Monday, March 8, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The Forgotten Man

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.

The Forgotten Man

Robert Crais' tenth novel, The Forgotten Man (print published in 2005 and pictured above - this time with another nighttime photo of L.A. for the cover art) would bring a number of lives, past and present, to an apex in the series. Crucial revelations of partners Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, begun with L.A. Requiem and accompanied by The Last Detective, are looked at once again by their creator. In this work, Crais puts into motion four past imperfect individuals on a surprising intersect course that's reached by novel's end. Although he's recognized for the quality of his character drama, it's here in this book that the writer's touch for mystery and plotting attains a similar height. His narrative deftly moves across the elements of time, the principals, and their actions in a way that continually ups the ante for suspense and insight into those involved. All the while, the story steadily pulls the reader's emotions in with it. And that (IMO) puts Robert Crais in a rare class with his ability to craft character and relationships, along with an intriguing plot. I'm sure many fans thought Robert Crais would give the P.I. a break from the rigors he put him through in the previous novel. The results of that trial by fire, the scars he now sports, are analogous to his changed relationships toward Lucy Chenier and her son Ben. It is fitting that Cole's tale begins in the wee dark hours of a sleepless night and ends in the revelatory clarity of day.

But once again, the novelist would give his base the unexpected. With the glimpse of Elvis' backstory hitting the light of day in the ninth book, and since it's as interesting as his partner's, the novelist delves more deeply into Cole's demons, here. The preface of the lone child survivor of a family's massacre from years passed, in tandem with a dying man claiming Elvis as his son here, will start this dramatic and emotional tale. Along for this mystery will be all of the regulars that have come to make up the Crais  universe. This includes the now clearly smitten Carol Starkey (still with LAPD, but now ex-Bomb Squad). Her unspoken feelings toward Elvis adds another dimension to the plotline. Robert Crais will slowly unravel the mystery he's dangled at the start and composed with care. But, at no time will the author leave anything to drag in the story's events. For me, this novel (especially in the context of the series) had a bookend quality about it. By the time the reader reaches those last affecting pages, there is a discernible symmetry put there by the novelist. All of it echos back to the finale of that first novel in the series, The Monkey's Raincoat. The story's revelations and drama, humor and poignancy arrive altogether by TFM's end. If this series has proven anything, it's that partners Elvis and Joe are opposite sides of a rare and unique coin. And, it is impossible for something to happen to one without the other feeling it.

[The Forgotten Man cover art photostream]

Brilliance Audio released its audiobook version for the U.S. market at the same time as the printed novel. Their cover work art will employ the same evening shot of the motel location tied with the novel's storyline. For fans of Cole and Pike, and the audiobook format, this series has come a long way compared with the early novel treatments. Publishers now make sure print and audio versions were available the same day as release. Reader James Daniels would continue his impeccable work with the audio publisher and this series with the unabridged version of The Forgotten Man (runtime 8:06). With this performance, Daniels would tie the number for the most read in the series (in the U.S.). This reader's traits with the characters are firmly established, and his vocalizations for each remain subtle but distinct. His unabridged audio sample.

While Brilliance Audio used James Daniels to perform both the unabridged and abridged audiobook for the previous novel, the publisher will throw a distinct change-up with this book. Brilliance will employ Mr. Crais himself for the abridged reading (this was his second such reading - he narrated the abridged 2001 Hostage audiobook). It's not unheard of for authors to read their own work in the audio format. Some insist upon it. On the plus side, no one knows the material (or the wherewithal of storytelling) better than the writer of the words on the page. Some, too, have very good speaking voices, as is the case with Robert Crais. What is potentially missing in these situations, however, are the technical skills of the audio storytelling craft that the best of the professional audiobook narrators possess. Some of these techniques include vocalization, pitch, and cadence, and each can bring the words alive through that audio performer. Occasionally, it's as simple as knowing where to place an extra pause in the sentence that can stir a meaning in the listener, or not leave the passage flat. Brilliance would release the abridged version in the U.S. (above left) at the same time as their unabridged rendition (runtime: 4:54). Orion Publishing would release that same abridged audio a month later in the U.K., in March 2005 (above right). Here's his sample with the passage.

The British audio cover art used the motel theme, too. But, with a decidedly different and moody composition. As it was with the previous novel, BBC Chivers would get a delayed crack at this audiobook with their experienced reader (William Roberts). Brilliance Audio would get to release their unabridged audiobook first overseas in early 2005 (along with the print version) while Chivers wouldn't have their unabridged version out till late in the year (runtime: 8:46). Narrator Roberts stagecraft is fully evident in his narration, as always. His characterizations frame the individual's emotion more clearly in his reading. However, from time-to-time, his Spanish surname pronunciation can be lacking (Daniels and Crais in comparison know how to correctly pronounce Padilla). Check out his work with the sample passage.

Note: Like others, I consider The Forgotten Man the third part in a informal trilogy begun with L.A. Requiem (with LAR being the keystone of that trilogy and the series), and bridged so well by The Last Detective. The quirky Los Angeles P.I. and his taciturn partner were always interesting characters in the first seven books of the series. Having said that, the emotional involvement for readers reached another level entirely starting with the first page of LAR till TFM reaches its last lines:
"Okay. I'm done."
"You good?"
"Yeah. We had a nice talk."
Pike and I drove back to the airport, and returned to Los Angeles the same day.
It was good to be home.
So, for those who've read it (this is your customary spoiler warning), I'm including a bonus clipping of a key scene by each of the highlighted narrators here for your further examination: Robert Crais, James Daniels, William Roberts.

Next up: The Watchman

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


  1. A brilliant summary of these audios, Michael, and I share a certain reverence for this particular book as well. It is the one Crais I most re-read myself.

  2. I take that as high praise, Corey. Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Aw, and you included my favorite scene as the spoiler. Great, great book, and it would take a truly unfit narrator to spoil it for me. Having said that, it's very clear what you mean about the narrator needing the skills to voice the characters properly, esp women when the reader is a man. One thing your series has revealed to me is that I like Daniels as a reader a lot more than I realized!

  4. When it came time to do the clips, I thought about that scene (especially since you highlighted). But, it revealed too much for the example. Hence, the need for the spoiler addition. As you pointed out at the Craisie Town forum, it certainly grabs the reader. I wish Daniels could have done more in the U.S. line of audiobooks (I'd like swap out any of those by Lawlor for JD). Thanks, Naomi.

  5. Blogger just ate another one of my comments. GRRRR.

    I've never heard that Crais clip so thanks for linking it. I wish he'd read all his books but if that keeps him from writing them then forget it.

    Reading this series of yours makes me itch for another book though the latest hasn't even been out two months. How greedy is that?

  6. I know what you mean. The First Rule is not that old, but we're already wondering when the next is going to be released. Thank you for your comment (and sorry that Blogger continues to frustrate), Elyse.

  7. I guess it would be the production that I liked about Daniels' clip better than RC's to highlight that Cole was speaking to Diaz on the phone. Your wonderful series is making it VERY hard not to have a re-read of my Cole/Pike books cut in line in my TBR pile! Now that you've educated me on the narrators to look for, I'm thinking it's going to be only Crais audiobooks coming out of the car speakers for a while. ;0)

    Oooh, and thank you, "Santa Crais", for the bonus scene clips!

  8. Brilliance Audio's production values in their audiobooks really are a great touch for the listener. That discourse over the phone between Cole and Diaz is a great example for this.

    Ho, ho, ho... ;-). Thanks, Christine.