets pulled in very easily. Once again the pace quickens as only Leonard and Muller can rev it up. I won't spoil the end. If you listen to the book, you'll love it. Leonard always leaves you wanting more.
I think it makes sense to review all four books in this series together, but the length of such a review would parallel the length of just a chapter of one of them. Mister Slaughter, the Queen of Bedlam, Speaks the Nightbird and Providence Rider: all four of these are the adventures of Matthew Corbett, a young man in his twenties who lives and works in and around New York City at about the year 1700. There is almost no limit to the imagination of Mr. McCammon, and my feelings about the skills of Edoardo Ballerini should be obvious to anyone who has read any of my reviews of his work. I'm not sure I could have gotten through one hundred hours of listening (roughly) to anyone other than Mr. Ballerini.
What Mr. McCammon has done is tell an enormously complicated tale, with major and minor plots, characters who move in and out of the spotlight, with plot twists that often defy the logical sense, and so forth. Often I felt that Matthew must have felt something like Alice in Wonderland, because of all of the strange and weird doings all around him. Mr. McCammon will throw in an interesting character and then once we get pulled in to this person, the author just drops him or her right down through the hole in the stage floor. There are utter improbabilities piled up upon each other everywhere. The grand conceit, that Matthew is the first private detective ever, is a clever one. His dalliances with a series of women is off-putting, as the women tend to be so interesting that I wanted one of them to take up more of our time (as Susan Silverman does in the life of Spenser). We are titillated by each one of these smart beauties, and then each of them just fades away.
It is not possible to rate these books one through four, at least for me. I think you read and like the entire series, or you don't. There is a lot of explicit violence in them, but if you think about the collected group of detective stories in existence, you see a lot of explicit violence there, too. McCammon's observational powers, particularly for minor details of clothing and settings, is almost mesmerizing. If he has actually witnessed all of the places, then he is one heck of a researcher, as good as Tim Hallinan. I feel a little frustrated that I am not giving you the sense of the plots of all four of these books, but there is just too much plot for me to be able to do that in a sensible way. So, I'll say: read the first one. If you like it, then read all four. You will, like Alice, fall down into a remarkable world, one full of sense and nonsense, and unforgettable for all that.
THIRTY HOURS of the above question. Is Rachel Howarth a witch or isn't she? To say that Robert McCammon is windy and redundant would be vast understatement. I bought this book because Edoardo Ballerini narrates it, and my faithful readers will know how I feel about Mr. Ballerini and his amazing skills. To be fair, there are a number of chapters which are quite vivid, although unfortunately several of them are vivid in disgusting and repulsive ways. I will spare you, except to pose this question: how many dead rats do you think will fit into an average-sized gunny sack?
Our hero, Matthew Corbett, is a chaste twenty-year-old clerk to Magistrate Isaac Woodward. These two gentlemen arrive in a town called Fount Royal, a town which is modelled on Salem, Mass. A single woman is on trial for witchcraft, and I can tell you that her trial is one of the longest, most boring, dragged out chunk of indigestible prose (thank you, Tim Hallinan) that I have come upon in many moons. I quit listening to the book somewhere in the midst of the trial, around the end of Part II. The book lacks dramatic push. We already know that Matthew will prevail, that the forces of reason will overcome the mass hysteria, etc. Certainly not to make fun of history: as a matter of fact, one can learn a great deal of colonial American history from Mr. McCammon, and in a fashion that is far superior to the usual who fought what war when that our kids get fed as American (and World) history. I hated it when I was in school, and both my sons hated it when they were in school just five to eight years ago. Mr. McCammon does have very leafy powers of observation. He can describe a downpour of rain to the point at which you almost feel wet yourself. And the couple of scenes in the beginning of the book that are set in the tavern by the muddy road: these are so repulsive, in awful, grinding detail, that they are perversely entertaining. I hate to admit it.
One thing I am happy to admit is that Mr. Ballerini's narrative powers have become so great that I would listen to him reading recipes. Truly. I don't know how he got to this place, but it is a glorious precipice where he sits above all other living audiobook narrators. I will continue to buy anything he reads. However, the inevitable next in the Matthew Corbett series will put me in a fine conundrum, as the author himself would put it. Will it be worth the twelve bucks to bathe in the sonic glory of Ballerini's voice when he is narrating yet another of these endless, drama-less, humor-less, all ambience tomes? Only time will tell. Stay tuned.
