Awhile back, the thirteenth book in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels by Robert Crais inspired a series at my old blog. It examined each novel (up to that point) and the audiobook versions that came out of them. I composed a more complete review of that novel, The First Rule, to close out the arc in April of this year on the new blog. Since the author continues to write more of these things, and the fact that he’ll be one of the Guests of Honor at this year’s Bouchercon 2011 Mystery Convention next week, I decided to riff on that blog series by continuing my perusal of the U.S. and U.K. versions of his work.
As well, I thought I’d try something that I’d never done before. I’d listen to the U.S. and U.K. audiobooks of the next novel at the same time. For a measure of expediency (and since I’d read the ARC of it late last year), I decided to alternate chapter sequences for this listening endeavor. However, I did re-examine key segments of the novel by taking into account how each narrator interpreted those when I reached them. Fairly or unfairly, I hoped to check out the audiobooks, and especially the new U.S. reader introduced with the audio form of this, the fourteenth, Elvis and Joe novel.
Years ago, television writer/producer Robert 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 well into its third decade with publishers and admirers, Elvis and Joe still continue to earn new fans with each new book release.
The Sentry‘s hardcover book was print published by Putnam Adult in January 2011 for the U.S. market, and is pictured above left. The U.K. version was released a couple of months later in March, and its cover (on the right) is in sharp contrast (which is usually the case with the Orion Publishing Group and their graphical treatment of the Crais’ series). As opposed to the traditional sunbaked L.A. scene with the U.S. hardback, the U.K. cover art places a lone figure at the focal point. Since this returns fan favorite Joe Pike to the forefront with his third book (second in a row), graphically having a figure stand guard, so to speak, seems to be the literal point. For one of the few times, the U.S. cover art works better.
Dru Rayne and her uncle are Louisiana refugees who’ve relocated to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina. When Joe Pike witnesses and stops (in his own inimitable way) the uncle’s beating by extorting gang members at their Venice eatery, it starts a chain of events that’ll end badly for many. All of it will be complicated by the fact Pike is falling for Dru as he seeks to protect her. And when his partner, Elvis Cole, learns that Dru and her uncle are not who they seem, the reasons they fled New Orléans, and the murderous revenge fast catching up with them, it will test the close and weathered friends in unexpected ways.
This author always delivers on an idea. As opposed to some by-the-numbers thrillers, Crais can be counted on for his deft and polished plot-lines that weave themselves (and the reader) wonderfully through the various neighborhoods of the city he’s made his hometown. L.A., as a backdrop and its own character, is a remarkable canvas, and Robert Crais knows it quite well (only a few come as close, IMO). It’s one he uses extraordinarily to set his rich and recognizable characters upon. And it pays off. As is usually the case, this novel reads better on the second look through (the first time wasn’t bad, though). I guess, I shouldn’t be surprised I enjoyed it more this time around. It certainly made me recall some of storytelling touches of The Last Detective and The Forgotten Man. Giving separate perspectives to Joe, Elvis, and the killer did bring to mind a bit of L.A. Requiem, too (to complete that unofficial, masterful trilogy). Yet, as RC is wont to do, he molded it into something completely unexpected. I’m in agreement with my audiobook colleague, The Guilded Earlobe, with this point from his fine review of the novel in audio form:
“… I found the sentry to be a much more engaging tale. I think the big difference here is that Pike comes off as less of a “can do no wrong” superhero. Here Pike is quite human, even if it be a monosyllabic gruff human. Crais doesn’t use the normal tricks to humanize Pike, like examining his rough upbringing, or trying to see what makes him tick. All Crais does here is allow Pike to make mistakes, to be manipulated, to be flawed. Yet, I like this Joe Pike much better.”
Marvelously put. Certainly, anyone new to the Cole-Pike series of books will have a great time with it. There’s enough here for newcomers, and RC sets the hook early and holds the interest to the end. Longtime readers of the series will perhaps get more out of its heartfelt conclusion, though. Honestly, when I first read it, I thought the author (or the editors) shorthanded the last few pages. Now, after this re-examination I’m thinking it’s just the way the taciturn Joe Pike would have wanted it. ‘Nuff said.
Brilliance Audio, as expected, used the same artwork as that of the U.S. hardcover for their unabridged and abridged audiobook (as shown). Through the years, this series has had a number of narrators for the U.S. market. And with the retirement of their most experienced, and likely best, audiobook narrator of the series a couple of years back, James Daniels (who now practices law), they’d add another to their reading alumni with this one. Luke Daniels assumed the unabridged (7:32 run-time) and abridged (4:06) duties for The Sentry. If you thought the surname was too much of a coincidence, you’d be correct. Luke is James Daniels brother. In what was a smart and needed move, the audiobook publisher kept it in the family.
A sample of the work by Brilliance Audio is available on their The Sentry web page.
As has been their long-time tradition, the BBC unabridged audiobook used their redoubtable series veteran, narrator William Roberts (who has read them all in this series, save for L.A. Requiem), for their 8 hour and 36 minute unabridged recording. In a rare event, the overseas audiobook publication coincided with the U.K. book release. Their artwork, as mentioned, differs keenly with the American audio publisher, and follows their habit of using the same artwork from the Orion hardback. Though it should be said, their figure on the cover (as compared with the book’s) appears more like what I would envision as Joe Pike (sans the glasses and wearing a coat more suited for anywhere but Southern California, that is).
A sample of the work by AudioGo is available on their The Sentry web page.
Let me say this right off: I thought this would be a difficult undertaking. Listening to the same book through two different audiobooks (and narrators), in alternating segments, did seem like an ordeal. [my wife, in fact, asked me, "Why?"] Perhaps, it was the thought and challenge I laid out for myself that made it appealing. I’m sure someone’s done something like this before (though I can’t point to an example, at the moment). There was some difficulty, in fact, but not where I’d have expected it.
I thought the two readers, with their entirely different vocalizations and mannerisms, would have been where I’d stumble (or flounder) in getting through the project. It wasn’t. BA’s production, and Luke Daniels’ performance, moved at the faster clip than William Roberts’ reading. Not a bad thing, but it gave rise to the more technical exercise in moving the read head of my iPod (where everything I listen to resides) to just the right place for the next narrator’s chapter, and so forth.
The fact that I pre-read the material actually made the limits I set in place for myself easier to carry out. Simply, interspersing the narrator’s segments became less of a distraction because I knew the story. The narrators, too, helped enormously. Both were proficient in placing the story first in their reading, and it was easy to get into each narrator’s tempo with the material because of it. Roberts is an old hand in the craft, and well versed with these characters over the years. Though he’s more theatrical in his audio performances, he’s always an asset to the listener and never takes away from book.
So, it was left up to Luke Daniels to prove if he belonged in this heady company. And he surely did. He displayed a good voice for the job of Elvis, Joe, and company. His vocalizations were distinct and showed a great rhythm for the identifiable dialogue Robert Crais fans have come to expect. Though, I could pick out some vocal characteristics similar to his brother’s, he made the novel’s cast his own. Hopefully, Brilliance will see his strengths and continue LD’s run with the series (and put the Patrick Lawlor, Mel Foster, etc. experiments finally to bed). He is a great addition to the series.
Coming up: Taken (2012)
The Series (archived):
The Monkey’s Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
The Last Detective
The Forgotten Man
The First Rule