Monday, March 22, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: Chasing Darkness

With this year's release of The First Rulelucky number 13 in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais, it extends my all-time favorite book series. 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 his origination of a quirky, tough but tender, private detective--the unlikely named Elvis Cole--he gave birth to a popular series that's working past its second decade now. The author's ardent mix of humor and pathos, along with a gift for creating unique characters (like the P.I.'s one-of-a-kind sidekick, Joe Pike), brought his books acclaim with fans and critics alike. This is the penultimate post in my series examining each novel and the audiobook versions that came out of them.

Chasing Darkness

Robert Crais' twelveth novel, Chasing Darkness (print published in 2008 and pictured above - this cover art uses the archetypal city of lights night-scape) would herald a throw back of sorts to the root of the series, and genre. Unlike the previous novel, The Watchman, this book returns to a linear timeline and traditional crime mystery story. Conceptually, Chasing Darkness moves the work away from the last two Cole-focused novels (The Last Detective and The Forgotten Man) in that it does not plum the depths of the P.I.'s backstory and the character's psychological underpinnings. Still, is it like the first five books in the series? Again, no. This one has more in common with the transitional pair of novels, Sunset Express and Indigo Slam, in form with its prologue setting the stage for the mystery to unfold. As well, the author craftily bestows on this episode a very Chandleresque perspective in how it delves into the L.A. seats of power and its channels of corruption. The Raymond Chandler connection has been a significant influence on this novelist's writings, and on the P.I. genre in general (especially when it lands anywhere near The City of the Angels).

To make the point, I'd highlight a friend's look upon this. Corey Wilde's review from 2008 was succinct, but I appreciated his standpoint. His analysis was equally keen with his reply to my comment at the time as to why the author's skill level shouldn't be overlooked:
"Yes, I agree, in some aspects CD is very Chandleresque. I remember just as I was finishing the book thinking that CD was almost old-fashioned (and I mean that in a good sense: good quality, traditional PI plot) in that the detective work was very real, very dogged. If Marlowe was on the case rather than Elvis, I think he would have trod the same steps, asked the same questions Elvis did.

Also, in some places (but not so often that Crais could be accused of cheap imitation) Crais wrote in that darkly lyrical tone that colored so much of Chandler's work. Right at the beginning, when he describes the fires: "...sick desert wind carried the promise of Hell." And not hell, Hell. Just adding the cap adds impact. Is Crais smart or what?

Crais is, I think, more subtle than Chandler; in fact sometimes he's so subtle I think some of his themes and characterizations escape folks who read just for Elvis's humor and Joe's, um, skills. I particularly thinks that's true of The Watchman."
With Elvis seeking to clear his name (and possibly, his conscience) in a infamous series of murders, all of the undertones are in place in this book. As always, Elvis' orbit of friends and colleagues are there to assist the (self named) World's Greatest Detective. And with his return, it gives his fans hope that there will always be another Elvis Cole novel somewhere on the horizon.

[Chasing Darkness Cover Art photostream]

Brilliance Audio, naturally, used the hardcover's artwork for their audiobook edition (since they were released at the same time as the book). Furthermore, the audio publisher would continue to use their most series-seasoned narrator for this, James Daniels. However, this would be reader Daniels final audio narration for this now venerable series. From Publisher Weekly:
"After earning a law degree, James Daniels quit recording audiobooks, but returned to read Crais's newest Elivis Cole and Joe Pike mystery (his previous Crais recordings include The Forgotten Man, Hostage, The Last Detective, Lullaby Town and The Watchman). It's a welcome return and Daniel's no-nonsense reading elevates one of Crais's lesser efforts and turns it into an enjoyable listening experience. Slipping back into these characters, Daniels easily distinguishes Cole's wise-guy banter from Pike's steely resolution, and he gives this outing's enigmatic villain, Lionel Byrd, just the right note of weirdness."
I'd agree with their take of the narrator's interpretation of the material, but PW is sorely off-target on the rest. This isn't "one of Crais's lesser efforts...". Daniels performed his last double, too, in recording both the abridged version (at just under 6 hours) and the unabridged (7:18) audiobook. I'm including two audio clip samples here from both U.S. versions. The first covers the audiobook introduction and the great initial sentence Robert Crais begins the book with: abridged, unabridged. The second involves a significant sequence late in the novel -- luckily, the abridgment is not as severe as others in the series: abridged and unabridged.

BBC Chivers' audiobook would incorporate an entirely different cover art than the U.S. versions. I liken this artwork to that of the U.K.'s Orion hardcover; and it's one that echoed the imagery of the novel's prologue. Their audio version (coming in at just under 8 hours) would be delayed (again) by a year in lieu of the U.S. audiobook release overseas. William Roberts would bring another strong performance as the most senior and steadfast narrator for the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series. However, he will still have issues with certain Spanish surnames (unfortunately). Check out his audio samples with the introduction and the highlighted passage.

Next up: The First Rule

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.


  1. PW reviewers are often asleep at the wheel, I've noticed. I've also noticed that Crais fans who don't like this book or that book often have no better reason for their dislike than that Crais didn't pander to their desire for (a) more Elvis wisecracking and/or (b) zero character growth. I know Crais loves his fans but I'm glad he doesn't listen to them when he writes.

    That scene. That scene when Elvis goes to Levy's house. Such a powerfully written scene. And Daniels read it perfectly. Low key but intense. You really have managed, with this series, to make me appreciate Daniels so much more than I did before.

    BTW, I'm trying out Google Chrome. We'll see.

  2. Since I've been reviewing the audiobooks in this series, I can safely say that my appreciation for James Daniels has risen, too. He did a lot of things really well, and I'm going to the miss him in the Cole/Pike series. And, he performed that house sequence extraordinarily well, didn't he?

    I think RC did a remarkable job with this novel. I think the proof of that is on the re-read of the novel. Thanks, Naomi.

    p.s., keep me posted on your Google Chrome experience.

  3. Wonder what kind of law Mr. Daniels is practicing? Recording audiobooks is certainly a unique way to pay for law school. I'm interested to find out who takes over for Daniels. He's a hard act to follow.

  4. Good question. I think RC became friends with Daniels (he called him 'Jaime' when he spoke about the audiobooks in the series at the last THE FIRST RULE book stop I attended). RC even said Jaime wrote one of the audio abridgements to a novel of his. I think, when we get to the Q&A at his Festival of Books panel, one of us should ask RC if he knows what kind of law JD is now practicing. Thanks, Christine.