Sunday, January 31, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The Monkey's Raincoat

If The Naughties (2000-2009) were not that much fun, and had few positives for that span of time, there were at least two highlights for me during this period. The first, my discovery and appreciation of the audiobook format. And second, finding the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais. When television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood in the 80's to do what he always wanted, be a novelist, he originated and began to write about a quirky, tough but tender, private detective with the unlikely name of Elvis Cole. And though it was developed as a standalone novel, its success and uniqueness in portraying the genre with the author's mix of humor and pathos meant a continuing tale in a line of novels (which very much included Cole's laconic and lethal partner, Joe Pike) for the author and his publishers. The audiobooks for the series began years later only after its success in print, and the audio publishers deployed a fair number of narrators for the line over the years. So, in appreciation of this month's release of the 13th book in the series, The First Rule, I decided to re-task a piece I wrote a couple of years back and turn it into a small series that will briefly discuss each novel and its subsequent audio versions (at least, those I've heard).

The Monkey's Raincoat

Robert Crais' first novel, The Monkey's Raincoat (published in 1987 and pictured above), was the first in the now long-running Elvis Cole / Joe Pike series (the author has stated very clearly that he considers them of the same series and universe, no matter how they are labeled by publishers). It introduced the L.A.-based private eye with the case of finding the husband and son of his new client, Ellen Lang. Most of the elements of how the early books were structured were set here. The story is told in the first person by our protagonist--like many detective stories are often told. And, though the hardcover and paperback came out in the late-80's/early-90's, the U.S. rights audiobook publisher, Brilliance Audio, Inc., didn't produce an audiobook of the author's first book until 2001.

Brilliance is the largest independent audio book publisher in the United States, founded in 1984. It's also important to note, the first five books in this series all started out as abridged versions, like they were rushed to do it. The first Monkey's Raincoat audio version featured the smooth voice of David Stuart as the reader. I personally liked listening to Stuart, and his youthful delivery works well for the wise-cracking, sensitive side of the character. However, that liquid voice doesn't exactly cut it for the harder, edgier aspects of Elvis, and certainly the vocal characterization of his partner Joe Pike didn't seem quite right (though some with the bad streets cast of Los Angeles were performed well). Judge for yourself with this audio sample of Mr. Stuart. The other aspect listeners should be aware of is although Crais initially outlined Pike's death in this book, he grew to love the guy (as did the author's fans) as he wrote the novel. So much so, he changed the ending, and with that, greatly impacted the series. Overall, this book and the abridged audiobook whetted the appetite for this very appealing character and cast.

Brilliance did not produce an unabridged The Monkey's Raincoat version until early in 2008. For that production, studio managers brought back the narrator who first did the fifth abridged audiobook in the series, Voodoo River, for this full edition, Patrick G. Lawlor. Lawlor is a solid audiobook reader (I've heard and enjoyed him in other books). However, his delivery and range in characterization is limited when compared to the other professional narrators who've were enlisted in this series. But, there's no way around it. Given the timbre and rasp of his voice, he's an awkward fit as the reader for this now beloved series cast.  Here's his sample. See, I told you ;-). And now you know why he's my least favorite of all of them.

However, if we just stayed within the United States, that would be it. But, I'm nothing if not a pain in the ass persistent when it comes to audiobooks, and the series I most enjoy. As near as I could tell, the BBC/Chivers line of books in audio began distributing their production versions of this set in 2001, and only in the United Kingdom (they are obtainable from British resellers that ship internationally). Additionally, years before Brilliance rectified the abridgment of the first five audiobooks, Chivers produced nothing but unabridged versions for Elvis and Joe's audio fans from the start. The respected actor/audiobook narrator (and U.S. born) William Roberts, has read all in this series (with one exception) for the BBC/Chivers audiobook line in the U.K. As you'll will see, this makes him the one narrator who has read the most titles in the series, U.S. or U.K. He's also become my favorite because of his vocal and performance skill in the medium, and with these characters. Check out Mr. Roberts' voice work from this audiobook.

Next up: Stalking the Angel

The Series:
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


  1. I have a hard time listening to audiobooks. (I fall asleep) One I have really listened to was A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson...laughed my head off!
    When I order audios for the library I like the unabridged and I do check who is doing the reading since that is very important for the listener.
    I have read some of the Elvis Cole series...time to read another one!
    Great post!

  2. Thank you, Bev. I agree with you that the narrator is crucial (nothing can ruin a great book in audio like a poor reader). Always glad to see you stop by, Bev.

  3. I can recall on one of our roadtrips, we had a couple Elvis Cole audiobooks. I remember it took us a bit to get over the fact that it was different reader for the second and that we didn't like him as much as the first reader. But Crais' writing kept us from turning it off, and we got over it. ;-) There have been one or two books from other authors that I have turned off because I couldn't handle the reader's interpretation.

    Thanks for this, lp13! Oh btw, for some reason the audioclips wouldn't play for me.

  4. Thanks for that recollection, Christine.

    I've changed the links to the audio clips to a more complete one for streaming. Please give all three a go and let me know if they work for you. I appreciate you letting me know about this.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. All fixed! All three worked like a dream!

    And, yeah, I wholeheartedly agree that Lawlor's was awful, even before I had Roberts' to compare it too.

  7. Oh lord, who was involved of the choice of Lawlor? Yee gads. I was lucky enough to hear the Roberts' version and it's great. At first I wasn't sure, but the more I listened the more I liked it, and by the end I loved it.

    Overall, though, I've never heard anyone I like for Joe as much as I liked RC when I listened to him read the role. So, while I'm always apprehensive about an author reading his own work, I'm looking forward to listening to THE FIRST RULE to see if RC keeps that Joe voice consistent and strong throughout.

    This was so fun, lp13! I can't wait for the rest!!

  8. Christine: thanks for giving the clips another run. Now that you've heard all three, do you recall which it was on that second audiobook you didn't like on that road trip?

    Jen: I knew you were familiar with Roberts ;-). I also agree with you about having an apprehension about an author reading his own work. But, I'm now looking forward to giving RC a go with this. Listening to him read THE FIRST RULE passages at the recent book tour stops did that because of his voice for Joe (and with the character of Stone).

    I'll have Stalking the Angel ready and out later this week.

    Thank you very much, my friends.

  9. I'd be willing to bet it was Lawlor. I can recall Brian and I having an immediate reaction to the reader which was very similar to how I felt when I listened to your Lawlor clip.

    Looking forward to your Stalking the Angel post!

  10. Speaking about rare book covers, anyone ever see this one for The Monkey's Raincoat?