Pirate King by Laurie R. King

Pirate King by Laurie R. KingPirate King by Laurie R. King
Narrator: Jenny Sterlin
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #11
Published by Recorded Books on 9/6/11
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Story: C
Narration: A-

The eleventh outing in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series finds Russell all but fleeing her home to take on an investigation for Scotland Yard after learning that her brother-in-law, Mycroft Holmes, is coming to visit. After events in the previous book, Russell and Mycroft are at odds and a stint investigating the strange (and illegal) events that seem to accompany every Fflytte Pictures film shoot will take her out of his path.

Acting as a producer’s assistant, Russell begins the thankless job of shepherding cast and crew on a journey from England to Portugal and finally to Morocco. Fflytte Films is engaged in making a film called Pirate King. Pirate King (the film) is the story of a film crew who is making a film (also named Pirate King) about the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. As they film their “picture within a picture”, the fictional film crew becomes involved with real-life Barbary pirates. The book, of course, adds another layer in that it is itself a story about film crew who becomes entangled with pirates after hiring them to act the part of film pirates (in the film that is about a film crew making a movie about The Pirates of Penzance).

Did I like the book? It was well-written and modestly entertaining but it didn’t capture my attention and interest in the way that all the previous books in this series have. It generally takes at least one of three things to make a novel successful for me: an emotionally engaging character-driven story, a tense or exciting action driven plot, or a complex and layered story-line. In Pirate King I found the characters of Russell and Holmes to have hit a static point in their development and, in fact, Holmes was absent for at least half the book so much of the amusing interaction between them was absent as well. I found very little action or true mystery to draw me in and when the story peaked in terms of plot reveals, I found myself feeling let-down at the simplicity of it. In terms of layering and complexity, if there was any, I apparently needed to be hit over the head with it because other than the plot-within-a-plot-within-a-plot theme, I missed it. I kept watching layers of the story being peeled away, waiting for a truly unique character or mystery to be revealed or a situation to occur that required Russell and Holmes to apply their unique skill-set, only to end up with nothing left at the end other than a vague sense of dissatisfaction. I think if it was a stand-alone, I would probably rate it a better book but it suffers significantly when compared to others in the series.

The first book in this series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, was one of two audiobooks that started my obsession with the medium and with this latest release, Jenny Sterlin continues to deliver an outstanding performance. In that most wonderful of audiobook magic, she has come to simply be the voices of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in my head. The cadence and inflection she gives Russell aptly portrays her intellectual and forthright personality and Holmes’ more relaxed intonations and his tendency to draw out certain words when annoyed encapsulates the jaded and no-need-to-tell-me-I-know-everything-already persona King has fleshed out. I admire Ms. Sterlin’s ability to differentiate between male and female characters with relatively subtle voice shifts and she smoothly navigates between various accents and dialects.

Overall, excellent narration failed to make what I consider the weakest book in the series more than just a relatively pleasant listen.

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

Flash and Bones by Kathy ReichsFlash and Bones by Kathy Reichs
Narrator: Linda Emond
Series: Temperance Brennan
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on 8/23/11
Genres: Mystery

Book: B
Narration: B+

In a series that remains surprisingly fresh in its 14th outing, forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan is back in North Carolina and investigating the remains of a body discovered in a landfill near the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The discovery of the remains, found packed in asphalt in a metal drum, restarts a long-dead investigation into the disappearance thirteen years earlier of a twenty-four year-old man and nineteen year-old woman who were last seen at the speedway. A plea from the missing girl’s brother and the confiscation of evidence by the FBI induces Dr. Brennan to initiate her own investigation in cooperation with Detective Slidell of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD. The two cross paths with Cotton Galimore, the former lead detective on the initial investigation and now head of security for the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the investigation begins tracking a winding course through the world of NASCAR racing, bio-terrorism, extremist militia groups, and prejudice.

This book delivered what I have come to expect from this series – not in the “been-there-done-that” sense but in terms of a good story with a complex and involved mystery that requires careful listening. The characters – well-developed, often familiar, and certainly intriguing – weren’t what drove the story for me. The central force that carries the reader forward is the mystery and I enjoy being able to rely on Ms. Reichs to consistently deliver a new and utterly engrossing puzzle within the expected mystery conventions of death, investigation, and the unmasking of a killer. Yes, there were some problematic parts of the story for me. I asked myself at least once what a forensic anthropologist was doing becoming so involved in the police investigation portion of a murder. There were a few points in the book where I raised an eyebrow at the level of coincidence in how various characters had ties to each other in both the past and present. Tempe’s repeated internal commentary on how the parts of a case remained just shy of cohesion in her brain until her big “ah ha!” moment is an overly familiar device from previous books. After drifting through my mind, though, those niggling complaints disappeared and I was pulled under by the narrative.

I found the pacing to be ideal, the scene descriptions gave me a strong sense of place that helped build my mental story board, and while I am not going to pretend that reading this series qualifies me as a forensic anthropologist, I’m quite certain I could play one on TV after absorbing the detailed forensic descriptions that pepper this series. They are very well done; clear and neither too abstruse nor too simplified. I always come away from a book in this series feeling a little smarter and vastly entertained.

My listening tastes, in terms of a narrator’s delivery, tend more toward the subtle than the dramatic so for the most part Linda Emond’s narration worked very well for me. I found her voice to be quite pleasing and the various character voices easy to track. I expect that listeners who prefer a more robust performance might have some complaints since even I didn’t feel the level of urgency the plot suggested during the climactic scene. I haven’t experienced Ms. Emond’s narration outside of this series and I’ll be interested to seek out some of her other work. She has created a unique “voice” for Temperance Brennan not just in tone but in what I hear as a specific speech pattern. That distinct cadence (which, if I was transcribing from the audio would cause me to add half-again as many commas as the text indicates) and the inflections perfectly convey Brennan’s droll commentary and have come to be the voice of this character in my head, evicting the voice of my internal reader. It does, though, bleed over into the other character voices which in most audiobooks tends to diminish the level of character differentiation but worked for me in this first-person narrative that is sprinkled with mild Southern drawls.

A complex and engrossing mystery with narration that pulled me in – I would recommended this one for most listeners but only after sampling the narration.