Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Narrator: Susan Bennett
Series: Midnight, Texas #1
Published by Recorded Books on 5/6/14
Genres: Mystery, Paranormal

Story: B
Narration: A

Publisher’s Blurb:

“From Charlaine Harris, the best-selling author who created Sookie Stackhouse the world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a new, darker world – populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town. There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own). Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth….”

My Thoughts:

Charlaine Harris culls two characters from other series she’s written and drops them in the town of Midnight, TX.  Manfred Bernardo – a young psychic who makes a living providing scam readings over the internet interspersed with true psychic visions – moves from the Harper Connolly series to this new trilogy. Bobo Winthrop – on the run from a family legacy of racism and violence covered in depth in the Lily Bard series – lands in Midnight and seems to have found his place in the world. Of course, there’s a host of other residents in town who weave into the story and each one is unusual. Bobo’s tenants: pale Lemuel who only comes out at night and the drop-dead gorgeous Olivia Charity are as deadly as they are mysterious. Across the street from the pawnshop Bobo runs is Fiji Cavanaugh – the proprietor of a new-age shop offering occultist paraphernalia and self-discovery workshops – who is a witch with unexpected power and and amusingly named pet cat: Mr. Snuggles.

This book is a tightly woven combination of mystery and paranormal with the cast of a small-town cozy. As a standalone, it works very well. As someone familiar with the characters from her other series, I had a very hard time adjusting. The Harper Connolly and Lily Bard series always struck me as straight contemporaries, despite Harper’s psychic abilities. To find characters from that world thrown into a small Texas town with vampires and werewolves was jarring. Other than the genre change speed-bump, they actually work really well as characters here and anyone unfamiliar with their pasts should find their presence seamless to the story.

As Manfred learns more about the town and its residents, Bobo’s ex-girlfriend’s body is discovered and he’s the primary suspect in her death. To compound his situation, white supremacists who believe he is in possession of his dead grandfather’s weapons cache are eager to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it. The story moves at a nice clip and I found myself entirely engaged throughout. It was only after it was over that I felt the lack of character building. There’s a thin layer of background for each person and an emotional depth (or lack) that’s primarily comprised of longing and unrequited love but with nothing for a reader to really sink her teeth into.

That kind of perceived flaw is usually a significant issue for me but the story was a lot of fun and it was such a nicely paced plot with a well-blended mix of genres and character types that, in conjunction with an audiobook narration that gave so much vocal depth to characters that it masked much of their actual lack of depth, I ended up enjoying this audiobook immensely and recommend it.

The Narration:

This was my first experience with narrator Susan Bennett and part-way through I stopped to look at what other books she’s done with the intent to pick some up. I was very impressed with her performance. First and foremost was the delightfully dry delivery she brought to the humor; she nailed all the amusing lines without missing a beat. Her character interpretations were excellent, giving me fully-voiced personae with clearly transmitted emotional nuances and varied speech patterns. Her voicing of the eventually-revealed villain of the story was excellent and surprisingly hackle-raising in its ability to reveal shifting glimpses of the evil hiding behind a… well, I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

The story opens with a third-person present tense narrative, a la Pushing Daisies, and Ms. Bennett provides the vocal equivalent (via voice tone) of a camera slowly spiraling in on the little town of Midnight as the omniscient narrator lands us in the story underway. With the switch to third-person past, the sense of being present in every moment is nicely delivered and the narration was perfect for my tastes: lightly burnished with a down-home flavor in terms of accents and laconic delivery and sweeping me into the story without distraction.

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Deadlocked by Charlaine HarrisDeadlocked by Charlaine Harris
Narrator: Johanna Parker
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #12
Published by Recorded Books on 5/1/12
Genres: Fantasy

Story: C+
Narration: A-

Quick Review:

The title of this entry in the Sookie Stackhouse series sums up my feelings. Although I liked it better than the previous book, I get the feeling these books have become a bit deadlocked on moving forward. I keep waiting for an exciting plot, further world development, and/or a character arc explosion and Ms. Harris seems to just be waiting with the pacing. It was a pleasant listen and Johanna Parker’s voice now completely embodies these characters for me but it lacked the excitement and rapidly changing events that hooked me on this series originally.

The Plot:

Publisher’s Summary:

“With Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), in town, it’s the worst possible time for a body to show up in Eric Northman’s front yard—especially the body of a woman whose blood he just drank.

Now, it’s up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl’s fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who’s out to make Sookie’s world come crashing down.”

My Thoughts:

The story begins with a pretty interesting little mystery: who is behind the attempt to set up Eric for murder and are they also trying to break up Eric and Sookie and why? Although that question was answered, it felt like the book started off well, took a detour in the middle to follow Sookie around as she dealt with her friends and relatives and normal life, and then picked up again near the end as the mystery reached a resolution. Sookie’s love for Eric, while still steady, seems to be losing a bit of its shine as she is faced again and again with his practical decision making and the violence that surrounds him. Sookie herself is becoming hardened and throughout this book she just seems tired of all the things going on in her life. That made it hard for me to not feel tired of the slow progression of this story. Her job at Merlotte’s is back to its usual routine although she has a little more decision making power and responsibility because of her loan to Sam.

Sookie’s fairy relatives Claude and Dermot are still living with her and it’s on this front that the second piece of conflict in the story begins. With the closing of the portals to Faery, the otherworldly employees of Hooligans strip club are getting restless and when Claude abandons them to go back into Faery with Niall (fairy prince and Sookie’s great-grandfather) in an effort to investigate who cursed Dermot years ago, their unrest increases. Several are drawn to Sookie’s house and begin hunting in her woods while Dermot tries to manage the business and employees in Claude’s absence.

While that plot bubbles away on the back burner, the Queen of Louisiana pays Sookie a visit to size up the competition for Eric’s hand. A quick encounter and Sookie is back to her everyday routine. There’s some progress in the peripheral characters as babies are born and marriages are announced. I was expecting the visit from Felipe de Castro to turn into a critical event as Eric and Sookie dealt with the repercussions of killing his regent, Victor, but that never materialized and Felipe mostly seemed to fade away. If this all sounds a bit disjointed, it’s just symptomatic of a book that never seemed to really hit its stride with any of the plot threads until the very end, when it was too late to effectively capture my interest. I’ve gradually been losing my interest in this series and was almost ready to give up after the last book so I wasn’t crushed by the recent announcement that the final book will be released next year. I’ll be buying it but just to see how the whole story wraps up for these characters that I’ve followed along with for years.

The Narration:

Johanna Parker brings the expected performance to this installment of the series, which is to say – a very good one. She seems to effortlessly capture the voices and personalities of the large cast of characters and transitions with ease between the varied accents, cadences, inflections, and male/female pitch changes without ever leaving the listener behind or confused. The narration unfailingly provides a moment-by-moment sense of “the here and now” and it’s easy to sink into Sookie’s experiences because of that.