by Richard Hawke
narrated by Paul Michael
Books on Tape, Inc.
Available at audible.com
I’m participating in two mini-challenges sponsored by the Yahoo! group Sounds Like a Mystery: the State Challenge wherein listeners choose four books set in New York state and, the Holiday Challenge wherein listeners pick four books, each featuring a holiday. Imagine how pleased I was to find a book that qualified for both challenges! Especially at the end of the year when I’m trying to finish my current challenges, finding a title that will double up is very helpful:- )
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is set in New York City and the action starts on Thanksgiving Day during a shootout at the big parade. The story then careens into a first-person (private investigator Fritz Malone) narrative filled with ludicrous characters underscored by risible characterizations on behalf of the narrator and, a plot that is only equaled in its incredibility as it is in the number of implausible twists. I had started to listen to this audiobook as a serious modern-day thriller, but was actually confused as to the intent of both the writer and the narrator fairly quickly. There are echoes of gumshoe detective novels in this story which takes place in a post-911 NYC. I wondered if both or either of them, the author and the narrator, were intentionally bringing those echoes into play either in a loving pastiche or as a cheap gimmick.
The story, about a terrorist who targets New York City, is filled with corrupt policemen, cardboard cut-out politicians, nuns, The Nightmare (a villain with an arch-nemesis name!) and other assorted characters all drawn with near-hyperbolic zeal. The narrator then matches the author’s zeal by showcasing each character as a caricature. Paul Michael, in an eyebrow-raising choice of interpretation, actually has the police commissioner speak with a heavy Irish brogue! Well, I will say that in showing off his character/accent work, Paul Michael does make every character distinct. There is never any doubt as to who is speaking at any given time
The story itself is like a bumper car ride at an amusement park. There is no sense of shape or drive to the story and again the narrator does very little to help the text along. Equal weight is given to describing a garbage truck as describing the moment when our hero has an epiphany regarding who is behind the terrorist acts. As such, it’s difficult to determine what is noteworthy and what is merely background noise. The plot twists are best described as diagenetic run-ins of such far-fetched credibility that they only lacked paranormal features to make them even more fantastical. I’m not so sure that they changed the direction of the plot as much as they obscured the story line, on the given that a story line was actually outlined in the first place.
The listener is treated to a laundry list of the elements of writing style; but the author did not integrate these elements without self-consciousness or polish. All the ingredients for a thriller were there: descriptive passages that touched on all the five senses, action lines and scenes that covered the journalistic Who-What-Where-When-Why-and-How premise, interior dialogue for that idea of character depth, witty retorts, action and passive scenes….; but the overall awkwardness of the construction left the listener removed from the story. The writing was not powerful enough to draw the listener into the time and place sensually or experientially.