Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: L.A. Requiem

The Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais remains my absolute favorite among the things I read or listen to. In celebration of this year's release of the 13th book, The First Rule, this is a continuation of the look-back series I started a couple weeks ago to briefly examine each novel within the series, and the audiobook versions that came out of them. When television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood in the 80's to do what he always wanted, be a novelist, I don't think even he envisioned the kind of success his books would bring. The tough but tender L.A. private detective (with a penchant for Disney characters) he created, the unlikely named Elvis Cole, is over twenty years old in print (along with his partner, Joe Pike). The chain of novels, and their success and uniqueness, is proof that the author's trademark mix of humor, pathos, and memorable characters remain something special to both critics and fans alike.

L.A. Requiem

Robert Crais' eighth novel, L.A. Requiem (print published in 1999 and pictured above - now with a new icon for Los Angeles, the Library Tower building in downtown, for the cover art), is simply the pivotal book in the series. It marks the juncture in time when the author stretched himself, his fictional characters, and the mystery genre to the point of seismic change. So much so, that when it was done, the landscape was no longer the same. I've heard Robert Crais describe it using the phrase, "... to blow the doors off the series." The narrative change he briefly played with in the previous two novels, is fully unleashed here with flashbacks, multiple storylines and perspectives, and all with an assured writing style. And, the norms and structures of the genre expanded right along with it. Author Dave White perhaps said it best, "Crais blew the whole genre up."
"He took things that had been done before--the PI novel, the police procedural, the thriller, and studying two dark characters deeply and managed to mix it into one incredibly satisfying novel."
By doing all of this, Mr. Crais would break from the established touchstones of his first seven books, and elevate his work to that of the great detective writers of old (Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett) and new (MacDonald, Parker, Mosely). Furthermore, Robert Crais knows this city - regardless that he's someone who has been transplanted here. His outside perspective, even compared to those born and raised here, brings a refreshing clarity to his observations of the people/locale he places his fictional characters in the middle of, in general. And to this novel, specifically. Suffice it to say this explains the 'L.A.' portion in the book's title. Still, keep this adage in mind when reading or listening to the book:
"One may not be able to choose their family... but, one does get to choose their friends."
On top of everything else in the book, this aspect is critical to what transpires here. What about the 'Requiem' bit in the title, you ask? That is reserved for the unexpected subject of the book. The enigmatic partner of Elvis Cole, Joe Pike. What's been building for some time in the series, the dark background of this key character, will finally be revealed in a stunning story involving a serial killer, those that hunt him, and bitter history. All of the characters we've come to know and care about from the previous novels will be left touched, or scarred, by this tale. This repose for the dead.

[Note: there has been a variety of cover art for this landmark novel in hardcover, paperback, and audiobook. Some of them quite eye-catching. To view a sample of this selection, see this photostream I put together.]

Beginning with this influential novel, other facets changed, too. For the audiobook series, L.A. Requiem will mark the first book not published (in some version) by Brilliance Audio for the U.S. market. As well, long-time overseas publisher BBC Chivers will not get a crack with it in the U.K., either. New publishers on both sides of the pond will be brought in, as well as an altogether new set of narrators. Ironically, each reader will only have one turn with this series. Lastly, note the differences not only between the narrators and their styles, but of the abridgements and the complete version in the audio samples (after the jump).

Orion Audio Books, in the U.K., published the most abridged version of this novel in 2000 (and its cover art is a good one). And that's saying something considering L.A. Requiem runs 400 pages long in hardcover (second only in length to the fifth book, Voodoo River). This two cassette edition has a total run-time of 3:20. The late veteran character actor, William Hootkins (Red Six from Star Wars), performed this audiobook edition. I only recently obtained this version, and I was surprised and intrigued with his reading. His voice is deeper than those we've heard in the audiobook line, and his vocal characterizations are good. However, the length and abridgement of the material is just too severe to recommend to anyone, except for completists. Here's his sample.

Random House Audio
published the first audiobook of this novel for the U.S. market - released the same month and year as the print book, June 1999 (its cover art borrows the familiar and iconic image from the hardcover). This, too, was an abridged version. This audio account weighs in at 6 hours. Actor and veteran audiobook narrator, John Bedford Lloyd, narrates. His is another deep voiced and very competent rendering with these characters. If I had no other choice and had to recommend an abridged audio for this novel, it would be this one. Check out his version of the passage.

The venerable audio publisher, Recorded Books, carried the honor of the only complete and unabridged recording of L.A. Requiem, coming in at 13.75 hours. It was released after the book in 2000. It may be my preferred among the three audio sets, but its cover art is my least favorite, though. Veteran character actor, audiobook narrator, and author Ron McLarty performed the narration. His take with the passage is a nuanced and assured reading of what the pages offer. McLarty's rendition is a listener's joy, plus his clear delivery and distinct vocalizations do the author's words proud. Like William Roberts, he has a great versatility and his long audiobook experience shines through. This is the version I heartily recommend to listeners, with no reservations.

