I’ve never been that interested in this book or anything by Wilkie Collins for that matter. Collins had that stigma (for me) of having written “classics” and “the first detective novel.” Which just killed any interest I’d ever have had because classics and “first ever” books are musty, boring, and stale, right?
I know that isn’t true, but I still have a hard time shaking that idea.
However, when B.J. Harrison, narrator extraordinaire of The Classic Tales Podcast offered the first five hours of this book as a free sample I couldn’t resist. I soon gave in and ordered the entire book. I was hooked in just a few chapters.
I really didn’t expect Gabriel Betteredge, the first narrator, to be so funny. He spends his spare time reading and rereading Robinson Crusoe which is his ultimate guide to any tricky decision he must make.
The second narrator is equally hilarious, a maiden aunt whose dedication to the Christian cause is such that she spends a considerable amount of time hiding religious tracts in people’s homes to trick them into reading them. I actually laughed out loud at some of the tract names. Now that I think of it, I knew that Collins and Charles Dickens were good friends and I suppose I should have expected a good sense of the ridiculous.
Not every narrator is humorous but the characterization is strong for everyone. Rachel Verinder’s outburst to Franklin Blake toward the end of the book made me applaud her strong common sense while I sympathized with her situation. I was moved to pity by Ezra Jennings’ plight and delighted in Sergeant Cuff’s penchant for roses.
Harrison’s reading emphasized humor without being over the top and pointed out the pathos without being maudlin. His reading was the key to my thorough enjoyment of this Victorian tale complete with a family feud, a cursed diamond, three untrustworthy Indian jugglers, and a small boy nicknamed Gooseberry.
The ending was of its time and incredible by today’s standards, but I was on tenterhooks as each revelation was made. In fact, I put off listening to a brand new book in a series I love so that I could get to the end of this mystery.
Harrison is offering the entire book for $5 which is an amazing bargain. I’m sure how long that offer will stand so if you’re interested check out the link above.
Posted by Julie D.
Technomancer (Unspeakable Things, Book One)
By B.V. Larson; Read by Christopher Lane
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 discs – 11 hours
Themes: / mystery / thriller / magic /
When Quentin Draith wakes up in a private sanatorium, he has no memory of who he is or how he received the injuries riddling his body. All he knows is that he has to get out, away from the drugs being pumped into him and back to the real world to search for answers. His first question: How did his friend Tony’s internal organs fill with sand, killing him in a Las Vegas car crash? After a narrow escape, he tracks down the basic facts: he is an investigator and blogger specializing in the supernatural — which is a good thing, because Quentin’s life is getting stranger by the minute. It seems he is one of a special breed, a person with unusual powers. He’s also the prime suspect in a string of murders linked by a series of seemingly mundane objects. The deeper he digs and the harder he works to clear his name, the more Quentin realizes that some truths are better off staying buried….
This one had a lot of potential, but in the end didn’t live up to it. Technomancer starts off strong with the main character, Quentin Draith, waking up in a hospital, not remembering any details about his life…not even his name. From there, the reader (listener, in my case) is taken on a bit of a “mystery-thriller” type book with science fiction/supernatural elements thrown in. The reader learns about Quentin as he learns about himself. That part of the story is actually kind of fun, the act of discovery. Unfortunately, the book breaks one of my cardinal rules for books in a series: it doesn’t stand very well on its own and didn’t wrap up the story line in any satisfying way. At the end of the book, I was left bored and annoyed that I’d read the entire thing, let down by what it was compared with what it could have been.
Quentin discovers that there have been a variety of bizarre deaths in Las Vegas, odd happenings. Through one of the people he meets, he finds that he’s a blogger who writes about these strange things. As the story goes on, he meets a somewhat shady police officer who is the lead investigator for these events and comes to piece more of the story together. There are some people in the community who have special objects. These objects give them powers, or can be used against others. For example, one of the objects Quentin learns about early-on is a ring that makes the person wearing it lucky in games of chance (such as blackjack). Another power is used for a sort of mind control. Some of these powers have a limited range over which they can work; others can work anywhere. Some objects even allow the owner to create “rips” to other worlds or other places in this world, portals that can be used to travel around the Vegas area. These “rips” can lead to worlds, though, where other beings live, beings who can come through similar rips to our world. Quentin suspects that these beings (called “grey men”) are responsible for all the odd events in Vegas. Through his travels, he also learns that there are two groups of users of these special objects: the “community,” and the “rogues” or the “cultists.” The “community” are people who, to some extent, have banded together to collect objects. The “cultists” have objects of their own, but seem generally more interested in using them for new study. They compare the objects to witchcraft in the 1600′s: if you don’t understand the science behind something, then it is seen as magical, no? Eventually, Quentin forms a plan to destroy the grey men, and the story ends more or less after his attempt to do so…
All of that sounds like it has the potential to be an interesting story. Sadly, the book, taken on its own, didn’t form much of a complete story. Over 9 CD’s (10.5 hours), the book spent the first 8 with Quentin wandering around, finding objects and meeting people. Only three of the people he met (out of many) ended up being truly relevant by the end of the book. The final “battle” as it were didn’t start until the end of the 8th CD and was wrapped up 2/3 through the final CD; that is, the climax was only about 30 minutes long in total, and came right at the end. Instead of describing more of the how’s and why’s, Larson spent most of this book world- and character-building. Even the “battle” was rushed. It wasn’t clear, at the end of the story, if the battle made any difference. Or why Quentin survived. Or what happened to the others who went to battle with him. Or why some of them mattered. A quick look on Amazon indicates that this is the first in the “Unspeakable Things” series. This book was unsatisfying enough to me that I won’t go on to read the others. I kept holding out hope that the climax would come and the story would be resolved, but in the end, it wasn’t. It just felt like a very long introduction to a short book.