So, how do you feel about twenty-three hour, four-hundred year old colonial costume dramas? This is exactly the sort of thing for people who like this sort of thing. Me, I like Edoardo Ballerini. He is virtually the only narrator whom I will listen to and thoroughly enjoy for such a lengthy book. With the exception of Shantaram, I just find these epics way overblown in every way. Now, you may say that I knew what I was getting when I bought it, but I will say back to you that my admiration for Mr. Ballerini and his skills is so great that I can sometimes ignore the overdone work he is narrating. I also have to admit to you that I am going to listen to Sings the Nightbird, which is not twenty-three but THIRTY hours long, and I will do it for the same reason, that being Mr. Ballerini's astonishing skills.
To attempt to sum up the plot of a work this large is foolhardy. Moby Dick is about a whale, and Crime and Punishment is about Russia (both of those gags are Woody Allen's; the results of taking an Evelyn Wood speed-reading course). Just as a taste, I will say that the book is situated in the late 1600's, when New York was just beginning to become a shadow of what it now is. Our hero is Matthew Corbett, who the author claims invented the word "detective." Who are we to argue? There is a cast of thousands, almost literally. There is drama and tragedy, and, regrettably, not much comedy at all. I could have used some. Believe it or not, in an epic this size, there are actually a few characters who are under-drawn, and whom we would like to have heard more about. The women tend not to be drawn all that well, which is common in male-written epic dramas. Many of the period details are interesting. Much of the gore may be essential to the work, but I still could have lived without a lot of it, which I will kindly spare you. You can learn quite a bit of history from this thing, although the historical point of view here is idiosyncratic at best. I'm sure it took billions of hours to research these books, and the results are everywhere, particularly in tiny details.
So, can I recommend this book to you? I am deeply ambivalent. If you love and admire Mr. Ballerini's skills as much as I do, maybe you will be able to get through the thing. If you are a true history freak, that might do as well. Otherwise, you might use these twenty-three hours doing something completely different. Like taking an extremely long baaath.
A time to kill is one of Grisham's first novels, written while he was still working as a lawyer. I think the book dates back to the early '80s. It was written at a time before Grisham became so explosively popular. His skills are immediately apparent, and they are impressive indeed. Mr. Beck is likewise a terrific narrator, whose very wide range of Southern accents and characters gives us a rich and varied performance. The plot is just about perfect, too. A ten-year-old black girl (the word nigger is just all over the book, at a time when the word was also extremely common in daily speech in the South) is violently raped and assaulted by two drunk redneck teenagers. Her father, Carl Lee Hailey, takes revenge for his daughter on the subhumans: he shoots the two of them fatally in the courthouse, and also accidentally wounds a deputy who was escorting the boys. The deputy's leg was amputated from the knees down. A wonderful cast of Southern characters is assembled by Mr. Grisham, who knows each and every one of these people personally. Our hero is Jake Brigance, a solo small town law practitioner who knows that the case will make him famous. Jake makes no bones about where his sympathy lies, with the entire family of Carl Lee Hailey. However, the physical evidence against Carl Lee is overwhelming. So Jake seeks refuge in the insanity defense (no spoilers allowed here). The courtroom action is fast and furious, and the feverish tempo of the community is beautifully portrayed. In the early '80s the KKK was already in serious decline, but an event like this ignites them into truly psychotic violence. Their blind hatred of black people is a frightening thing to see. Grisham ratchets up the drama in a way that doesn't get bogged down in courtroom procedures. His writing style is friendly and neighborly while also clearly able to portray the explosive violence in the many cross-currents of the South over many, many decades. Obviously the modern South is in many ways seriously different from the South of 50, 100 and 150 years ago. Nonetheless, we get to see the roots of almost all the racial conflicts in a fairly compact form, and in a courtroom novel which holds our attention just by virtue of its subject matter. Grisham never becomes a preachy historian. It is no surprise whatever that Grisham has gone on to the wildly successful career he has had. I can see him continuing to write like this into his own eighties, and perhaps beyond. What gifts! Although the vicious prejudice against black people may turn your stomach, the book is uplifting in the best way. It is not phony or trumped-up. It is utterly entertaining and informative in the best possible ways. I loved this book; I hope that you do too.
