I haven't listened to any of Ms Hellmann's other Georgia Davis audiobooks yet; but, since "ToxiCity" falls chronologically before the other episodes (even though it was published after the others), I decided to listen to it first. Now I am looking forward to hearing the other novels in the Georgia Davis series. Ms Hellmann clearly possesses encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago police procedures; and she doesn't pull her punches. We encounter several dead bodies -- and not just human bodies -- in egregious conditions. I can't say that I envy these cops their jobs. At the time of this story (ca 2000?), Georgia Davis is still working as a uniformed police officer in a Chicago suburb. By unearthing a key piece of the mystery, she gets her first taste of detective work, setting her on track toward her future P.I. career. However, in this episode, Ms Hellmann gives us not just one, but three protagonists, each puzzling out a different aspect of the mystery, and through whose eyes we witness the solution emerging. Like all of us, these three people are simultaneously juggling their own, ordinary life issues -- like relationships and faith, for instance -- allowing us to see them as real people, about whom we can care. Via intermittent flashbacks, Ms Hellmann even teaches us to care about the villain of this story!
I have never listened to one of Robin Rowan's narrations before "ToxiCity," but now I suspect that we will be hearing more from her in future audiobooks. She has a beautiful, feminine, whispery voice that she can immediately change to gruff, gravely, shrill, or deep, as the character warrants. This valuable acting chop comes into play, especially, when one character interrupts another. (I have tried it -- trust me, it's hard to make a quick vocal switch like that!)
I recommend “ToxiCity” to any mystery-lover who doesn’t mind a touch of urban grit.
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.
... and 𝙬𝙖𝙮 too much filatio. Although Andrew Vachss' Burke series started promisingly with "Flood;" by "Blue Belle" -- the third entry in the series -- Vachss has sunk far too deeply into male sexual fantasies and outright pornography, marring his otherwise excellent writing and plotting. I think that I will continue listening to a few more entries in the Burke series only because I enjoy narrator Phil Gigante's amazing acting skills so much, and because I am hoping that Vachss will eventually get over it. (I am currently listening to "Blossom" -- the fifth entry in the series -- and I think that it may be taking a turn for the better.) Also, if Burke doesn't stop chain-smoking pretty soon, he is going to die, anyway. (The Burke series went on for 18 entries, up to 2008's "Another Life," so maybe both Vachss and his protagonist got their acts together.) I am not quite ready to give up on Burke just yet ... but "Blue Belle" gets pretty disgusting sometimes.
Think "Sin City." (If you have not yet seen the remarkable 2005 movie, "Sin City," see if you can rent it or borrow it. If you like "Sin City," you will like "Flood.") Imagine Clive Owen playing Burke. Somebody (Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez) should film this book. Talk about New York's 𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙢𝙮 𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙗𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙮! "Flood" combines the hard-boiled detective fiction of the '40s and '50s (think Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler on steroids) -- including all the smoking (OMG, Burke, will you quit smoking before you kill yourself?) with "Sin City"'s over-the-top noir -- including the (unintentionally?) funny male sexual fantasies. Our protagonist, Burke (just one name, thank you very much ... how cool is 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩?) has had a hard life, which has made him tough and cynical. He now mixes with the dregs of society -- the hookers (with hearts of gold, of course), the thieves, the con artists, the convicts, the rejects, the bottom-feeders, and the low-lifes. But wait: Burke has 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙖𝙧𝙙𝙨! You will enjoy watching him take out the trash. What you need to know about author Andrew Vachss is that he is a practicing attorney who devotes himself to protecting abused children; and his protagonist in the Burke series had been abused in childhood. Now Burke deals out revenge to all abusers. I rank narrator Christopher Lane as one of my favorite voice actors: He has a beautiful voice 𝙖𝙣𝙙 chops. I liked "Flood" so much that, before I had even finished listening to it, I went ahead and purchased the next audiobook in the series, "Strega," to which I have almost finished listening now. I recommend "Flood" to any aficionado of old-fashioned, hard-boiled noir.
Yes, "Identical" presents us with a bit of a departure for Turow, particularly if you love his wonderful courtroom scenes; but try to keep your mind open to something new from Turow. You will still find some good courtroom scenes here -- actually, some pretty brilliant legal thinking from Judge Du Bois Lands -- but mostly, in "Identical," Turow is branching off into something like Jeffrey Archer territory: a family drama enacted over decades. For example, if you liked Archer's "Sons of Fortune," then you might enjoy Turow's "Identical." Of course, identical twins present a wealth of plot possibilities for a novelist; and Turow takes full advantage of them to create an intriguing mystery. For instance, did you know that identical twins do not have 𝒆𝙭𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙡𝙮 identical DNA, nor 𝒆𝙭𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙡𝙮 identical fingerprints? Turow uses this phenomenon to construct a legal puzzle. I would not call "Identical" a legal thriller, like Turow's previous offerings. Rather, I would put it more into the legal mystery/drama genre, á 𝘭𝘢 Jeffrey Archer. Although I wouldn't rank narrator Henry Leyva among my favorite narrators, he does have a nice voice, and does an adequate job of reading "Identical" for us. Overall, I would recommend "Identical" to mystery-lovers, and even to Turow fans, as long as you keep your mind open to a departure from form.
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