Next up: The Last Detective

[It's important to note that Random House Audio (abridged) and Recorded Books (unabridged) would publish only one more Robert Crais audiobook. The standalone novel, Demolition Angel. While not part of the Cole/Pike series, it does introduce a character (Carol Starkey) who will join and become an important part of that series beginning with the next novel.]

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
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  1. I agree wholeheartedly about McLarty's reading based on that sample; too bad he didn't read any others. I'm with you about that artwork as well.

    You're doing such a wonderful job with this series, lp13! Thanks for a great post about one of my favorite books!

  2. Very kind of you to say, Christine. It's my favorite (and for other Craisies, too), and I attempted to do it justice with this post. Thank you very much for your comment.

  3. I am in complete agreement with Christine. You're doing a superlative job with this series, but then, as you know, I think you always do masterful work at creating and maintaining a series.

    McLarty was the only one of these I had heard before. Too bad they didn't keep him on or at least bring him back later for the Pike books.

  4. I thank you for your praise, Corey. Very kind of you. I agree with you, too, that out of the narrators that performed turns with the series, McLarty's would have been the one that I would have wished to come back for other novels. He would have been great for the Pike books. Thanks again, my friend.

  5. As you well know, I listened to McLarty on my drive to Dayton to see RC. It was heavenly. I love his interpretation, his sound...he comes closest to embodying the Elvis I imagine. I like the deep sound of Hootkins and Bedford Lloyd, but I haven't listened to those. How do they do with Elvis' sarcasm? From my experience that's usually where the narrators fail in a Crais book. It's so subtle and embedded in his character that many readers totally miss it altogether.

    It is just such a treat for me...the Crais fan and audio fan...to get these little comparative snippets. This was a brilliant idea!! And I love it.

  6. Abridgements are so unsatisfying, aren't they? I like the McLarty. I listened to this one several times back when I used to get out and walk for health. Then I got too lazy, but spring is almost here and you've whetted my appetite for LAR again. This story just broke my heart. Joe is such a white knight and Elvis is the best friend in the world. Lucy? Meh. I never liked her again after this book. She is not to be trusted.

  7. Thank you much, Jen. I think the only to way describe the others' interpretation of Elvis best is again via comparative snippets (by the time to get to the unabridged one, you'll see how much was cut from the two abridgements):

    William Hootkins

    John Bedford Lloyd

    Ron McLarty

  8. Naomi, I think L.A. Requiem was the first time I ever compared some of the audio passages in a Cole/Pike novel, a few years ago. When I thought about doing this series, I wanted to take that experience and put it into these posts. And yes, the abridgements don't satisfy. I became a firm believer that complete and unabridged was the only way down this road.

    It is strangely coincidental that you mention that about Lucy in the book. I, too, after this book had lost trust in this character [and of course, when the next novel came... ;-)]. Thanks for your comments.

  9. Even though this is my favorite book in the series, I'm afraid I can't add anything to the audiobook discussion. When I tried to listen to the McLarty clip, it crashed my Safari.

    But I still think you're doing an incredible job. Your research and insight are astounding.

  10. Thank you, PCN. Coming from someone like you who knows this novel series and characters very well, I take what you say as high praise. Sorry you had a problem with the audio clip. You can download it via the URL below and listen to it outside of the browser:



  11. Thank you for posting this! I am a huge fan of Crais and audio books in general. This is one of my all time favorite audio books. I have only ever listened to the Recorded Books version. I too, was disappointed when they no longer were producing the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series.

    IMHO, Recorded Books is the best publisher of audio books. Their narration actually turned me on to many authors, I would never have read otherwise.

  12. I'm always happy to meet another fan of this series, and audiobooks. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, Recorded Books is a fantastic audiobook publisher. I really appreciate, in the books of theirs I've listened to, how well they match up narrators (and their styles) to the books they've published. It's an important aspect, especially for the listener. Thank you very kindly for your comment.

  13. I agree that Ron McLarty is a wonderful narrator on L.A. Requiem. I thought it odd that the book is not mentioned on Ron's website as one of his projects.
    Still the best though.

    thanks for doing this page.

  14. Welcome, RG. And thanks so much for the kind words. It is interesting that Mr. McLarty's site doesn't list LAR. I've heard a half dozen of his audiobook recordings and it's easily one of his best. I re-listened to Requiem again at the start of this year, and it only gets better. Thank you for your comment.