Call me a Westerner; I don't mind. I like a book that has interesting characters and an interesting plot. I know that this author has won awards for this book, and I know that the Man Booker Prize is highly esteemed. However, I think it is a British/Continental award primarily, and the differences between those audiences and Western audiences is great. The book wanders in a completely directionless way through the life of the main character, who we are assured becomes an "entrepreneur" in Bangalore. However, the way in which he does this is inexplicable as far as I am concerned. Again, this may be part of a large East/West dichotomy of which I am ignorant. I trust that most Audible readers are Westerners who would like books they read to be accessible rather than plotless and confusing. One thing I can say that is clearly positive: John Lee's voice is by itself one of the most entertaining things I have ever listened to. If he were telling a story than made more sense, I would find a great deal more enjoyment in the endeavor of listening. The poverty of Indians is described in revolting detail. The trials that these people have to go through just to find a way to make a living for themselves and their families: these are horrendous journeys which would bring most of us Westerners to our knees. However, these struggles do not a novel make. At numerous points this book feels much more like reporting than the work of a fiction writer. All right all ready, I am convinced of the horrifying, degrading poverty above which the lowest caste Indians can barely rise. I understand that the waters of the Ganges River are so disgusting and polluted that you dare not go anywhere near the river lest you become ill with an indescribably vicious wasting disease. I know that the ravenous corruption that runs through the government/bureaucracy that is the structure of the country is impenetrable: I really don't need to hear that much more about it. On the whole, however, I would vastly recommend Shantaram over this book. I found it immediately interesting, full of characters that grabbed me and plots that took me happily careening from one state of India to the next. My interest in Shantaram almost never failed, and that is saying a good deal, as I usually have trouble approaching four-volume tomes. Take my advice here, though. As a average American, I found Shantaram to be wildly entertaining and informative when compared to White Tiger. I cannot recommend White Tiger to anyone but the most sophisticated student of the subcontinent, a person who delights in being entertained by something which I find to be rather less than a novel, and more like an expansive, reportorial description of the daily life of the lower castes in India.
I have been a happily entertained reader of this series for about 25 years now, initially in print, and then for the last 7-8 years in audiobooks. It is fair to say that I have loved this work. The characters of Dismas Hardy, Abe Glitsky and their supporting crew have almost become real humans to me. It does help that I live and work in the same area, both geographically and professionally, as these people do, but really, that's not a big part of the appeal of the series. Mr. Lescroart and Mr. Colacci are a perfect combination, with complementary skills and genuine affection for their characters. One thing that really appeals to me is the fact that Dismas and Abe and the others have what seem to be real lives, with births and deaths and marriages and the range of complications that all of us live through during our brief stay here on planet Earth. It would take an encyclopedic review to attempt to give you the flavor of Mr. Lescroart's primary accomplishments. So, I won't attempt that. You would be happily advised to listen to many of the prior books. They are legal thrillers, and Part II is often a bit slow going, as we get to slog through the trials, but even when things begin to get a little boring, our entertainers come up with something new and quirky, or particularly knotty, or emotionally fraught.
The Ophelia Cut (not a good title, which might be a warning) centers on the rape of a young woman and the apparent revenge killing of the man by the young woman's father, Moses McGuire. Of course Dismas represents Moses at the trial, and I won't be a spoiler here about the end of the book. But, the book can at times be forbiddingly complex, and it often assumes that the reader is aware of the details of a massacre involving a number of the main characters here. The group of allies (Hardy, Glitsky, D.A. Wes Farrell, attorney Gina Roake, deceased attorney David Freeman) keeps a volatile secret amongst them. The exposure of this secret threatens them all, providing an underpinning of drama and intrigue to which only some of us readers can relate. In this book we are introduced to a city supervisor (Liam Goodman, whose chief clerk is the victim of the murder) a new chief of SF police, a Korean gangster and trafficker of human flesh named John Lo) and others. The plot gets spread out among these people too far, so that it is hard to keep all the players identified without a scorecard, so to speak. At times I felt a curious mix between boredom and a genuine interest in knowing how things turn out. I could have lived without the boredom, for sure. I think this is another result of the convention by modern novelists to make their books last a standard 300-350 pages in print, or about 12-14 hours in audio. Many younger writers are now shuffling off this mandate, thank goodness. As the late, great Elmore Leonard said, "I leave out the parts that people tend to skip." All writers should have this byword as a sampler knitted and framed on the wall of their writing rooms.
