Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chasing Darkness Redux

Sometimes, when your anticipation is so high for a particular author's new work, finally reading it (though very enjoyable) does not necessarily equal savoring it. Last year at the start of July, Robert Crais released the latest in his Elvis Cole - Joe Pike series of books. And when it came out, I got my hardback copy soon after its release, early on RC's then book tour (along with Brilliance Audio's MP3 audiobook of the same work). Even had the man autograph my hardcover on his Mystery Book Store stop (I know... all of this really sounds needy to me, too). But Crais can simply write well, entertain and enthrall you with his characters, and pull you into a universe of his own making that you actually give a damn about.

So when I planned on taking a road trip down to San Diego to a attend the author's event at the Mysterious Galaxy book store (see below), I planned on re-listening to Chasing Darkness once more in audiobook. Though, this time it was going to be with my favorite narrator for this series. William Roberts has read the entire Cole/Pike books, with one exception: the great L.A. Requiem. However, he performs this for the BBC Chivers audiobook publisher in the U.K. (so only a few U.S. audiobook fans have heard him performing RC's characters) And Chivers only released CD in May 2009. Luckily, I received it in time to incorporate the experience into my L.A. to S.D. round-trip drive time. And it was well worth it.
Book bloggers Jen and Corey have also experienced this narrator distinct style, and I think they are somewhat taken by him (at least I think so). Although, it's interesting to note that the narrator for the U.S. audiobook publisher (Brilliance Audio) for this series, James Daniels, actually quit recording audiobooks after earning his law degree. But, he returned to the craft to record the newest in the Cole-Pike line. That should tell you something about how this series affects its fans (inside and outside the publishing business). As well, those who re-read (or re-listen) the books (like me) actually enjoy them more the next time around. Perhaps, it's due to the fact the subsequent take is not being pushed by the reader's anticipation. Let's call it the Heinz Ketchup effect. One can get into and through a book too fast, and miss or minimize the author's words.
Politics is like Oz, only you never see the magician behind the curtain.
Both Jen and Corey produced excellent reviews of the twelfth novel last year. Note: even Robert Crais does not differentiate the Joe Pike novel from the Elvis Cole novels--it's all part of the same universe. And when the new Joe Pike rolls out early next year, it'll be the thirteenth (my lucky number, BTW). However, I only left one comment to either in response to the reviews of the novel, Corey's, and mentioned that I found this book to be a very Chandleresque take on this series novel. Suffice it to say, his reply was wide-ranging and worth reading--and I should have put down a comment on Jen's equally wonderful review, too. Compounding this, I blew it by not subscribing to the post comments, so I missed Corey's reply and his query, "How about you?" D'oh! So, though I'm months late for either, here it goes for both of you: I look at the corrupting aspects that are so wonderfully woven into RC's latest tale. And here I'd can't say it better than how Jen put it:
From page one, Crais starts building up a theme of corruption in reality. There are evils destroying the world around Elvis. First the fires are burning his city. Then he receives news that his exterminator has found termites at his house, corrupting the foundation. A ransacking break-in even results in Elvis' Mickey Mouse phone being broken. Crais has to glue him back together, but you can still see the cracks...the damage. And the corruption continues to build up to the ultimate level of law enforcement and the government.
To me, that harkens back to Raymond Chandler's L.A.--the old power elite operating above those that give a damn (like those still hanging on to a code), and spreading their corruption downward. And I agree with you that "Crais is... more subtle than Chandler", but no less talented. Reading some of its reviews on Amazon, I equally agree that that subtlety is what many (not all) miss, especially in this instance. As well, RC's writing exhibits a maturity in the elegance of his wordsmithing. Crais doesn't need to dazzle the readers with his character's toughness and martial skills when he can intrigue us with his story's complexity, contrasts, and potent observations. His last paragraph proves the point, IMO. With a delightful coincidence (and the fun of listening to Roberts read it, which drove me to write this post), I finished this audiobook as I was about to cross back into Los Angeles County line while driving north on Interstate 405:
The darkness frightens me, but what it does to us frightens me even more. Maybe this is why I do what I do. I chase the darkness to make room for the light.
2010 can't come fast enough, now (oh, here I go again).
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  1. Bravo, Michael! An excellent take. Crais is one of the few authors in crime fic whose work reveals more on re-reading than simply the story's mechanics. The subtle shadings of characterization, revealed in close readings and comparisons of dialogue and action, really only pop out once the reader can focus on more than just the progress of the story. I think the man does not get enough credit for that talent and effort.

  2. My admiration for RC's work grows with each book I read of his. Thank you, Corey. Sorry I was so slow in my reply :-)

  3. Anticipation is so bittersweet. I love having something to look forward to but when it arrives, I devour it too quickly and then am left crestfallen, realizing I have to wait at least another year for another book.

    I did try to savor a book once by rationing the pages, about 25 a day. Halfway through, disaster struck and I had to abruptly leave my home and the book behind. It was a rare edition in a foreign language and I was never able to find it again anywhere.

    I don't know why I come here and share the strangest stories. I guess you just bring it out in me!

  4. PCN: well, I consider myself lucky that you do come here, comment and share those stories. Like you, they are special. Thank you for this.