Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: Sunset Express

With this year's release of the 13th book, 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.

Sunset Express

Robert Crais' sixth novel, Sunset Express (print published in 1996 and pictured above - the classic silhouetted palm tree photograph of L.A. replaces the previous graphic motifs for the cover art), returns Elvis to a Los Angeles in its tumult period, post O.J. Simpson-trial. That true event, and its influences, abound within this novel. Here, the author shines a keen spotlight on the effects of it. Crais examines the media, lawyers, and the public in the unique way that only a fictional tale with our favorite characters can bring to readers. Due to this, having our favorite protagonist involved in a high-stakes, media murder trial of a celebrity defendant offers a new angle and depth to the series.

I look at this book, and the next, as a transitional pair in this series. The author is laying the groundwork for a metamorphosis. Additionally, the author breaks away from his traditional Page One meeting of the client setup (as was done in the first five books). Almost like a police procedural, Robert Crais moves to establish some situation/character background before moving back to the first person narrative of the story. And finally, the author begins to ease into his slow reveal of partners Elvis Cole and Joe Pike's make-up and background. This will continue through much of the remaining books in the series. The changes signaled with this novel don't stop there, either.

Even though I've been going through the books in series order, the U.S. audiobook versions were never published in that sequence. The first audiobook released by Brilliance Audio of the author's work started in mid-series with this novel. The unabridged and abridged versions were released in the same year as the hardcover with book resellers. This, in reality, was David Stuart's initial stint, and he was the first Elvis Cole/Joe Pike audiobook narrator for Brilliance (and he performed both the full and shortened versions). He has a good vocal versatility within this story, but a southern California lad he's not (I'll explain that more in the next book). Audio sample.

Note, the mid-90's was a time the audiobook industry began expanding its distribution formats. The audio cassette had been the traditional medium (and it's still produced to this day, though waning). Brilliance Audio also came up with a way to minimize production costs by getting twice as much on to a single cassette: the dubious and short-lived Bookcassette®. Luckily, the clear move toward audio CD and MP3 disc (and later downloads) as their preferred distribution medium succeeded with audiobook listeners.

Another interesting detail concerning Sunset Express is the fact that Brilliance Audio wasn't the only publisher of an audio version in the U.S. market. Books on Tape, a publisher known to many who've checked out audiobooks from libraries, was licensed to produced their own (in a rare and hard-to-find) unabridged Sunset Express version (ISBN-10: 0913369896) in 1997. The accomplished Michael Prichard was their narrator. Since I've not found a copy of it, here's a sample of Mr. Prichard's work from another book for your examination of his voice and style.

Chivers' cover art for their U.K. audiobook mirrored the book's with its cityscape photograph. Narrator William Roberts has another quality outing with his sixth audiobook turn with these characters. Please notice that Roberts (like Patrick Lawlor and Mel Foster did with Voodoo River) uses the proper French pronunciation for Lucy's last name, Chénier [shey-nyey]. Since she's from Louisiana, it is the way those from the area would pronounce the name [at least that's what I suspected at the time I wrote this]. Narrator David Stuart (and later James Daniels) will use the American enunciation for it [shen-neer]. Here's Roberts' sample with the passage.

Next up: Indigo Slam

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 did a little more reading on pronouncing Chenier and it looks like both pronunciations are used, even among Louisiana Cajuns. Question for Crais, then: How does he pronounce it?

    Of these samples, I prefer Roberts. Weird, huh? This time his voice sounds deeper and richer than Stuart's. How does that happen, that the voices seem to change from book to book? Or am I just taking better drugs?

  2. That's good info regarding the pronunciation of Chenier (or Chénier), Naomi. I'll submit that question to RC via his website and hopefully he'll answer it. If he does, I'll post it here.

    And yes, the voices (or the recordings) do seem to change in tenor sometimes from book to book. I'm just not sure if it's physical factors in the narrator's voice at that moment in time (a later audiobook will have a reader sound like he's suffering from a cold--like me at the moment), or the method of how it was recorded at the studio. It'd be interesting to interview a sound engineer for audiobook publishers and find out.

    Thanks, as always, for your comments, Naomi.

  3. BTW, I submitted that question to RC's website. I've also quick scanned the abridged THE FORGOTTEN MAN (done by the man, himself). And, I found an early passage where he says "Ben Chenier". And he pronounces it like David and James, 'shen•neer' ;-).

  4. Confirm by RC:

    "I pronounce it 'shen-eer.' These pronounciations are difficult to track, aren't they?"

  5. Love your analyses of the books; I also consider SE a turning point in the series.

    I wrote 2 long comments for your last 2 posts but Blogger ate them. Now, I can't remember everything I wrote. I do know I hated Kim Basinger winning the Oscar for L.A. Confidential. Of all the Oscars that film should've won, it shouldn't have been in THAT category. I wanted Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) or Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights).

  6. LOL! I didn't realize you had submitted the question to RC as well. And you went back and scanned yet another audio version? I have to hand it to you, you probably research and back up your posts as well or better than any blogger I've read (including me, because I'm too lazy to do things properly). No easy thing to do when you're comparing audio books. I am really looking forward to your posts on IS and LAR.

  7. Naomi,

    I know, right? He's amazing with the research and yet calls himself a "lazy boomer." If he's lazy, I'm a useless piece of lint.

  8. Thank you for the kind words, PCN. I appreciate it.

    I can understand your frustration. Supporting Actress that year had some great performances, and Moore (who's really due, now) and Driver were exceptional that year.

    I've noticed, with regularity, that Blogger will hiccup (as in, "Your request could not be processed. Please try again" error) with Mac browsers. I've seen this whether one presses the Post Comment or the Preview button. And if this is what you're getting, don't refresh the screen, but press the Preview button right after you see this error. It'll work, then. I need to bring this up in the blogger forums. HTH

  9. You did, too, Naomi? How funny! Well, credit goes to RC for fielding the question and getting back to you and/or I so quickly.

    That's very kind of you (and PCN) to say. Don't be surprised if I put you and Elyse down for references for annual work eval, or a new job application ;-).

    Thank you, both.

  10. Face it, lp13, you just ROCK and leave the rest of mere mortals in the dust. :-D

    Thanks for ferreting out Chenier's pronunciation. RC continues to impress with his awesomeness!

    And thanks for addressing the Blogger troubleshooter for Mac. Most times the blogger will "Post Comment" the second time after it has stuck its tongue at me when I initially try to post. I've only had a couple of times when it gives me a big 'ol raspberry and won't post it at all.

  11. Christine, you (and the rest) are too nice to me. But, I appreciate the kind words.

    And yes, RC continues to amaze his fans with his graciousness. Thank you.