At the end of the book there is a true deus ex machina, which tries our patience a bit because it is implausible, and clearly a desperation move by the defense team. All along I had been thinking, Mr. Lescroart, you have been wildly successful, beyond your most outrageous dreams, but it is time to stop now. Shift gears. I know that he has done that for a couple of earlier books which I haven't read. I get the impression that they weren't as well received as the Hardy/Glitzky books. By this point in his career, the author must be in a position to take truly meaningful risks in doing what he does. I challenge you, Mr. Lescroart, little pipsqueak that I may be: And now it is time for something completely different.
Clearly I had never heard of Tonino Benacquista before. I have, however, become something of a student of Edoardo Balerini. I would be the president of his fan club, were he to have one. The man has engaged and entertained me in a way which beggars description. This book is the story of an Italian gangster and his family, who go into the Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) after he testifies against his former colleagues. The family ends up in a small town in Normandy, the name of which I swear to you sounds something like Schlong-sur-Mer. The gangster takes the name of Fred Baker, and tries to convince an entire town bristling with French gossips that he is a writer, engaged in some magnum opus mysterioso. His wife and chldren are dragged most unhappily into this fiasco. It is torture for them to keep the lie going, but of course it is essential that they pull it off, as unspeakable deaths await them if they fail. Mr. Baker's real name is Giovanni Menzano, I believe. The wife and kids have to invent names and full identities for themselves. They have one so-called friend, who is their supervisor in the WITSEC program, a man named Tom Quintiliani. (Please forgive me if I am messing up these names: it is very hard to memorize names when you are laughing out loud at the story, and at the exquisite predicament this family is in.)
Edoardo Balerini has now reached a pinnacle (in my mind) which no other living narrator has ever come close to. It's not just that he's Italian; you can hear the pronunciation of his own name sound more Italian with each book. Since the book is set in France, Mr. Balerini must master a large variety of French accents and individual speech proclivities. You just cannot imagine how funny this is until you hear it. It is easy for Americans to make fun of the French, for reasons which have little to do with this book in particular (they are, though, so ENTIRELY full of themselves): please stop me now before I become quite tasteless. The plot ambles around in a good-natured sort of way. I actually got lost, as I was reading about four other books at the same time, and I discovered that it was a complete pleasure to start this book from the very beginning again. I realized that some of the jokes had just filtered through my cortex without being stored in memory (a fancy and preposterous way of saying that I forgot them), and so each was funny anew. This one is a winner. I hope Mr. Benacquisto has more up his sleeve. From the sounds of Mr. Balerini's voices I would guess him to be in his forties: how very, very lucky for us.
Herman Wouk was a writing machine. He cranked out literally thousands of pages, most of them about World War II. He was hugely successful. He wrote in a style which is stiff, earnest, and "plain-spoken." He did have many skills as a writer, since millions of people will not buy the work of authors without them (will they?). Most of the people who will buy this book will do so because of the wonderful movie made from the book, featuring one of Humphrey Bogart's most astounding performances. The issues raised are quite real: what happens when a perfectly decent crew of junior officers goes into war in a Navy destroyer that is captained by a paranoid wild man, a sniveling coward, a horrendously vindictive little boy in a big man's job? This problem is the main plot point, surrounded by minor plots behind it, particularly the romantic life of Willie Keith, a young man from an upper-middle-class if not wealthy family, who falls in love with a nightclub singer, a girl whose Italian, fruit-peddling, no-English-speaking parents represent the absolute opposite of the woman whom Willie's mother dreams of him marrying. There is some meat here.
Kevin Pariseau has read quite a number of these WWII potboilers (War and Remembrance is another Wouk book read by him). He is a good choice, but only because his stiffness and rigidity perfectly matches Wouk's writing style. Despite all this negative stuff, I have to admit that I listened to (almost) the whole book without getting bored. I've never been much of a war-book-guy, and I truly have had enough of WWII, but there is just so much in print and on the movie screen on this topic that these works are hard to avoid. Pariseau does have some narrative skills, like the author, and the combination makes for perhaps a more entertaining experience than I might have expected when I bought the book. Twenty hours is a very long time, and few audiobooks are truly worthy of that kind of commitment. But, by the end of the book you just really want to know how these young men will solve the problem of their severely disturbed captain. You also get a wonderful glimpse into the workings of the Navy, a world which is almost as ludicrous a kingdom as the army of Catch-22.
