Friday, February 5, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: Lullaby Town

With this year's release of the 13th book (a lucky number for me), The First Rule, in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais, this is another post in my continuation of a series examining each novel and the audiobook versions that came out of them. All of this traces back to when television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood in the 80's to do what he always wanted, be a novelist. With that, he originated and began to write about a quirky, tough but tender, private detective with the unlikely name of Elvis Cole (and his partner, Joe Pike). That first book's success and uniqueness in portraying the genre with the author's mix of humor and pathos meant a standalone novel gave birth to a popular series that's working past its second decade.

Lullaby Town

Robert Crais' third novel, Lullaby Town (print published in 1992 and pictured above with the now familiar hand-in-glove of the famous Disney mouse holding a revolver), took readers on their first road trip and brought Elvis and Joe to the New York area in search of a famous director's former wife and child. Besides the grief of a rich and famous client, the guys come into direct conflict with the mobsters of the East Coast. The author, for the first time in series, takes his characters off familiar ground. But, he proves that he can write a good story no matter the location. As well, he gets to share more of his Hollywood experience and knowledge through this novel.

Brilliance published their audiobook of the same title in late 2001. And again, it was in abridged form for their first effort with this book. Of note though, for this early version Brilliance studio managers introduced a new narrator for the series, James Daniels. Daniels, a Chicago actor and musician, will become the dominant U.S. reader for this audiobook publisher in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series (having read the most Crais titles for the line). His delivery, in contrast to David Stuart, offers a less youthful (sounding) voice, but brings a more noir-ish edge to his narration. Good for a private detective story; in Crais fashion, anyways. As I've done previously, all reader samples cover the same passage. Here, though, you'll get an idea of what abridgment really costs the listener. Abridged sample.

BA published their unabridged Lullaby Town version in early May 2008. Whether they received complaints from other Crais audiobook fans concerning Patrick Lawlor as the reader for the first of the unabridged attempts, will never be known. But, studio managers did make a change and brought in another new narrator, Mel Foster, for this production. His background is that of a former ad agency executive turned audiobook narrator, he does not have an actor's background (as some professional readers do). Foster's performance is decent in the multiple roles he's called upon to vocalize, but there is a more dry (less vibrant) quality to his reading. He's an improvement over Lawlor's ill-match voice (but that may not be saying anything). He does give an different (and definitely contrasting) vocal interpretation for Elvis and Joe. Here's his sample.

The other aspect of note relates to Brilliance Audio production values. This audio publisher, and a few others in the U.S., will add audio effects to enhance their recordings for the listener. Re-listen to the abridged and unabridged clips, again. Pay attention to when Joe or Rollie is speaking on the telephone call in the excerpts. BA's sound engineers modulate the recording during those segments to give the audio the appearance of the character speaking via a phone. The effects are subtle, but it is an excellent technical touch to augment the experience for the audiobook fan.

I love those eyes on the Chivers cover art. Chivers released their version in 2002. Narrator William Roberts performs his usual solid narration. His acting ability, when compared with the new guy Foster, really does stand out in comparison, here. See how he covers the exact same ground with this audio clip. Like him or not, you can't say he's dry, now can you? It also makes it clear to the listener that abridged audiobooks are not for Robert Crais fans. Lastly, the U.K. audio publisher does not augment the audio like Brilliance does. They believe in the old fashion method - the narrator does everything with his/her own voice.

Next up: Free Fall

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. Yay, Daniels is MUCH better! He kinda sounds like Crais, similar rhythms, etc. I've never heard Daniels before so thanks for the clip.

  2. I hadn't really thought about it, but you're right. Daniels and RC do share a similar pitch and rhythm in their voices. There are a couple other narrators you may not have heard still to come. But, that'll be later. Thanks for the your comment and insight, PCN.

  3. Oh, oh, oh!! I love this post the best so far Michael!! First of all, I love this book. I just love it.

    But, in addition, this is such a prime example of the loss in abridged books. And second, I actually squealed with delight because this snippet shows exactly what I talk about when I say that Roberts picks up on Elvis' personality best. Oh, I just love this.

    I do prefer Daniels' sound for Elvis (and Joe), but Roberts make him come ALIVE!!!

    Love it! Love it! Love it! Did I mention I love it??? :)

    BTW, do you know what the Mickey Mouse significance is in the first books' jacket art?

  4. I'm only guessing re: the Mickey Mouse imagery, Jen, but it might be because 1) Elvis has Disney creatures in his office (Pinocchio clock, Jiminy Cricket figurine, Mickey Mouse phone) and 2) those books were published by Hyperion, conveniently owned by Disney.

  5. Very kind of you to say, Jen. Roberts' interpretation does gives off the personality I, too, associate with Elvis. The only significance of Mickey in the cover art in the first three books is of Elvis' preference for Disney characters (Pinocchio clock and Mickey Mouse phone) in his office. Thanks very much, Jen.

  6. "... those books were published by Hyperion, conveniently owned by Disney."

    Good pick up, PCN (for this, and the Jiminy Cricket figurines). Thanks for adding to this thread.