Monday, March 1, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The Last Detective

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 Last Detective

Robert Crais' ninth novel, The Last Detective (print published in 2003 and pictured above - first time with a nighttime photo of L.A. for the cover art), was the proof positive that the author had indelibly changed the game. The preceding novel reverberates in this story, its structure, and how these familiar characters spark anew with personal revelations. The narrative was no longer firmly first person, nor was it even restricted to a linear timeline for our heroes. Crais was now free to do whatever this novel's mind demanded. Following the brief break of the two standalone books (Demolition Angel and Hostage) that came on the heels of the breakthrough L.A Requiem, the novelist returned to the series with Elvis Cole clearly in the crosshairs. And the painful past and present would be the aim-points. Though the previous novel was a story of remembrance, this one is a thriller to its core. Remnants of the aforementioned story continue to echo in the lives of Cole and Pike when a crisis very close to Elvis traps him in nightmare kidnapping of a loved one. And with that, this tale will drive the clock, friendships, and the main character's sanity to the edge. The author will put plot and his characters on a very high boil, here.

It's also important to note, at this point in the series, a central penchant of author Robert Crais. Specifically, his continuing skill with weaving in and developing new characters (both minor and major) into this series. If you've read any of these books, you're very much aware of this and how it expands this series' universe. This fact is clearly on display in this reader forum. Here's an insightful thought from that thread:
"How many characters do you remember from the Harry Bosch books, besides Harry? I remembered Bosch plus four more. The Spenser books, after Spenser, Hawk and Susan, how many characters do you remember? I remember three. (But I’ve only read about 2/3 of that series.) How about Lee Child’s Reacher series? I remember three characters besides Jack. John Sandford’s Prey series? Well, there my memory kicked in. I remembered quite a few characters from that series, although at least half of them are recurring characters.

And then I said to self, huh. Crais really does do a remarkable job at creating memorable characters, both good and bad. Maybe better than I had realized." ~ Naomi Johnson
Criminalist John Chen was notably introduced with L.A. Requiem, and etched ever deeper into reader's minds in this novel. But surprisingly, it is the author's brilliant addition (with regards to this book) of Carol Starkey that will bring another dynamic to the series without diluting it. The ex-bomb squad tech protagonist is successfully brought over from Demolition Angel to join the series milieu -- and it may well be Robert Crais' second best idea ever for this chain of novels. The first easily being that he didn't let himself kill Mr. Pike by the end of the first book. The mix of Carol in Cole's fragile orbit of female friends will bring added zest and a re-balancing of sorts by this novel's (perhaps) bittersweet ending.

[The Last Detective cover art photostream]

After the 2000 Demolition Angel audiobook was published by Random House Audio and Recorded Books, all future Robert Crais books once more returned to the Brilliance Audio fold (starting with 2001's Hostage standalone book). It was a short turn for the preceding publishers, but the change back would allow Brilliance's experienced audiobook narrator from prior novels (Lullaby Town and Free Fall) to return to work again with these characters. James Daniels would reprise his earlier efforts by performing afresh, and for the first time executing both the abridged and unabridged versions. His reading here (and in the next novels) pushes his presentation of Elvis and Joe to new levels. His vocalizations, especially for the former with his past and present being deftly explored by Crais through the story's turmoil, are subtle but stirring, nonetheless. Sample audio stream (or to download the clip, click here).

U.K. publisher BBC Chivers was also brought back for audio publication overseas for this and future series novels. However, the change here was Orion Publishing Group (who handled the print novel for British distribution) would also circulate the James Daniels recording (likely licensed from Brilliance) and would put it out the same year, 2003, as the book. Chivers wouldn't publish their version, with audio series-veteran William Roberts, until 2005. Both publishers would use an entirely different cover art (compared with the U.S. version) for both U.K. audiobooks. In this case, a beautiful, arresting image of a paddy field in Vietnam. Roberts' more evocative take returned with him, as would be expected by the senior audiobook reader in the series with the most Crais novels under his belt. His sample stream (download version is here)

Note: the Brilliance Audio unabridged audio runs approximately 8 hours, compared to just under 9 hours for the U.K.'s  unabridged version, and the 4-hour abridged version. I was going to include the other James Daniels passage from the condensed audiobook (also from the prologue segment), but that version completely excises that introductory section of the book! It is amazing, at times, what gets removed in audio abridgments.