All things considered, though, I would skip the book and see the movie. You will just never forget Bogart's portrayal, with its brilliant mannerisms, his perfect speech qualities (as in how Queeg keeps saying, "K?"), the shifty eyes that never look directly at anyone, and so forth. Even an abridged version of this book, if there is one, would probably be too long. The material could have been covered quite adequately in a standard novel length. Excess, wretched excess...
Stuart Woods began the saga of Will Lee in his first book, Chiefs, which is, IMHO, way better than The Run. By the time of this book Mr. Woods had been cranking these out at a really fast pace, and the relationship between quality and quantity is inverse, if I may be slightly obtuse. Mr. Woods knows how to tie the maiden to the railroad tracks, and start the train huffing down at her. He even creates a good Snively Whiplash, for those of you who remember Bullwinkle the Moose. I'll stop being obtuse. By now Senator Will Lee is in his second term as the senator from Georgia. His wife Kate is rapidly rising in the ranks of the CIA. The president falls and slips into a coma. Joe Adams, the Veep, has early Alzheimer's disease, a fact known by only a few Washington insiders. So, Will decides to announce his candidacy for the presidency. Political infighting of the highest order ensues. Senator Lee's life is endangered by a small group of right-wingnuts ensconced in your typical bomb-defense-enforced cabin in the Idaho woods. Political terrorism ensues. This kind of plot is a thing which is being cranked out by the bushels by the Nelson DeMilles and Brad Thors of the world, and fine writers they are. It sells copies. It's not bad writing. Maybe it's just that I recently read All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren, and this stuff, by comparison to that, is thin gruel, indeed.
The bonus, quite unexpectedly, is that the narrator of this book is not Ken Howard, but Frank Muller. This is just about the only reason I would buy a book like this. Having listened to so much of Frank's truly marvelous work, I'm afraid I am down to stems and seeds now, if you know what I mean. Frank is a little rushed here by the production people, which happens when he is forced to read sub-par writing, but even this pressure can't push his immense talent down. He makes this stuff exciting, even though we all know that the good guys will win, and the truly sleazy bad guys will lose. Why else do we read? (Wait, There must be a better reason than that.) The secret service intrudes on the lives of Will and Kate, the plot accelerates to the screeching point, and everyone, I guess, is satisfied. If this is the kind of stuff you take to the beach, go right ahead. Don't forget the hat and suntan lotion. Or maybe just fall asleep for a couple of chapters. You won't miss a thing.
Robert Penn Warren was something of a god among men during his career. He was both a novelist and a poet, and he was literally great at both. This is his masterpiece. It is the story of Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana during the 1930s, and a PR man named Jack Burden. Long is given the name Willie Stark. The actual governor's election slogan was "Every man a king," which might give you something of an idea of what a master of political rhetoric he was. He was a mercurial man, a mighty politician, loved by many and scorned by many for the corruption of his administration. The twin stories of Jack and Willie are brilliantly intertwined. Michael Emerson is a truly wonderful narrator. His ability to convey all the characters of this rich story is remarkable. His Southern accents are perfect. His portrayal of Willie as a man of profound gifts is just magnificent: we are lucky to be able to listen to such a performance.
The stories of Willie Stark and Jack Burden are a bit too long (sorry for the pun), and a sub-plot involving the history of Cass Mastern et al is really a distraction. Jack's mother is a perfect southern archetype: from the hills of Arkansas to New Orleans society by way of both her fragile beauty and her steely wiles with men, Jack shows us a picture of his mother that is poignant and startling. Warren creates a panoply of actors who are fully ranged from low-life slimy craven Southern politicians to the intellectual and incorruptible Judge Irwin, to the triangular relationship among Jack, and Adam and Anne Stanton. This book is really way too wonderful to depict it with credibility in a brief review; I could go on for pages, but I'll spare you. The two most important women in Willie's life, his wife Lucy and his white-hot political assistant Sadie Burke: both of them are in their own ways tormented by Willie's gigantic appetites. Warren's gifts are so many that it's arbitrary to list just a few. His ability to show us what politics really was like at the time, so full of human ambition, frailty, corruption, double- and triple-dealing; it is like having a front row seat to one of the greatest dramas of the twentieth century. Many Northerners know little about the real South; listening to Warren's work and Emerson's amazing performance provides us with the absolute best in learning by being entertained. You have to commit a number of hours to this book, but it is one of the most worthwhile commitments you can make. I can't imagine any Audible reader not loving this book. Really.
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