Friday, February 12, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: Voodoo River

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). The early success of his books, and uniqueness in portraying the genre with the author's mix of humor and pathos, meant a growing reputation among readers and critics toward this now popular series.

Voodoo River

Robert Crais' fifth novel, Voodoo River (print published in 1995 and pictured above - and continuing the similar graphic design motif from the last novel), brings us back to the author's original stomping grounds, Louisiana. Elvis is hired by an adoptee, albeit one who is now a famous TV starlet, to find her original birth parents back in the 18th state of the union. Fans of this series know this book very well for it marks the introduction of one Lucy Chenier into the expanding universe that is Cole and Pike. Along with the intrigue of the story-line, her inception brings an unexpected love interest for our intrepid P.I. (one that still leaves an impact on the series to this day). As well, you can tell by the novel's composition that Crais is writing from long time experience with this work. His familiarity with the area, food, and its people is very apparent via their descriptions and behavior on the pages. It is a good change of pace for the series, but it will eventually sprout two distinct camps among the faithful with regard to this new character.

Brilliance Audio, most probably because of scheduling conflicts or the like with either of the two previous narrators (David Stuart or James Daniels), brought in another new reader for their 2003 abridged version of Voodoo River. This was the first introduction of Patrick G. Lawlor as a reader in this line of audiobooks. I've already mentioned that his range and gravelly voice are ill-matched for the audiobook and characters, but his take on a Louisiana drawl is what I find particularly grating. Though you won't get an example of it in his sound clip, you will get his take on how he interprets a woman's voice.

To this point, it would be easy to think that the Brilliance folk produced the first U.S. audiobook for this book series. However, that's not the case. Soundlines Entertainment did the first one out. This very abridged, and rare, version was released in the same year as the hardcover ('95) and proved to be the very first published audiobook of a Robert Crais work. This audiobook is barely 3 hours in length (compared to 5.6 hours for BA's abridged version). It is read by veteran character actor, James Remar. While a good actor, his vocalizations of various characters are lacking and the abridgment is too severe in this version to recommend it other than as a odd curiosity in the series. Sample clip.

The unabridged version was released in July 2008 with the solid (yet, unspectacular) Mel Foster returning for his last effort as reader in the series. Again, note the difference in the length of the passage (compared to the abridged versions). You get what you pay for. Here's his sample.

While the U.S. version emphasized the bayou on their covers, Chivers used the river-way for theirs in the 2003 release. As I've already mentioned, Lawlor's drawl got on my nerves when I first heard this book. I contrast him with William Roberts' rendition of the same (BBC) audiobook and his ease with dialects. It is no contest, here. Covering the same material, Roberts is superb, and Lawlor is... well, you already know. Perhaps, I'm spoiled by Stuart, Daniels, and especially Roberts' interpretations, or just plain used to them. No doubt, others will disagree. Fair enough. Check out his work.

[Note: I tend to look at the first five Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels as a loose group. What my friend and book blogger, Corey Wilde, calls, "the early books, full of a wisecracking Elvis and deadpan - and deadly - Joe Pike." For me, the next couple of novels will signal a maturity and a subtle shift in the series.]

Next up: Sunset Express

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

Powered by ScribeFire.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. Hm, I think you're right. People tend to focus on LAR as the turning point, but the subtle signs of change/maturity were there in Sunset Express and Indigo Slam.

    Lawlor. Ack-ack!

    Remar -- could have used a pronunciation guide to Lucy's name. It may LOOK French, and he (mis)pronounces it as such: "Shinn-yay." But Roberts gets it right, "Shinn-neer." As in Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco.

    You do a great job of nailing the differences between these narrators.

  2. There has been quite a range of narrators in this series (and a couple more to come). Thank you, Naomi.

  3. Roberts actually is the one who pronounces Lucy's name Shen-yay, Foster was the only one who pronounced it correctly, I think.

    Lawlor and Foster are both too flat for Elvis. I think I've heard Lawlor do something else that was decent but his Elvis is not there at all.

    I love this series that you're doing Michael because this more than anything else shows how the sounds of the words can completely change a book. We fans of the audio book will often talk about how a narrator can make or break a book, but that could also happen in how a person hears the words in their own heads, don't you think?

    Anyway...I agree with the characterization of these first five books. I always thought of them as the ones that followed the traditional P.I.; from here Crais seems to feel more confident and is coming into his own. Elvis veers more from the traditional and starts breaking new ground in the P.I. novel.

  4. Audiobook narrators do make quite an impact on listeners. For fans of the format, it brings another quality to the book experience that opens up an additional pathway for the reader. Kind of like trying a stereo version of a monaural song (at least that's how I describe it to those who've not tried the audiobook). But, it can cut both ways for fans. The narrator can pull one in a direction, or distract, in ways the listener (and definitely the author) wouldn't want. And they can do that by how they present, or pronounce.

    And yes, how a reader hears the words in their own heads can affect their outlook toward the book they're consuming. Plus, I definitely agree with you that the author and the terrain begin to shift with the two upcoming novels in the series. Thanks, Jen, for your thoughts on all of this, and your very kind words.

  5. I recall listening to this book, because Brian and I cracked-up listening to the scene when Lucy is showing Elvis the proper way to eat boiled crawfish. ;-) Couldn't tell you which abridged version it was though.

  6. I seem to remember that scene from this book. That's such a fun part, too. Now, for the real test: in what camp does Brian reside? Lucy, or Get-Rid-of-That-Woman? Thanks, Christine, for that memory.

  7. I think he's the same as me; liked Lucy when we first met her, then got to the Be-Gone-You-Wimpy-Wench stage!