As this was an audiobook, I should probably mention something about the narration. In short, it was a pretty average narration, nothing to write home about, but nothing particularly bad or unpleasant, either. Lane did a fine job with the voices; there was never a question of which character was speaking, and his female voices weren’t as over-the-top as some male narrators do. In the end, when a narrator doesn’t distract from the book, they’re doing an alright job in my book, and that was the case here. I think it was probably better to listen to this book instead of reading the print version, so that I could do other things while reading.
Review by terpkristin.
Cool for Cats
By Andrew Ordover; Read by Andrew Ordover
7 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Andrew Ordover
Themes: / Mystery / Private Eye / Jazz /
And I didn’t want to rely on Internet archives. First of all, our local paper is crap, and it keeps crap archives online. But more importantly, when they do archive stories, they do what everyone else does–they reformat them into a computer-friendly layout. Well, I didn’t want that. I wanted to see the paper, the way the paper looked back then. I wanted the articles, sure, but I also wanted the short items, the calendar listings, the classified ads–the whole newsprint enchilada. As a professional snoop, I’ve found that not everything of importance comes with a byline, or over the fold.
Jordan Greenblatt is a small-time detective. He drifted into detective work the way he drifted into playing bass with a local jazz combo. He does both ok, but he’s never going to hit the bigtime with an attitude like that. And that’s ok with Jordan. He doesn’t mind being a supporting player.
Until his phone rings with a request to look into an old hit-and-run case … and Jordan realizes that he knows the victim. He had a big crush on Giselle Palmer and never even knew she was also in Atlanta. So he takes the case, even though it is completely unlike his usual work trailing cheating husbands. What Jordan uncovers is not only a murder but the key to his own future.
I liked this book a lot. Andrew Ordover gives readers a slacker detective who just needed the right motivation to stand up and move in a new direction. We follow Jordan as he figures out how to look at more than one clue, how to think like a real detective, and how to put together the puzzle pieces of an important case that is getting attention from the authorities.
This is Ordover’s first book but it only shows in the lack of layers (for want of a better term). Part of the lack of complexity is due to Jordan’s slacker personality, part may be because until Jordan deals with his own past he can’t move forward. Also, I wished for more depth from Jordan’s wife, Susannah. She objects when threats arise after Jordan’s digging gets him close to the heart of the mystery. However, those objections do not seem fierce enough and she forgives extremely easily. Or perhaps that is how Susannah is wired. I never felt that I got enough about her to know one way or the other. However, that is a small point overall.
Originally I read Cool for Cats in paperback. However, Ordover has now released the audiobook on his website, which he reads himself, and it works spectacularly. As in the best cases, where the author knows the character inside and out, he brings Jordan to life in a way I didn’t experience when simply reading to myself. Because of this, I genuinely understood Jordan’s growth both as a detective and as a human being on a deeper level. At $5.00 for the entire book, it is a steal.
Another nice little riff is the connection with a playlist, if you like, of albums referenced in the book, via a widget in Ordover’s website sidebar. Jazz is integral to Jordan’s character and is referenced frequently. If you’re a jazz fan, the playlist idea is a great one for hearing the music that’s playing in his head.
Quibbles aside, Cool for Cats is a solid, entertaining mystery from this new author. It is one that left me hoping there would be a sequel.
SPECIAL FEATURE: Andrew Ordover narrated the first chapter for me over at Forgotten Classics. Go listen for free.
(Full disclosure – I am email pals with Ordover’s wife Heather who is the podcaster at CraftLit … and who provided me with a review copy. I’d have liked it anyway.)
Posted by Julie D.
As you might be able to tell from the diverse yet vague range of themes listed above, 14 is a difficult book to classify or review. Much like The Matrix, you can’t really be told what 14 is; you simply have to experience it for yourself. The blurb–or perhaps the term log line would be more appropriate–reads:
There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much. At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends. Or the end of everything….
Aside from giving off a subtle Stephen King vibe, this synopsis doesn’t much help categorize the book either. And yet, in precisely the way book cover pitches are supposed to do, it offers just enough tantalizing hints to draw you in. If I had to pick a single overriding genre for the novel, I would choose mystery. There are indeed some strange goings-on in the Kavach Building, which houses the novel’s motley assortment of tenanets as well as the eponymous apartment number 14. Some of these things are creepy, hence the horror; some are paranormal, hence the science fiction. But ever driving the plot forward is protagonist Nate Tucker’s desire to get to the bottom of it all. The mystery theme is underscored by repeated, almost overdone, references to Scooby Doo. But in terms of literary and historical allusions Scooby and Shaggy are kept good company by the likes of Nikola Tesla and H. P. Lovecraft. Yes, the book is that weird.
