Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The First Rule

Last year’s release of the 13th book in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels by Robert Crais inspired a series at my old blog. It examined each novel (to that point) and the audiobook versions that came out of them. My thirteenth and end review in the arc (last year in April), was only partially complete, however. This piece updates the entry.

Years ago, television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood and began his migration to novelist. He originated a quirky but distinctive private detective with the unlikely name of Elvis Cole, and his memorable laconic partner, Joe Pike. That first book’s success, The Monkey’s Raincoat, brought the P.I. genre something extraordinary byway of the author’s writing style and remarkable characterizations. The humor that epitomizes Robert Crais’ work, along with the rich relationships and poignancy of his stories, brought the soon-to-be-popular books to the fore of the mystery crime class. While the series is on its third decade with publishers and admirers, Elvis and Joe still continue to earn new fans with each new book release.

The First Rule

The First Rule was print published January 2010 in hardcover for the U.S. market and is pictured above. The paperback (which debuted months later in December of that year) uses the same artwork — and is in sharp contrast of the U.K. release. This cover art reaches back to previously established L.A. cityscape views of earlier books and returns fan favorite Joe Pike to the forefront with his second book. I could attempt my synopsis of this novel, but I’ll highlight the one done by Corey Wilde in November 2009, instead:

“When Frank Meyers, ex-mercenary turned husband-father-businessman-upstanding citizen, is murdered along with his wife and children in a home invasion, Joe Pike takes strong exception. The dead man had been one of Pike’s men during his professional soldier days. And Meyer wasn’t just another soldier; he was the one man all the other soldiers thought had a real chance at a normal life. And Frank was succeeding – or was he? Pike will do whatever he must to find and bring down the killers, and learn the truth about his friend.”

Whereas the author in the previous Joe Pike novel (The Watchman) had the taciturn one immediately trading gunshots this side of the prologue, here our protagonist is confronted with the brutal loss of a friend from his past. Essentially, what Robert Crais sets up from the start is a story of friendships and family, with L.A.’s Serbian mob serving as the counterpoint to Joe Pike. The thieves code, referred to by the novel’s title, follows the Russian mobster’s principle that nothing is more important than the gang they belong to (and family and children do not matter). Here, they’ll be pitted against the one person where friendship means just about everything (including the guiding morality he’s crafted). Because of this, Pike is placed once more in the preferred role of his fan base — that of the lethal hunter. Still, as he’s done many times before, Crais manages to surprise readers with the depth of his two lead characters in this chain of novels. As Corey wrote,

“… as a result, instead of a generic action-thriller with a cardboard superman, the story carries an emotional wallop that resonates long after the last gun is fired.”

As has been his inclination with the novels, the author brings back and expands on a character seen in earlier books (namely The Last Detective and The Watchman) — that of Jon Stone. The former-mercenary and current Professional Military Contractor broker brings an added level of passion to these proceedings. Though the reader can spot elements of both Joe and Elvis in his personality, he is an altogether unique persona (and one you want to read more of). As fans have come to expect, he’s a marvelous addition to the carefully crafted character universe by this novelist. However, everything still orbits around Elvis and Joe. It’s stated best by Robert Crais himself:

“… I could no more write a Joe Pike novel without Elvis than I could write an Elvis Cole novel without Joe. These guys are more than partners. They are friends. They are two underdogs who have turned themselves into heroes.”

Brilliance Audio, as expected, used the same artwork as that of the U.S. hardcover and paperback. What was startling, however, was their answer to the retirement of their most experienced U.S. audiobook narrator of the series, James Daniels (who now practices law). This time, the publisher sought out the author to read both the audio unabridged and abridged versions for the new release. As I covered in this series, Crais has had experience in doing the abridged audiobooks, The Forgotten Man and his standalone novel Hostage, for this publisher. As the author told book tour audiences last year, Brilliance asked him if he’d take over reader duties for this novel. In the past, such a job would have taken him away from his L.A. home/writing routine and required him to travel to the publisher’s home base in Michigan. Nevertheless, they wanted him enough for this novel’s audio publication they brought out a studio crew to Los Angeles for this stint. All in all, he spent 6 days recording both versions. For this novel, author Robert Crais performed his first unabridged reading (8:12 run-time), along with its abridged (4:36) double-duty.

