Review of The Book Of Lies by Brad Meltzer

February 7, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

Book Of Lies by Brad MeltzerThe Book Of Lies
By Brad Meltzer; Read by Scott Brick
10 CDs – Approx. 11.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Published: September 2008
ISBN: 9781600243806
Themes: / Crime / Thriller / Murder / Superman / Florida / Cleveland / Secret Cult /

Cain kills Abel in Chapter Four of the Bible. It is the world’s most famous murder. But the Bible is silent about one key detail: the weapon Cain used to kill his brother. That weapon is still lost to history. In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was killed by three gunshots to his chest. While mourning, his son dreamed of a bulletproof man and created the world’s greatest hero: Superman. And like Cain’s murder weapon, the gun used in this unsolved murder has never been found. Until now. Today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cal Harper comes face-to-face with his family’s greatest secret: his long-lost father, who’s been shot with a gun that traces back to Michell Siegel’s 1932 murder. But before Cal can ask a single question, he and his father are attacked by a ruthless killer tattooed with the anicent markings of Cain. And so begins the chase for the world’s first murder weapon. What does Cain, history’s greatest villain, have to do with Superman, the world’s greatest hero? And what do two murders, committed thousands of years apart, have in common?

Brad Meltzer has based his novel on two seemingly unconnected ideas – the biblical tale of Cain and Abel and the comic book hero Superman, created by Jerry Siegel. Meltzer has his work cut out for him, with research dating back to the origins of the bible, 19th century Europe, 20th century Cleveland, a historical secret cult, and the workings of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service. Despite these obstacles it feels as though every chapter of The Book Of Lies is based on hard researched truths. The Book Of Lies is pure fiction, but there’s a whole lot of historical fact informing it. When it comes down to a final analysis however the connections that are made are bridged by a rather unlikely global conspiracy. Despite this, I was kept guessing as to what would happen next all the way through, and there were plenty of genuine surprises, clever analogies and explanations throughout. The final revelation made the whole novel extremely worthwhile – it made sense, and makes sense – and given the preposterousness of the premises that’s no small feat.

For fans of Superman The Book Of Lies is a must read. Those interested in comic book history will also find much value here. The main thrust of the entertainment however is the thriller aspect of the writing, offering what is essentially a pop culture version of The DaVinci Code or National Treasure. The Book Of Lies feels as if it was a challenge Meltzer gave to himself, saying: “If I can do this, if I can write this, then I can write anything.” I’m a believer now, and I’m willing to admit, I’ll follow along, Metzler’s proved something here.

Narrator Scott Brick was a little over-dramatic in some of his line deliveries but put in an otherwise very serviceable narration. Disc 10 of this audiobook has a 12 page PDF featuring images from the paperbook. I’ve never seen anything exactly like this done for an audiobook before. The text, and Scott Brick’s narration of the text describing these images, fully illustrated the way these important images fit together while I was listening, but it was a nice extra to see anyway.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Aural Noir Review of Fever by Sean Rowe

August 8, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

As part of our revival of the Aural Noir label, we’ll be re-running some of our classic (offline) Aural Noir posts, including this “vintage” audiobook review which was first posted in December 2005…

Tantor crime audiobook - Fever by Sean RoweFever
By Sean Rowe; Read by William Dufris
5 CDs – Approx 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1400101778
Sample: |MP3|
Themes: / Crime / Heist / Noir / Thriller / Terrorism / Florida / Cuba / Nautical / Family /

Raw, is probably the best one-word sum up of Sean Rowe’s first novel Fever. Rowe’s prose lacks the polish found in novelists like Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake and Elmore Leonard, but he doesn’t lack what it takes to eventually become worthy of hanging out with these masters, especially if he keeps writing like this!