What makes it all work and flow so smoothly is Clines’s knack for characterization. The listless protagonist Nate Tucker, the artist Xela with nudist tendencies, the Hindi hacker Veek, the hardcore Christian Andy, and virtually every other character, major or minor, are people whose stories are minor mysteries in their own right. When, pardon my French, shit gets weird, you’re always anchored by this (mostly) likable ensemble. Clines’s writing is also excellent. His background in Hollywood is evident in the novel’s setting and characters, and the third-person narration is likewise cinematic in pacing. It would be easy to see 14 adapted into a movie or, preferably, a miniseries. The novel excels, as a good mystery should, in dropping tantalizing plot hints, only to cut away to more chapters on characterization, spurring the reader to read on and find out what happens next. In the hands of less capable writers this technique can feel like a cheap trick, but fortunately Clines doesn’t overdo it.
The diverse cast of characters poses a potential challenge for narrator Ray Porter, from the feminine cadence of Veek’s Indian accent to the clipped, harried German accent of Oskar the building manager. Fortunately, Porter is mostly up to the task. He handles these characters, as well as a broad range of accents from our own continent, nearly flawlessly. With a few exceptions near the end, his narration manages to feel unobtrusive, almost as if there were no narrator at all and the listener is simply telepathically absorbing the words from the page. I don’t believe I’ve listened to Ray Porter’s work before, but I’ll certainly watch for him from now on.
The book puts a neat little bow on most mysteries, but there are still a few loose tendrils that could serve as springboards for another novel in the same universe. It really was difficult to say goodbye to the characters and the world. In his review for Fantasy Book Critic, Mihir Wanchoo draws several apt comparisons between 14 and the television series Lost. The resemblance is indeed strong. If you enjoy strong characterization and a whirlwind of genre-bending mysteries, you’ll probably love the hell out of 14. And–sorry J.J. Abrams et al.–Peter Clines actually knew where the plot was going.
Posted by Seth
Tales from the Hood: The Sisters Grimm
By Michael Buckley; Read by L.J. Ganser
6.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Themes: / Fantasy / YA / Magic / Trial / Fairy Tale / Mystery /
This is my second book in the series. I started with book 5 and couldn’t put it down. At the end, I had to purchase and listen to book 6. Once again, I found myself lying in bed, listening to the book far longer than was prudent. It reminds me of the nights as a child when I would take a flashlight and read under the covers of my bed. It’s wonderful to again find a series that warrants that sort of need to read.
In the sixth volume, Mr. Canes, otherwise known as The Big Bad Wolfe, goes on trial for the murder of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. As always, the story was and was not what we’ve heard before.
Mr. Buckley again laced the story with clues. This time I had the ending figured out beforehand, but I didn’t mind as I enjoyed the story and how it unfolded.
In volume six, the trial is mostly a sham. The Mad Hatter is the judge and the defense is thwarted at every turn by a devilish prosecution. While we follow the main story, the overarching plot that weaves through the series also advances satisfactorily. The author is adept at giving us just enough backstory to keep from being lost but not enough for those who read previous books to mind.
The trial reminded me a lot of a Disneyland ride I loved as a child: “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”. The author grabs you, throws you into the car and takes you on a fast-paced ride, full of twists and turns, sudden stops and dead ends. But the denouement was quite satisfactory. The “To Be Continued” at the end of the book was more a “that chapter’s over, now it’s time for the next one” rather than a “I must get the next book!” But that, too, was fine. After the crazy trial, I’m ready for a short (very short) break before moving on to see what happens next.
Do I recommend the book? Absolutely. I’d give this a 9 out of 10. I’d recommend the entire series (based on two books) to readers of all ages. I’m an adult and I loved it. Young readers (the target audience) will love it as well.
This is a series you can safely buy as a gift for any child who loves to read mystery, adventure or fairy tales. The world comes alive in the books and you believe that, somewhere, Ferryport Landing really exists. That, to me, is high praise indeed.
Posted by Charlene Harmon
Filed under: Audio Drama, Aural Noir, Online Audio
Although this 1975 radio drama adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue drops much of the material of the original short story, adds new characters, and a new subplot, I’m pleased to say I really, really liked it.
If you had any difficulty getting into the recent podcast audiobook of the original story, SFFaudio Podcast #179, you’ll likely love how accessible this CBS Radio Mystery Theater adaptation is.
CBS Radio Mystery Theater #0198 – The Murders In The Rue Morgue
Adapted from the story by Edgar Allan Poe; Adapted by George Lowthar; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 44 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: CBS Radio
Broadcast: January 7, 1975
A woman is brutally murdered and mutilated in a locked room. A police detective desperate for promotion calls on an amateur detective to help him solve the crime with a most unusual solution.
Posted by Jesse Willis