Monday, March 15, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The Watchman

With this year's release of The First Rulelucky number 13 in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais, it adds another to my favorite book series. This is the next post in my 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 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, brought his books success and elevated the P.I.'s one-of-a-kind sidekick, Joe Pike, to fan favorite status.

The Watchman

Robert Crais' eleventh novel, The Watchman (print published in 2007 and pictured above - this cover art marks a first in the series: a main character appears on it), would arrive after his third standalone book (2006's The Two Minute Rule) was published. And, the new novel would continue the author's groundbreaking streak. Ever since the 1999 game changer of L.A. Requiem, the novelist has been successful in reshaping the series and building upon its characters. With plenty of feedback by series fans, Crais began mining his other potential property, Joe Pike. The first Pike novel entered the marketplace (and aficionados heads) with much excitement. Here was a clear favorite amongst the readers and critics, just itching to come out. And with the book's perspective flipped toward his partner, Elvis Cole would fill in as the sidekick here, one could argue that this is another series entirely. However, that would be an incorrect supposition. The author and most of his readers simply do not see it that way. Since it shares the corresponding landscape (and there's only one L.A.) with the identical character universe, it essentially remains the same series. Although, this one is viewed through Joe Pike's ever present sunglasses and psyche. Here, the hi-powered and laconic one takes on the task of protecting a famous heiress in danger, with the help of his steadfast friend and partner, and tries to find the real reason behind it all. This fresh take on the series will result in a fast-paced thriller, and continues the written reveal of a complex character by the author. Not only will the novel turn out to be the most successful book in the series (in sales, at that time), it will be the one that Robert Crais himself said generated the most reaction from his base of fans. And most of that reaction came from women.

Note: this novel would introduce two new characters to the series that will have impact beyond the book. Larkin Conner Barkley raises a large level of hackles among the fan-base (even to this day) as the spoiled heiress with her relationship to Joe. Jon Stone, the ex-merc and security consultant, adds a name to an enigmatic character only briefly but importantly mentioned in The Last Detective. And he'll return, intriguingly, later in the series.

[The Watchman cover art photostream]

Brilliance Audio will maintain continuity with the hardcover book by using the same cover artwork for the U.S. audiobooks. Interestingly, the paperback cover (pictured at the start) used the inverse color palette for its artwork. This audio series will continue the same flow by staying with James Daniels as the reader in this chain of audiobooks. As he's done before, Daniels uses a distinct vocalization for the character of Joe Pike. It reminds many of a (Clint) Eastwood-like rasp. If you're familiar with John Carpenter's film Escape from New York, actor Kurt Russell's characterization of Snake Plissken will give you a good spoken approximation of just how that performance comes across. Some audiobook fans appreciate the treatment (and the indirect symbolism), while others just can not stand it. As he did with 9th book, Daniels would perform both the unabridged audiobook (7:48 runtime) and the abridged version (5:24 runtime). Luckily, the audio abridgment is not as severe as others in the series. Here's his abridged sample and the unabridged of the same passage.

In contrast, BBC's audiobook cover would use the same one as the U.K. hardcover book's artwork. The Chiver's audiobook would have another delayed release (more than a year later) while Brilliance sold their version overseas. William Roberts returned for another strong performance. In comparison with James Daniels, Roberts (and you could say the same for Recorded Book's narrator Ron McLarty) gives an entirely different vocal interpretation for the character of Pike. You'll need to decide which is your favorite portrayal of Joe in audio form. The same unabridged material done by this publisher and narrator comes in at 8:48 for their audio version. Check out his work with the same passage.

Next up: Chasing Darkness

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. You're so right about Daniels' interpretation of Pike as being too Eastwood-ish. This isn't one of the books that I like to listen to over and over (like TFM). The very subtle touches that Crais brings to Pike's character in this book are, for me, almost completely lost in the audio versions. The action is so commanding in the audio version that it just tends to trample those small subtle touches.

  2. I loved THE WATCHMAN. I do find Joe Pike more appealing than Elvis Cole (though he has a piece of my heart as well) and don't know why... I want to see Larkin come back (maybe the Pike book in Jan. 2011?!) - Michael, why does everyone hate her? I think she's rather Pike in that she has this tough outer shell that's so different from who she is as a person, right?

  3. There's good reason THE WATCHMAN sold as many copies as it did... and it comes down to the unique character that is Joe. You bring up a good point, too, about Larkin and her persona being more simpatico to Joe's. I remember the Q&A at RC's 2008 Festival of Books panel when he covered how much fan mail/email her character generated, and most of it negative. Perhaps, they feel more protective toward Pike than they loathe Larkin. I don't really know, but it's a good question. Thanks, NW.

  4. The action scenes do stand out in audio, don't they? The tempo picks up in the delivery of the narrator (somewhat expected) during those sequences. And I would say that the reader in these instances gets to detect the subtle touches of the character more than the listener initially has a chance at. They can be overpowering. Thank you, Naomi.

  5. Thanks for the RT, Mon :-).