China Miéville's writing is both dense and fragmented—reading it aloud is no easy task, so it is no great criticism of Jonathan Cowley to say that he is not suited for the role he has assumed in narrating Railsea. His reading is warm and personal, but he stumbles on the nuances of the language—those the finicky inflections and the odd staccato that characterizes the calculated casualness of Mr Miéville's distinct voice. Much is lost as a result, and the narrative seems murkier and less impressive than it does on the page.
It would have been more difficult to isolate the faults of Mr Cowley's performance had it not been for narrator John Lee's masterful renditions of previous works by Mr Miéville. Mr Lee has a rare crispness in his delivery that allows Mr Miéville's punctuation to survive the transition from the written to the oral miraculously intact. We can only hope that he will bestow his talent on Railsea somewhere down the line, for this novel, while not as awe-inspiring as Mr Miéville's best works, is still worthy of the best possible delivery.
Even as it goes through the motions of standard detective fiction, this second Cormoran Strike novel admirably expands upon the well-rounded central characters established in The Cuckoo's Calling. As a former soldier and a natural detective, Strike lends himself to comparison with Lee Child's Jack Reacher, but where Reacher is personalized with a few token interests (notably coffee and mathematics), Strike is painted with softer strokes. He's introverted, yes, but his contact list defies the easy-to-apply label 'loner'. He is vexed by his family, but he embraces them with more than a mere sense of duty. He feels the desire to have a couple pints with lunch, but he recognizes the formation of bad habits and avoids them with some effort.
His receptionist-turned-protégée Robin proves to be equally well-rounded, particularly with respect to her fiancée. In a clumsier novel, her engagement to a side character would be nothing more than a burden for Robin to shed in the name of character growth. In Ms Rowling's nuanced world, however, the relationship is a genuine reflection of Robin's increasing confidence, and it bends and adjusts to her development with impressive realism. Whether or not the relationship will or should survive is far from a given.
Yes, the plot is fine too—it'll scratch the itch for those that crave a mystery to solve and concludes with reasonable coherence—but mystery plots are a dime a dozen. Characters like Cormoran and Robin are not.
Robert Glenister is well suited to this series, managing to narrate with both a seriousness and a lightness that matches Ms Rowling's remarkably well-balanced voice.
Much attention has been given to Wool's unusual path to publication, which was undertaken by Mr Howey alone through Amazon's Direct Publishing program. Sadly, the lack of professional editing is made evident on just about every front. The pacing of this five-book omnibus begins briskly but slows with each successive section, terminating in a painfully bloated Book Five. Character development is shaky at best and downright lazy at times, with characters' apparent level of intelligence and awareness fluctuating from scene to scene in subservience to the heavy-handed plotting. Mr Howey even adds a heavy dose of gratuitous adverbs, a pitfall every first-semester creative writing student is taught to avoid.
These massive flaws are a all the more regrettable because in Wool Mr Howey had conjured a reasonably interesting world, and in more deft hands the concept could have spawned a truly good story. H.M. Hoover proved as much in her 1980 novel This Time of Darkness, which, despite being targeted squarely to readers of middle-school age, still offers a great deal more to the discerning reader than the amateurish work that is Wool.
Shortly after listening to Joyland the week after its release in the summer of 2013, I gave Michael Kelly's performance three stars. It was professional, it was nicely paced, and it was pleasant, but it didn't blow me away the way that Craig Wasson did with Mr King's previous novel, 11/22/63. Listening to it again now, I can't find anything that directly contradicts that first impression, but in the intervening months, my thoughts have often drifted to Mr Kelly's reading. His quiet performance fits in so perfectly to the canon of Summers Past, where Scout Finch is drinking a Co-Cola, where Gordie and his friends walk the tracks in search of a body, where Radio Raheem blasts Public Enemy from dawn to dusk. Joyland is a nice piece of writing and well representative of Mr King's past decade of work, but it's Mr Kelly's performance that is sticking with me months later in the dead of winter.
This production of True Grit features a solid reading by novelist Donna Tartt. From her heartfelt essay at the end, it's clear that this novel means a great deal to her, and her plain, direct performance is a good match for Mattie Ross's straight-faced narration. It would have been a pleasure to hear Ms Tartt's performance if this production had received professional treatment in the editing booth.
Unfortunately, Ms Tartt's reading is marred by amateurish production quality. Lip smacks, swallows, and inhalations punctuate her words through the six hours. Clearly audible at many points are the soft clunks of a water glass being set onto the table. Less significantly (but still irritatingly), the length of pauses varies erratically. The result is more befitting the Librivox catalog of free audiobooks, where home-recordings are the norm. It is simply not up to the standards of Audible.
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