Next up: The Forgotten Man

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'm flattered that you think anything I've ever said was worth repeating. Thank you for that.

    I know abridgements have to leave something out, but the entire Joe-in-Alaska opening? That scene ties directly to the final action scene! The emotional impact of that last scene with Joe in the stand-off with one of the kidnappers is significantly diminished without having had the Alaska scene to set it up.

    Or am I raving?

    (And thanks for fixing the comments!)

  2. I always find your comments well worth noting, Naomi :-).

    I only recently picked up the TLD abridged audiobook (the unabridged U.S. and U.K. versions had held me just fine) because I started this series. When I began my scan for good sample clips to use, I was flabbergasted to find the Joe-in-Alaska opening MIA. And, no, you're not raving. If anyone brings up the notion that abridgements aren't that bad, I'll point them here.

    Thank you, Naomi.

  3. I have the unabridged Brillance version of this one. I like Daniels, but he isn't my favorite. I do love Roberts, though. I know from my own experience it's something you grow to love more than love out of the gate, but he just seems to "get" Crais.

    And for me, I'm ALWAYS aghast at abridgements. In my opinion, if a book is well written, there's nothing that can be removed without disrupting the balance. I think abridged books are EVIL! ;-)

    O.k., RC has to hurry up because I don't want your series to end, Michael!

  4. Yes, Roberts does seem to get Crais. I hear 'ya about abridgments, Jen. I'm still find it incredulous that they totally dropped that segment in TLD.

    Well, didn't RC promise us another Joe Pike novel, and an Elvis Cole after that? The problem is how fast they are released ;-) Thanks very much, Jen.

  5. I also love what Naomi said in the forum because it's so true. Thanks for reprinting it here and linking to the forum, lp13.

    I didn't know the Pike/Alaska prologue isn't in the abridged audiobook. Who made THAT decision?!

    I love this book, and if I may be completely tacky and gross, one of the reasons is in the acknowledgments.

  6. I'm loving this insightful posts about Crais's work.

    I haven't read anything from him yet (bracing for hate-mail in 3...2...1...) mainly because book-culture in Mexico sucks and it's tough to get a lot of books around 'ere. Also, my credit card can only stand a few shipping fees every once in a while.

    Anyway, you're definitely adding a few (euphemism) books to my TBR pile. I believe I'll be buying the whole of Amazon in a few months.

    Thanks again, cousin!

  7. Glad to link to the forum you established, and the Craisie Town segment, PCN. It's a great place you've provided for fans of The Man, and other topics of popular culture/media.

    That's too good a question to ignore. I've sent email and asked Brilliance Audio who wrote the audio abridgment of TLD. I'll post their answer here.

    Now you're going to have me race home and look up those acknowledgements in my copy of THE LAST DETECTIVE ;-). Thank you, PCN.

  8. Poncho, how about this? I have the Omnibus paperback of the first three in the series. I could lend it to you and you could see if you like it (we'll turn you into a Craisie, yet). Or, I could try and turn you into audiobook fan (contact me offline).

    Thanks for your comment, cousin.

  9. This just in: Brilliance Audio says,

    "We do not have the specific information on who abridged the book although I can tell you that the abridgement was approved by the author."

    So, which among us will ask the man himself how he could have done that? Hehe ;-).

  10. If I'd never read The Last Detective, I would have been blissfully unaware of what was missing by cutting the opening Joe-in-Alaska. But as I have, I share your "What!?!"

    No worries, Poncho. We'd never subject anyone to hate-mail just because they are a Crais-virgin. In fact, I'd think some Craisies would be a little jealous because you still have this great world to discover. ;-)

    The Craisie Town forum is like a favorite playground, PCN! And that quote of Naomi's nailed one of the best things about RC's writing.

    You better believe I immediately jumped up to check the acknowledgements in my copy of TLD after reading PCN's post! ;-) SWEET!!

  11. Good point, Christine. Well, I'm starting Poncho off right. The Omnibus paperback is making its way to him and has the first three in the series (The Monkey's Raincoat, Stalking the Angel, and Lullaby Town). When he's done with that, I have the next Omnibus three waiting him ;-).

    I think Craisies enjoy introducing readers to the series, and envy them for what's coming their way if they stay with it.

    Thank you, Christine.

  12. As I've said, you are a gem, lp13! You're our go-to Crais dealer...or maybe Santa Crais? ;-) Happy reading, Poncho!