Fever follows a tight knit group of fuck-ups through their attempt to rob thirty million dollars of stashed drug money from an aging cruise ship plying the waters between Miami and Cuba. The crew, on paper at least, looks like it should be able to handle anything. It consists of an ex-FBI agent Matt Shannon, his step brother (an ex-DEA agent named Jack Fontana), an emergency room nurse named Julia, a former Black Panther, and a South American soldier of fortune. Despite their collective skill set these are all losers in almost every way. Shannon’s past is slowly revealed, working backwards we know that he’s an in-debt alcoholic, with a dead wife, missing an index finger and has a step-brother who is a recently paroled felon. When the step-brother frames Shannon in the sinking of a freighter Matt is half-blackmailed into going along, with a vague desire to somehow help his brother. The rest of the crew are nearly as sad, Julia was an orphan who was sexually abused from a young age. And Jack Fontana is dying after serving his sentence. Even the minor characters have their share of problems…. one passage detailing the last job the mercenary took killing Indians in the jungles of South America is brutal, funny and illustrative of just how unlikely this string will be of pulling off this or any job. The malformed love triangle between Shannon, his brother, and Julia pays off in a tasty neo-noir style. In fact love, brotherly and the other kind is probably at the heart of this story. Fever is extremely enjoyable, the dialogue is crisp and fun, the scenes are imaginative and original. A constant surprise awaits in every chapter. None of it goes exactly according to plan and that makes it all the better to follow. The novel’s few problems seem mostly structural, scene transitions aren’t handled as well as I’d like and despite it being a first person perspective we never really get an idea of what’s going on inside the narrator’s head. This could be a deliberate style on the part of Rowe, as both flaws could be thought to pay off in certain ways later in on the book, but I’m thinking a more seasoned novelist might have been better able to give us everything. I eagerly look forward to reading the next Sean Rowe novel!

Read by the always reliable William Dufris, the first person perspective plays into such classics as Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Dufris’ natural timbre doesn’t exactly embody the gravelly voiced loser we imagine as the narrator but his voicing of the rest of the crew is spot on. Men, women, a Colombian drug lord, the string and even minor characters like an aging boxer all sound just like you’d want them to. Tantor Media, an exciting new player in unabridged audiobooks has packaged Fever in a clamshell CD case with leaved pages. The cover is the same as the Little Brown & Co. original and the sound quality is phenomenal. The pricing is extremely reasonable too. I think Tantor is probably the most exciting new big little publisher of the decade!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Callahan’s Con by Spider Robinson

February 11, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Callahan's Con by Spider RobinsonCallahan’s Con
By Spider Robinson; Read by Barrett Whitener
8 CDs – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786183470
Themes: / Science Fiction / Humor / Crime / Time Travel / Immortality / Telepathy / Florida /

Jake Stonebender, our favorite intergalactic barkeep, rivets us to our stools with yet another wild and wooly yarn about the goings on of his Key West cantina. This time though, it isn’t the end of the world that is the trouble. Instead, it’s a mountainous mole-hill of a thug named Tony Donuts Jr. who wants to make his bones by fleecing Jake and his neighboring businesses for “protection money”. Jake could solve this problem with straight-on firepower, but that’d only bring down more government attention on him and his hippie clientele. And more heat is what he doesn’t need – because wouldn’t you know it – a dedicated bureaucrat from the Florida family services department has been sniffing around to find out why Jake’s only daughter has not been to school since she was born some thirteen years ago! So Jake and his extended family set about concocting a sting so devious it will make Florida Swampland real estate look good. The grift involves, among other things, time-travel, the Russian Mob, and the Fountain of Youth!

Full of brain-smearing puns and gawdawful song parodies Callahan’s Con is guaranteed to entertain anyone who enjoys Robinson’s Hugo award winning fiction. Myself, I come for the jokes and stay for references. In this case a nice homage to literature’s most unlucky master criminal: John Dortmunder. Callahan’s Con is proof that not only can Robinson like to write in the style of Heinlein – as he did in the previous installment, Callahan’s Key, – but also that he can write in the style of Mystery Writers Of America Grandmaster Donald E. Westlake! Interestingly this means that that Jake’s first person perspective is stretched-out to include multiple viewpoints – as is the Westlake’s Dortmunder novels. I’m not sure how Robinson did it, but he managed to convey other character’s perspectives in a way I can only describe as fictionalizing the fiction. I should also note that in a break with tradition Robinson hasn’t merely added to the seeming ever growing entourage surrounding Jake – for a major of character in the series dies. Though this could be troubling it is handled with grace and a few tears.

