Aural Noir review of Killing Floor by Lee Child

February 11, 2010 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

BRILLIANCE AUDIO - Killing Floor by Lee ChildKilling Floor
By Lee Child; Read by Dick Hill
12 CDs – Approx. 14 Hours 48 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 9781423339854 (cd)
Themes: / Thriller / Murder / Mystery / Detective / Georgia / Conspiracy / Counterfeiting / Music /

All is not well in Margrave, Georgia. The sleepy, forgotten town hasn’t seen a crime in decades, but within the span of three days it witnesses events that leave everyone stunned. An unidentified man is found beaten and shot to death on a lonely country road. The police chief and his wife are butchered on a quiet Sunday morning. Then a bank executive disappears from his home, leaving his keys on the table and his wife frozen with fear. The easiest suspect is Jack Reacher – an outsider, a man just passing through. But Reacher is not just any drifter. He is a tough ex-military policeman, trained to think fast and act faster. He has lived with and hunted the worst: the hard men of the American military gone bad.

I’d heard about Lee Child for a while before I started reading his books. For a time there there was some confusion in my mind about who he was and what he wrote. I heard vague talk down the isles of bookstores. “Got any Child?” They’d say. “Lincoln?” They’d whisper. Or was it “Lee?” Then I’d hear about some character called “Repairman Jack” – or was it “Jack Reacher?” So with the confusion in the hearing it took a while longer than usual for the facts about who wrote what to float up from my unconscious to the part of my brain that thinks: “interesting.” The last time I heard about Lee Child was in Jolly Olde Books in Port Moody. That’s a used bookstore I frequent. The guy who runs the place reads Lee Child, and a couple of other booksellers I see in their from time to time were reading him too. They got to talking about how addictive the series was and that was the final clincher. When you run a used bookstore you really have your pick of books. They were reading Lee Child, so I thought I’d better get on the case too. Luckily Brilliance Audio has released most of this series, with at least one other done by Random House Audio.

But, even having the audiobook in hand, I had a hard time getting interested in listening to it. It sure doesn’t help to have such a generic title. And just look at it, the cover art is boooring. Apparently this is a very popular series, a bestselling series. That explains both the generic cover and the generic title. Killing Floor, the name sounds like just about every other techno-thriller/courtroom thriller/forensics thriller you’ll find in the supermarket paperback book rack; and that cover art only tells you vaguely about the genre – nothing about the story. The story starts out promisingly enough though. The story is told in first person, past tense (my preferred person and tense) by the protagonist, Jack Reacher. He tells us what is happening without much embroidery. When Reacher is arrested for murder, within the first few seconds of the novel, I was intrigued. It seemed like some sort of variation on David Morrell‘s First Blood: A stranger walks into small town USA and is arrested by corrupt cops. Fun. When the facts of Reacher’s backstory eventually drip out I still found myself fairly interested. Child’s explanation as to why Reacher is such a bad-ass actually makes pretty good sense too. What kind of police deal with the world’s most dangerous criminals? Child’s answer is: Military Police. The criminals the US Army deals with have been trained with every conceivable deadly art: firearms, hand to hand combat, artillery, grenades, demolitions – the many different ways of killing. A military policeman (MP) has to be trained better with these weapons than the criminals he confronts. And so an MP has to deal with the army’s best trained criminals: Green Berets, Rangers, Delta Force. Jack Reacher, we eventually find out retired from the army as a Major, having run his own criminal investigation unit (homicide investigation). A bit convienient but not too implausible. The mystery itself seems fairly interesting and Child wants to play fair. But there is one giant co-incidence that badly mars the narrative. It’s fairly well lampshaded by Reacher, but even in doing that I wasn’t wholly willing to forgive Child.

This novel has plenty of good characters and characterization. I can also see the seeds of themes that will probably reappearing in later books in the series. Like many novels of the last 25 years that I complain about Killing Floor is overly-long for the material it contains. The action sequences in the later chapters of the book are solid, but there were too many for the machinations of the plot. After listening all the way through I’d say this a solid novel with fairly good storytelling. I can see exactly what Lee Child is doing and am not particularly impressed. He’s gonna make a lot of money, but I can’t imagine anyone would ever bother to re-read one of these books. More likely they’ll just pick up another in the series and get more of the same kind of thing, just a bit different. It’s a slightly less obvious Mack Bolan story, a romance novel for men. So this is several steps removed from anything like spectacular.

Narrator Dick Hill has been a major audiobook narrator for longer than I’ve been an audiobook listener (that’s a long time). In Killing Floor he personifies Jack Reacher with a conspiratorial first person voice. When playing the other major players, criminals, love interests and fellow investigators he switches tone just enough to make it clear who’s speaking. I hope he reads more books in this series as if he does, and I get up enough interested to read another, I’d like him to narrate it.