Normally, my audiobook experience warns me off authors reading their own books — the lone exception being those reading their non-fiction bio work (Jake Adelstein with his Tokyo Vice book and Adrienne Barbeau’s memoir are excellent examples of this). Many authors tend to be out of their depth, and lack the vocal, linguistic, and/or acting skills to pull it off (*cough* Mark Bowden). So, I was apprehensive when BA announced my favorite author as the The First Rule‘s narrator prior to its release. I have to admit, though, I was pleasantly amazed when I began reviewing the author’s earlier abridged audio work during this series. The author’s unabridged TFR reading was likely his best vocal work with BA. Although, I noted Brilliance sound engineers did not enhance the recording with their hallmark phone modulation touches as they’ve done with other productions (perhaps, this was due to working away from their home studio). Crais, in my opinion, is at his best voicing Joe, Elvis, and Jon Stone in the audiobook. Conversely, he is weaker where I’d expect — foreign accents and multiple character vocalizations (especially those of the women). Still, his reading involved the listener, and that’s all that really matters for audio and series fans. The unabridged sample passage is below:

[Note: I really wanted to contrast the passage on the shorter version, but that same portion of the conversation does not exist on the abridgment. Take that as you will.]

As near as I can tell, the UK BBC unabridged audiobook (using their longtime series veteran narrator William Roberts) was released overseas in November of 2010. Their artwork, as mentioned, differs keenly with the American audio publisher, and follows their habit of using the same artwork from the Orion hardback. Based upon my 8 hour and 42 minute listener experience with the Chivers audiobook, it has caused me to walk back some of my earlier evaluation and enthusiasm with the U.S. edition. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked, but I found myself more emotionally involved with narrator Roberts’ reading. As well, all the aspects I looked past in the Brilliance Audio variant (the flatter, less nuanced narration), I reveled in here. If anything, the American-born British narrator (and the only one who has read every novel in the series, save one) is all about delivering a distinct and memorable performance, for studio managers and his audiobook fans alike. While the tenor of Robert Crais’ voice is what I’d (and others) characterize for the singular Joe Pike (it is easily the best thing I enjoyed about his reading), the presentation of the story, in this instance, by his United Kingdom analog puts it in another category. It is a different tale and experience altogether in his hands. Sorry to say this, but there it is. Here is Mr. Roberts’ clip of the same passage:

Coming up: The Sentry (2011)

The Series (archived):
The Monkey’s Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
Lullaby Town
Free Fall
Voodoo River
Sunset Express
Indigo Slam
L.A. Requiem
The Last Detective
The Forgotten Man
The Watchman
Chasing Darkness
The First Rule

17 Responses to “Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The First Rule”

  1. Pop Culture Nerd

    Because I don’t do audiobooks, I’ve only heard Bob read excerpts from his books at signings and think he does a great job. But what you said about his doing female voices piqued my interest. I want to hear how he sounds as a woman!

  2. Poncho

    As PCN, I don’t do audiobooks either. But, also as her, I’m intrigued about the female voices.

    Anyway, this is yet another post of this great series. I remember you got me really interested in the books with these posts and, so far, it’s really paid off! But I must speed my reading so I can send your books back, hehe.

    Thanks again, cousin!

    • le0pard13

      I, and the other Craises over here, were sure glad you’ve joined our fold, Poncho. If it’s because of this, I’m doubly proud. Now, we need to see if I can bring you over to the audio side ;-) (and I may have the right one for you). Thanks, cousin.

  3. Novroz

    what a nice post, I really enjoy it. Tho I still prefer conventional book.

    I love a good detective story…will see if I can find it, but I have to wait for a while…new books are expensive, I wait till the price lowers a bit.

    • le0pard13

      Very kind of you to say, Novroz. I used to read books a lot. I find I can listen to audiobooks more easily now that I’m a time-crunched parent ;-). Thanks so much.

  4. Rachel

    Thanks for including the excerpt. That was really interesting to listen to him.

    Speaking of audiobooks, just finished Shibumi on my way home from the barn tonight. Thank you!

    (also noticed today that you stopped by my article about the festival at the book review site – thanks for the comment and sorry to be slow to respond)

    • le0pard13

      Doing the same passage from each audiobook is the only way I know to contrast the readers and their ability with the material. Glad to hear you finished Shibumi — starting Satori soon?

      Thanks, Rachel.

  5. Bryce Wilson

    I’ve been wanting to get into the Crais books for awhile. I’ve had a copy of The Monkey’s Raincoat forever. The First Rule was the one that caught my eye. Thanks to Eastern Promises, Eastern European gangsters scare the shit out me. But I’m super anal about reading series in order so It’ll be a while before I get there.

    Thanks for the scoop.

    • le0pard13

      I understand the need to read a series in order. In this series, it really pays dividends by the time you reach the eighth novel, L.A. Requiem. I’m a fan of Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, as well. Thanks for your comment, Bryce.

  6. Ronan

    It’s reassuring to know that someone else listens to audiobooks, a habit which I have fallen out of since the conversion from cassettes. I must start collecting my favourites on cd again, really miss listening to them. The trouble with that though, is that I usually couldn’t fall asleep as I didn’t want to mis anything :-)

    • le0pard13

      Audiobooks saved my reading life (work and parenting will do that). It’s a wonderful medium that includes a performance (narrator) component that can really add to the content. I hope you can get back to this, Ronan. Thanks.


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