I would rather read a book, but I listen to a LOT of audiobooks. I listen to them in the car (fewer work commutes with the Pandemic); and often during my work day. My mind is wired so I can listen to an audibook/radio play and still concentrate on something else. I’ve had friends and coworkers tell me they can’t do that at all, so I feel fortunate. It lets me ‘read/re-read’ a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have time to get to. I use the Overdrive App to get them out of the library, and I do Audible.
Many a night, I fall asleep to an audiobook (not a problem when you sleep alone. Sigh…). Usually something I’ve read or listened to before and know reasonably well. Like Max Latin (Norbert Davis), Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler), or Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie). That way it doesn’t matter if I doze off.
Of course, If I REALLY like the book, or author, I tend to favor the narrator more (unless they are screwing up my book!). But I’m pretty objective in determining whether or not I’m glad this person is doing the narration. Today I’m gonna talk about some who I really like – and plugging some authors I like as well!
Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is my favorite mystery series of all time. I have written extensively about Wolfe – fiction and non-fiction. I’ve read the books (especially the short story collections) many times over. Michael Prichard has recorded almost all of the Corpus. I have over two dozen on CD, have bought a couple via Audible, and can find some at Overdrive (they are usually from cassettes, and I chuckle at “End of side two. Turn the cassette over and resume”).
Prichard is absolutely fantastic. He is my favorite audiobook narrator. He does a great Wolfe, and Archie. And Cramer. And all the other characters. His voice is smooth, and he handles Wolfe’s rigorous vocabulary well. His voice is definitely a bit ‘thinner’ on the cassette recordings, so I enjoy the
I’ve not listened to any other readings by Prichard, but he has over 150 credits on Audible, including books by Tom Clancy, Robert B. Parker (Spenser novels), Zane Grey, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, and Robert Ludlum (I’m a BIG Ludlum fan). He’s done a lot of non-fiction, including books by Mark Felt (Deep Throat) and Vince Lombardi, and about Jeb Stuart, and Lenin’s Russia. He is an excellent narrator.
First off, if you’re not a Nero Wolfe fan, you should be. I’ve read a LOT of mystery, and I’ve got some fairly decent credentials in that area. And Nero Wolfe is my series of them all in the PI/police/hardboiled/mystery genres. It’s that good. And Prichard is my favorite narrator. It’s a perfect marriage.
The CDs have gotten more expensive/harder to find over the years, but you can find these to stream. And Overdrive, while limited, can let you check the Prichard-Wolfe combo out for free. I will be listening to these for MANY years to come.
Radio plays have given us a definitive Sherlock Holmes (Clive Merrision) and a Hercule Poirot (John Moffat) in that medium. But t there has not been a stellar Wolfe. A Canadian series starring Mavor Moore is solid, but not superb. Sidney Green street wouldn’t even be mentioned if he wasn’t so fat, like Wolfe. For me, Prichard is the audio Wolfe.
I used to buy audiobooks on cassette way back when that was the thing. I had several Robert Ludlum’s (abridged – that was a LOT of cassettes!), and I was buying Tony Hillerman reading his own terrific Leaphorn and Chee books. And I bought the first several Dave Robicheaux books from James Lee Burke. They were read by soft-spoken actor, Will Patton.
I can still remember sitting in my car, early to an Ultimate tournament, listening to Patton read A Morning for Flamingos. If it wasn’t for Nero Wolfe being my favorite series, Patton might well surpass Prichard for the number one spot on this list. He has read non-Robicheaux books by Burke, and it’s his voice I associate with the author. It’s not Alec Baldwin, or Tommy Lee Jones (I wrote about that movie here), who starred on-screen as Robicheaux. I just listened to Patton read the first Billy Bob Holland book, and am almost done with the Civil War tale, White Doves at Morning. James Lee Burke powerfully evokes the rural South which he write about. And Patton is the perfect voice for it. I love listening to him read Burke.
I think that James Lee Burke is my favorite hardboiled write of my generation (yes, I am familiar with the terrific Elmore Leonard, thank you). His books are excellent. And I VERY much enjoy listening to Will Patton read them aloud. The Robiecheaux books were re-recorded with someone else, but I’m pleased to see Audible has most of the Patton recordings available now.
He never broke huge, but Patton is one of those guys who makes his scenes better by being in them. He’s in one of my favorite thrillers, No Way Out. His profile has recently gone up with roles in Yellowstone and Outer Range. The guy fits in Westerns with that voice. He was one of Denzel Washington’s coaches in Remember the Titans.
Patton has read quite a bit of Stephen King, and I am quite interested in his unabridged reading of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Jack London, Larry McMurtry, Greg Allman (autobiography), F. Paul Wilson’s Gone South (Ooooh! That book has the most arresting opening sentence I’ve ever read.).
Many a video game or D&D character has been named Hector, or Astyanax, or Deiphobus, or Priam (can you tell which side I rooted for?), or Penthesilia, etc. The Iliad remains just about my favorite book.
I LOVE Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad. It’s the only one I bother with anymore. I have unabridged readings of his The Iliad (Jacobi), The Odyssey (Ian McKellan), and The Aeneid (Simon Callow). I enjoy listening to all of them, and the epic stories they tell.