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBC R7 & RA.cc: Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

October 10, 2009 by · 8 Comments
Filed under: Aural Noir, Online Audio 

Aural Noir: Online Audio

BBC Radio 7 - BBC7So in following up on that terrific new dramatization of The Most Dangerous Game, you know the one I told you about the other day, I’ve come across a novel with a similar theme. Indeed, this is a novel with a similar legacy to that of Richard Connell’s short story. Consider this…

“One should always hunt an animal in its natural habitat; and the natural habitat of man is – in these days – a town. Chimney pots should be the cover, and the method, snapshots at two hundred yards. My plans are far advanced. I shall not get away alive, but I shall not miss; and that is all that matters to me any longer.” – Rogue Male

Similar to The Most Dangerous Game hey?

But as to the legacy – let me offer these…

First up we need to consider in reverse chronological order David Morrell‘s 1972 novel, First Blood, and the subsequent movie of the same name. Said Morrell: “When I started First Blood back in 1968, I was deeply influenced by Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male.”

That’s a very strong recommendation in itself.

Then there was a 1976 TV-movie version starring Peter O’Toole (I also recall seeing it advertised as airing on A&E television network back in the 1990s)….

And lastly, in the video department, there was a 1941 film version (directed by Fritz Lang) put out under the title Man Hunt

As to the audio, I did a search of that handy dandy resource RadioArchive.cc and found there a lovely UNABRIDGED reading of Rogue Male, a novel that was commissioned (and recently re-aired) on BBC Radio 7. I’ve just finished listening to it and I highly recommend it!

SERIOUSLY, be sure give this one a try. It’s totally gripping from the first sentence on. It holds your attention with a combination of great narration (by Michael Jayston), excellent writing (by Geoffrey Household) and historical relevance. It has a feel of a historical novel – giving you a sense of the time and the culture – whilst also meditating on the human mind – especially decision making. It’s not unlike Ken Follett‘s Eye Of The Needle or The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins – it’s that good.

One thing that Rogue Male has, that those others lack, is a nice human-animal friendship. This is essentially a hunting story, rather than a spy story, so it is more singularly focused on those themes and less externalized. I’ve never read a story that depicts what it’s like to stalk an animal (be it human or otherwise) better than this novel does.

Here’s what one of the commenters on the torrent thread said about it:

“This simply has to be one of the best ‘reads’ I will have in 2008. The reader is brilliant and the story suspenseful beyond belief. I listened to it in bed and it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout every chapter. Thanks for upping it. This is already in my top 10 audio experiences of all time.”

Rogue Male by Geoffrey HouseholdRogue Male
By Geoffrey Household; Read by Michael Jayston
15 Broadcasts – Approx. 6 Hours 32 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 7
Broadcast: 2004
Told in first person by the protagonist, an un-named British sportsman, sets out to see whether he can successfully stalk and prepare to shoot a European dictator. Supposedly interested only in the hunt for its own sake, he convinces himself that he does not intend to actually pull the trigger. First published in paperbook form in 1939.

And, there was a BBC radio drama version too (also available at RadioArchive.cc)!

BBC Radio 4Rogue Male
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Household; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 90 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Broadcast: 1989
Starring Simon Cadell and David Googe.

Other radio drama adaptations include:

SuspenseSuspense – Rogue Male
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Household; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 30 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: CBS Radio
Broadcast: December 31st 1951
Provider: Archive.org
Stars Herbert Marshall and Ben Wright.

Everything For The BoysEverything For The Boys – Rogue Male
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Household; Adapted by Arch Oboler; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 30 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]*
Broadcaster: NBC Radio
Broadcast: 1944
Starring Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino.
*This is a lost broadcast, no known copies now exist.

And I should also mention, that a sequel, Rogue Justice, first published in 1982, was also broadcast on BBC Radio 7 earlier this year as a five-part abridged reading (also read by Jayston).

Neat eh?

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Hollywood Fantasies: Ten Surreal Visions of Tinsel Town

July 16, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Hollywood FantasiesHollywood Fantasies – Ten Surreal Visions of Tinsel Town
By Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Ed Gorman, John Jakes, David Morrell, Michael Reaves, David Schow, Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg and Henry Slesar; Read by Susan Anspach, David Birney, Harlan Ellison, Jamie Farr, Laini Kazan, Steve Kmetko, Harley Jane Kozak, Favid Madden and John Rubinstein
4 cassettes – Approx 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dove Audio
Published: 1997 – hardcopy out of print (available for download at Audible)
ISBN: 0787109460
Themes: Fantasy / Hollywood / Movies / Television / Westerns / Witchcraft / Virtual Reality / Magic /

Learn the truth behind the mask of Hollywood in these ten bizarre tales of dreams and dream weavers, movies and movie-makers, by some of the most respected fantasy writers of our time.

