Aural Noir review of Columbine by Dave Cullen

Aural Noir: Review

I didn’t expect to be reviewing this audiobook. Prior to its arrival in the SFFaudio mailbox I didn’t even know this audiobook existed. It is neither Science Fiction, nor Fantasy. Its Horror is of the very detached and remote kind because of the way it is told. I scoured the packaging looking for a sign as to why we were sent this audiobook. The only thing that stood out was that it was directed by Emily Janice Card (that’s Orson Scott Card‘s audiobook producing daughter). That’s a very tenuous connection to what is normally our kind of audiobook. But, after listening to the book in its entirety I found I had some things to say about it. And… we do have this handy “Aural Noir” tag that I use to talk about the Mystery, Thriller, and Noir audiobooks that I so love. Why not review it under its aegis?

Done!

Blackstone Audiobooks - Columbine by Dave CullenColumbine
By Dave Cullen; Read by Don Leslie
11 CDs – Approx. 13 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
Published: March 2009
ISBN: 9781433290435
Themes: / Crime / History / Colorado / Murder / Suicide / Psychopathy /

“If you want to understand ‘the killers,’ quit asking what drove them. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were radically different. Klebold is easier to comprehend, a more familiar type. He was hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal. He blamed himself for his problems. Harris is the challenge. He was sweet-faced and well-spoken. Adults, and even some other kids, described him as ‘nice.’ But Harris was cold, calculating, and homicidal. ‘Klebold was hurting inside while Harris wanted to hurt people.'”

Journalist Dave Cullen has assembled what must be, for the foreseeable future, the definitive book about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Myself, I was only vaguely familiar with the incident at the time. In 2002 I watched Michael Moore’s disturbing film Bowling For Columbine. It was a kind of editorial-documentary on the event itself, the connections with other shootings and firearms in general. Since then, the Columbine High School massacre had been completely off my radar. Dave Cullen’s non-fiction book Columbine supports my conviction that if you really want to know what exactly happened, you’ll have to wait for the facts to be ferreted out by a historian. Cullen is just such a historian. The history Cullen paints is rich in factual details. His sources are: the writings and videos of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold themselves, county records, friends of the murderers, their fellow students, eyewitness interviews, police records, victims, victim’s families and probably most crucially a senior FBI agent. That agent, Dwayne Fuselier, had a son attending Columbine High School on the day – so his arrival on the scene was both personal and professional – his later investigations reveal insights into the vast reams of documents and video produced by the killers themselves. With Fuselier’s assistance Cullen debunks virtually all of the many myths and falsehoods that swirled around the media’s coverage of the massacre.

Other than the two murderers, and the gun suppliers, the only other major villain in Cullen’s account of the massacre and its aftermath is the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. “Jeffco” was in charge of the investigation. It was also responsible for a lot of the incompetence that lead to it being necessary. In the aftermath Jeffco had a limelight loving sheriff who was concocting conspiracy theories that he had no investigative evidence for. But that bunk seems to have supressed some very interesting facts. For instance. Were you told the police had, prior to the attack, documented murder threats by Harris/Klebold prior to the attack? Did you know that the police had even made out a search warrant based on these threats? Did you know that, if the warrant had been taken to a judge, it would have allowed the police to discover the weapons cache the teens were preparing? Did you know that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold been arrested together, for another crime, prior to the attack?

Other myths Cullen debunks are those generated by the media and church groups. Had you heard about the girl who said ‘yes’ when asked if she ‘believed in God’? Ya, I had too. Did you know that she actually didn’t say it? That another teen had, and that she wasn’t shot? That instead this survivor, the one who had actually proclaimed her belief, was branded a liar by the evangelical community? I hadn’t known that.

With Columbine Cullen, has assembled a first rate piece of non-fiction history. It illustrates exactly why a public reaction to the daily news so often leads to dangerously false beliefs. If there was just one takeaway from this audiobook let it be that American society needs to be more focused on the problem of detecting psychopathy. Not all psychopaths are murderous, in fact most are law abiding. What unites them all is that other people don’t matter to them, except as a means to their ends.

Blackstone has issued the same stark cover for the audiobook as is on the paperbook. Chapters jump back and forth in time, showing the consequences of and the preparations for the murderous assault. This is a wise structural move as the day’s events themselves are not the primary focus of this book. In fact a good deal of the narrative follows others who were there that day: Frank DeAngelo, the Columbine High School principal, some of surviving victims and their families or the workings of the media itself. Don Leslie, the narrator, is given the grim task of reading the words of Klebold and Harris. It isn’t an enviable job, but he is up to the task. There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the audiobook that explains that all the words in quotes are sourced from interviews, transcripts and articles. This is naturally less clear in the audiobook version than the paperbook edition but Leslie does his best to make each quote as clear as he can.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Misery and Pity by C. J. Henderson

Horror Audiobooks - Misery and Pity by C.J. HendersonMisery and Pity
By C. J. Henderson, read by Jeffery West, Bob Barr and C.J. Henderson
1 CD/ 55 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Published: ??
ISBN: 0973159634
Themes: / Horror / Damnation / Possession / Vampires / Fantasy / Suicide / Charity

On the back cover of this audio book, C. J. Henderson is given the unblushing accolade “The Master of Modern Horror”, but I found the stories in this collection to be charming throwbacks. The stories often have classic arrangements, such as two old friends meeting at a restaurant to swap tales and compare their fates, or dark, Poe-like trips into hells of a character’s own making. They juxtapose the familiar with the impossible, the ominous with the disarmingly reassuring, and make for a tasty light lunch of dark imaginings.

The title story, read by Jeffrey West borrows, I assume, from Chinese myth, but in a way that doesn’t seem the least bit Chinese. Two old friends meet in an exotic Hong Kong Dim Sum where the diners bring their birds with them and let them roost in the rafters while they eat. A simple comment about one’s latest doings and destiny leads to a story of Chinese soul-vampires and a fiery confrontation with a monster that is the last of its kind. West’s narration is modern and seamless, almost invisible for its perfect attention to the story.

Bob Barr, on the other hand, narrates “Hope” with visible and sensational style. Somehow, he brings the narrative force of a tent revival and a fireside ghost story together, occasionally slowing the story to such a languid pace that you feel not only the weight of each syllable, but of their attack and decay as well. It’s very effective for a tale dealing with sin, damnation, and unutterable evil wearing the most insidious disguise.

But that’s where the professional narration ends, and where the quality of the material begins to dip, too. C.J. Henderson’s readings sound nerdy and occasionally belabored. And if he brings any authorial insight to the pieces, it is to point out that they are artificial and clattery. “The Buzzing of Flies” seems especially overwrought, as well as dull and predictable. “That’s the One” makes no real sense, being an illustration of life imitating a random thought about a specific work of art, but it has a loose freedom that seems to float where the previous story falls. Perhaps the finest of the final three is “Sacrifice”, which seems to be a wicked, wicked satire of the bizarre and pointless reactions we have to the injustices of the world.

All in all, Misery and Pity isn’t a bad way to kill almost an hour. The whole package has a likeable simplicity to it, and an unselfconscious lightness that makes it frivolously fun. Groundbreaking? Life-changing? Nah, but it is enjoyable.

Posted by Kurt Dietz