paul barron

Victoria, British Columbia Canada
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A mile wide and an inch deep

1 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-02-14

The author has managed to introduce every era-related theme into his plot but the result is stereotypical and shallow. Its overambitious shopping list of characters/groups includes -- and this is only a partial list -- a hired Korean-war-vet killer, the local mob, the mafia, the Irish mob, proto-Black Panthers, the KKK, the FBI, Happy-Days-style street gangs, a gold-hearted madame, a seemingly bent straight cop, a taboo mixed-race liaison and a beautiful-but-innocent diner-waitress love interest. With all those ingredients, the stew could conceivably be exciting, but the delivered dish is tasteless and thin.

One of the most annoying artifices is that the author insists on using dialogue to provide the backstory which forces the listener to endure a whole series of highly unlikely and stilted conversations.

Having thoroughly enjoyed veteran narrator Stephen Hoye's readings of other novels (The Killer Angels is superb), I couldn't help but feel sorry for him as he tried valiantly to make this book come alive.

I don't often write reviews but I have felt compelled to write this one to warn fellow Audiophiles to save their credit and avoid this book.

Labyrinth audiobook cover art

A maze to nowhere

1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-27-10

I chose this book because I was looking for something in the genre of the excellent "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis (highly recommended!). By contrast, I found Labyrinth incredibly disappointing. I finally have packed it in, almost at the end, as I care less about how it finishes than in saving myself from being insulted by the frayed story lines, flat writing and unbelievability of it all. While it starts off with a compelling and tense opening, the book soon becomes a tattered mess of characters, plot lines and eras. As a history novel it falls short in every aspect: personal life, political factions, warfare, interplay between the sexes, locales, etc. The characters are stereotyped, shallow and unappealing. The shifts between the two eras -- modern day and the Pays d'Oc in the 1200s -- are stilted. The romantic side is equally facile. It hints at being supernatural as a grail story, with some dream sequences thrown in, but can't make up its mind. I come away thinking that this would be the sort of effort you'd expect from a high school student with a big imagination but undeveloped writing and researching skills. The two positives are the narration, which is quite well done (though a bit whiny as others have suggested, but maybe that's the writing) and the fact that it got me interested in the Albigensian Crusade. Some have compared it to Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and perhaps the auther was wanting to cash in on this genre. If so, it's done poorly. Save your Audible credit and get "Doomsday Book" as a fine history novel instead.

Revering Rommel

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-25-09

I agree with all the other, positive reviews. This is a great book.

I can add two things: 1) Don't be put off by the title or the picture of the cover. Neither do it justice and both, for me anyways, falsely imply the book is in the "pulp" category. This book is much richer, deeper, better researched and more polished than that. 2) I read this book after listening to "The Phantom Major" which is a good, non-fiction account of the beginnings of the SAS under David Stirling (also available on Audible). Reading "Killing Rommel" second made it that much more compelling. If you haven't read "The Phantom Major", and liked "Killing Rommel", I recommend it to you.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

A life in two parts

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-24-09

White Blood chronicles the life of Charlie Doig, an Anglo-Russian, from pre-WWI times up to the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 and the turmoil of the ensuing (first) revolution.

The first half of the book establishes the Doig character as a naturalist in far flung places of the globe, chronicling his influences; the second is the much more immediate drama of his marriage in the swirling events of wartime, pre-revolution Russia which ends when the revolution finally intrudes upon the idyllic life of his "White" Russian aristocratic heritage.

As a character study which shines light on this period, from the point of view of the privileged class, the book is insightful and persuasive. Fleming captures the paternalistic, noblesse oblige -- and hollow -- Russian aristocracy well, of which Doig is a member. My problem is that the two parts don't seem to blend very well, making the overall effort disjointed.

I tried to determine if the characters in the book were allegories for the different forces in play in revolutionary Russia. Apart from the obvious, I didn't get the sense this ran very deep. Ultimately, the book is a character study.

That being said, White Blood is well written and richly narrated. If you have an interest in the period, from the less-told point of view of the Whites not the Reds, you will find it interesting. I would have given it 3.5 stars if that had been an option.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

King of Groans

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-08-06

When I downloaded this book, there appeared to be no reviews. Now there are 43. My web browser must have been acting up. In any case, I rushed back here to warn people off this book only to find all the other reviews and the two polarized camps. I fall into the "good plot tritely written" camp.

I kept thinking that it's as though the author was a painter who turned out a sparkling work only to keep labouring over it until it turned to mud on the canvas. At one point, he had a good book there, perhaps in an early draft, but he worked too hard at making it clever.

That being said, I would give the King of Lies the following rating: 4 Stars for the plot. It was intricate and compelling, and the only aspect that kept me reading it; minus 1 Star for groan-out-loud cliches and hackneyed phrasing masked as personal epiphanies and introspective wisdom; predictable, stereotypical, uni-dimentional characters: minus 1/2 Star; annoying, effete narration: minus 1/2 Star = 2 Stars.

On the positive side, I did like the way the main character dug a big hole for himself by his seemingly benign actions, which ended up driving the tight plot. Not being from the US, let alone the South, I can't comment on the accuracy of how the class issues of North Carolina are captured, but I do think the book would have been significantly better if a reader like Will Patton or Stephen Hoye had read it. They perhaps could have turned the plodding, monotonous narration into a humid Southern story full of genteel tension -- if in fact that's in the work to begin with. It's hard to tell.

All in all, if you value your credits skip this book and look into works by James Lee Burke or Ellmore Leonard.

52 of 65 people found this review helpful