Reader Barrett Whitener, in this third Blackstone Audio Callahan audiobook does his familiar and fun vocal gymnastics routine – spouting off one liners in a dozen comic voices. Whitener, an Audie Award winner, is well matched with comic material – it really and truly is his forte. Blackstone Audio has been known to use a mix of art from the hardcover or paperback and their own original cover art. Their own art has been steadily improving and I’m pleased to say this is the nicest original cover so far!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Callahan’s Key by Spider Robinson

November 29, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Callahan's Key by Spider RobinsonCallahan’s Key
By Spider Robinson; Read by Barrett Whitener
9 Cassettes – Approx 12.5 Hours
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2003
ISBN: 0786125519
Themes: / Science Fiction / Humor / Callahan’s Place / Florida / Nikola Tesla / Robert A. Heinlein / NASA /

The universe is in desperate peril. Due to a cluster of freakish phenomena, the United States’ own defense system has become a perfect doomsday machine, threatening the entire universe. And only one man can save everything-as-we-know-it from annihilation. Unfortunately, he’s not available. So the job falls instead to bar owner Jake Stonebender, his wife, Zoey, and superintelligent toddler, Erin. Not to mention two dozen busloads of ex-hippies and freaks, Robert Heinlein’s wandering cat, a whorehouse parrot, and misunderstood genius-inventor Nikola Tesla, who is in fact alive and well.

Set in 1989, though published and written in 2001, Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Key is a mighty funny tale. But that is not a shocker. Nobody except Douglas Adams does science fiction humor better than Spider Robinson. But what was a shock is that novel makes any sense at all. With a cast of literally dozens of speaking characters, the only thing that keeps the lunatic asylum of a novel from going completely off the rails is the first person perspective. Well mostly that… well, actually that and some sober thoughts from former Vice President of the United States Dan Quayle. Each chapter begins with a real quote from Dan Quayle! But he’s not the focus of this tale, not at all. Instead, something is about to go wrong with a super secret death ray launched by Space Shuttle, which is under the supervision of Dan Quayle, though he isn’t actually mentioned in the book. Anyway, somebody has to stop this death ray before it goes off and destroys the universe. Thankfully, Jake Stonebender, our perspective protagonist has saved the world a number of times. It’s just par for the course when he’s asked to do it again by Nikola Tesla, who, thank you very much, is alive and well and has become a time traveler. Back in 1989 though, Jake, his bulletproof family, and his crew of whacked out hippies and mad scientist customers decide to move south to Florida’s Key West… to ah… get a better handle on the job. Needless to say they fit right in.

I had a lot of fun spending some time with these characters. If you’ve read a Callahan yarn in the past you’ll be pleased to hear that all the old gang present again. If you’re a new to Robinson’s long running comic novel series you may do better to start with The Callahan Chronicals (also from Blackstone Audio). In this one though, Robinson not only references Robert Heinlein – with an uncanny channeling of his writing style – he also re-introduces us to Pixel, Heinlein’s cat and the eponymous Cat Who Walked Through Walls! Along the way we get to visit the very real, (actually fictional), dockside home of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and numerous other side adventures. By the time the actual plot gets steaming into full swing I had almost forgotten that novels are supposed to have them. But that is okay. Plot isn’t really all that important to this novel’s experience, so I was actually a little disappointed that they had to even discuss it. Barrett Whitener is just terrific at voicing Jake Stonebender and his crazy friends. It sounded like he was having a blast performing it too. Nearly every minute or so of the novel’s production a groaner pun or a ridiculous situation had me smiling or wincing – and sometimes painfully at the same time. So if you’re in the mood for an ultra-zany audiobook reach no farther than Callahan’s Key. And tell them Nikola Tesla sent you, because he might not really be dead.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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