This disappointing collection has a few redeeming tales, but few must-listen gems. The majority of the stories feel like filler – many feature tacked on twist endings that are less than stellar. Apparently Harlan Ellison’s reading of his own story, “Laugh Track,” has been modified in the performance – with the addition of a few lines here and there – if anybody’s gonna mess with a story it best be the author. The cover art is utilitarian but colorful, packaging for this audiobook is however very poor, most examples of these 4 cassette plastic cases with cardboard covers have become unbound as the glue holding the two together was not up to its task. Another minor annoyance, the mislabeling of cassette 4, Ed Gorman’s story “Gunslinger” is said to run through all of side 7 and onto 8, when it is the reverse. “Dead Image” starts on side 7 and runs through all of side 8.

Stories Included:

“The Never-Ending Western Movie” by Robert Sheckley
Jamie Farr’s gruff cowboy voice successfully narrates this 1976 short story, which posits an alternate world in which the old-fashioned movie serial westerns and reality television have merged. This is hard enough on the actors, who now have to do their own stunts, but when the prop guns fire real bullets acting scared isn’t too tough.

“One For The Horrors” by David Schow
A run-down movie theater shows prints of lost movie masterpieces like The Man Who Would Be King starring Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable? The only thing that could top that is what’s playing tomorrow night! This one really is fantasy! Strictly for film connoisseurs – it held my interest but could have exited the stage a little more interestingly. Author David Schow must have done some fascinatingly fun research for this one. Reader Steve Kmetko works some magic of his own in the theater of the ear.

“The Man Who Wanted To Be In The Movies” by John Jakes
George wants to be in movies, so he visits his local licensed witch to cast a spell that’ll do the job. Harley Jane Kozak, the narrator, is fine – but the story itself is absolutely pointless and uninteresting.

“Laugh Track” by Harlan Ellison
Have you ever wondered where the laugh tracks from television sitcoms come from? Meet Wally Modisett, the Phantom Sweetener. Originally appearing in “Weird Tales” Magazine in 1984, this overly lengthy tale is almost made up for in part by Ellison’s enthusiastic performance, told in first person.

“Reality Unlimited’ by Robert Silverberg
Virtual Reality movies. Neat idea, but that’s all it is, the idea is there but the story is M.I.A.. When this tale was written in 1957 it might have had some point to it, today it’s barely a curiosity. A disappointing story by the usually reliable Silverberg. But on the other hand Susan Anspach reading of it was fine.

“The Movie People” by Robert Bloch
Movie extras have been in Hollywood films since the silent era, but just because they have no lines doesn’t mean we can’t read between them. Adequate and with a modicum of originality this tale would have benefited from a few more drafts before publication – it wanted to be a better story. John Rubenstein takes his time with the telling – a laconic voice that doesn’t detract from the story.

“Werewind” by Michael Reaves
A serial killer and a lonely howling wind may be connected. The only question is how. Marginally listenable, Michael Reaves’ story isn’t predictable, but neither is it comprehensible. It feels like a refugee from a Danielle Steele novelization of A Nightmare on Elm Street – and that doesn’t make any sense to me either! David Madden’s reading is far better than this short deserves.

“The Movie Makers” by Henry Slesar
Henry Slesar’s ode to 1950’s science fiction b-movies succeeds – in disappointing the same way those bad movies do – minus the cheesy special visual effect. The twist ending is also predictable. Lainie Kazan’s serviceable reading is adequate to the story’s requirements – though consider the predominant male characterization a female narrator is a questionable choice.

“Gunslinger” by Ed Gorman
In the early Twentieth century cowboys were heading away from the range and towards Hollywood, where they’d take on roles in the burgeoning western film frenzy. One man however is has a score to settle with one of these cowboys turned film actors, and its gonna be real bullets that’ll fly. “Gunslinger is illogically placed in this collection – it is not fantasy. It is set in Hollywood, but isn’t particularly fanciful. David Birney doesn’t have much to do here, but neither does he fail to achieve what’s required – to tell the story.

“Dead Image” by David Morrell
A thinly veiled tale about movie rebel James Dean, that asks the question: If Dean had a second chance at life would he do things any different? This very interesting tale depends upon a listener’s knowledge of James Dean’s life and death – also neat was the appearance of a Dennis Hopper type. Morrell’s tale isn’t likely to be turned into a film itself, but it’s full of neat ruminations on destiny and fame. Jamie Farr’s deep voice makes a second, and very welcome, appearance in this collection. He’s becoming one of my favorite celebrity narrators.

Posted by Jesse Willis