McKellan is okay. Callow is better. But Derek Jacobi’s Iliad may be the single best audiobook narration I’ve ever listened to. He is absolutely fantastic. It’s a spellbinding performance. I really can’t praise it enough. I have listened to him read the Sherlock Holmes Canon, and they’re good, but not my favorites. But he completely brings The Iliad to life. It is a masterful reading that I can’t imagine being bettered.
These three audiobooks cover 29 CDs of the classics, and all are worth having. But Jacobi is superb. A must have for fans of The Iliad.
And now, for something completely different. I don’t do horror well, so I’m not the typical Bruce Campbell fan. For me, it’s The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., (I talked about it a little here) which was my all-time favorite show for many years (it’s still #2). Campbell is so fun as the bounty-hunting cowboy, out to avenge his father’s death and deal with a strange, golden orb.
When it first came out, I bought his autobiography, If Chins Could Kill: The Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. If you know anything about Campbell, you know he is a nice guy, with self-deprecating humor. I have read this book several times, because it’s about as fun as an autobiography can get. I also bought his followup, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor.
I prefer the first, but both are worth getting. And Campbell himself reads the audiobooks, adding updates and additional asides from what’s in the physical copies. It’s like sitting in a comfy room with Bruce while he tells you his stories. Any Bruce Campbell fan would absolutely love these two audiobooks. Audible often has a trial membership where you get three free titles to start. I often recommend these two books to fellow Campbell fans, in that deal. It’s a steal!
I love me some Hammett, and Nebel, and Norbert Davis, and Raoul Whitfield. But I was slow to liking Raymond Chandler. Philip Marlowe was whiny, and I think that Chandler’s contempt for the hardboiled genre comes through in some of his writing. Since Bogie is my favorite actor, I’ve always liked The Big Sleep (even though the movie is kind of a mess). But I really don’t like Eliot Gould’s updated The Long Goodbye. At all. In fact, I usually abandon my periodic attempts to get to like it, midway through.
However, I have come to like Chandler’s writing. And I owe it to Gould’s CDs of his readings of various Chandler stories, were easily available here for awhile. And being a hardboiled fan, I grabbed them. And I found that I quite liked his readings. Most are unabridged (which I ALWAYS prefer), but even the unabridged ones were pretty good. So while I didn’t like him on screen, I did like him reading Chandler.
I’ve got most of his recordings (still haven’t paid the too-high-price for the Audible version of Red Wind), and I’ve listened to them a lot. I like the non-Marlowe’s just as well. There are other good Marlowe readings, and a fine BBC radio series starring Toby Stephens. But just as the Kenneth Branagh movies turned me into a Shakespeare fan (reading the plays hadn’t worked so well for me), listening to Gould turned me into a Chandler fan.
The CDs are pretty hard to find now (surprise…) but Audible has some of them. Gould is definitely worth listening to.
A late addition. I love the Jesse Stone movies, based on the books by Robert B. Parker. Tom Selleck starred, produced, and eventually wrote them. He literally continued the series by sheer force of will, as Hallmark would only order one of them at at time.
Parker also wrote some terrific Westerns starring Virgil Cole and Emmit Hitch. Ed Harris, again showing a labor of love for Parker’s work (how about a studio or streaming network makes a Parker project, instead of forcing fans working in the business to film???), directed and starred in a 2008 movie, Appaloosa, based on the first novel. I wrote about it here.
He co wrote the screenplay with Robert Knott, who would go on to write six more books in the series after Parker’s death. Viggo Mortenson costarred as Hitch. It’s a good Western movie, and Harris is a pretty good Cole. He fits the role well. I wish he had been able to make more.
Titus Welliver is killing it these days, first in Michael Connelly’s Bosch; now in the sequel, Bosh: Legacy (streaming now on Freevee). Bosch started in 2014, and ran for seven successful seasons. I’ve not read the books, but Welliver seems well-suited for the part.
Welliver had done the audiobooks for the first five Cole and Hitch novels, and he’s absolutely a perfect fit. I really liked Ed Harris as Virgil Cole, but man, Welliver sounds just right. And I certainly can see him on screen, dressed for the Old West, starring as the lawman. Whether a movie, or a streaming series, he would be excellent as Cole. Even better than Harris was, I think.
Presumably due to Bosch taking off, he stopped doing the audiobooks. Rex Linn (Principal Peterson on Young Sheldon, Kevin Wachtell on Better Call Saul) took over the reigns. He’s got a good voice – and drawl – for Westerns, but he just doesn’t fit the way Welliver did.
Robert B. Parker (best known for the Spenser novels) was an extremely talented writer. The Cole and Hitch books are a terrific Western series, and highly recommended. I would always rather read a book than listen to one, but audiobooks have a place in my life. And if you like Westerns, you really should listen to Welliver read Appaloosa. Its’ a series that is definitely one to do in order. Would be nice to have him do some more Western novels.
Now, I’m not talking about radio plays today. Clive Merrision is THE voice of Sherlock Holmes for me, in his BBC radio plays, helmed by Bert Coules. And I wrote about what a terrific Hercule Poirot John Moffatt is. Toby Stephens (I really enjoyed him in the two-season British cop show, Vexed) was a fine Philip Marlowe in a BBC radio series which covered all the original books, as well as Poodle Springs.
And there are some really good ensemble cast radio plays which I like to listen to, such as the ones about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. I’m sure I’ll do a post on some radio dramas. But since I can’t really read a paperback while driving (you have NEVER heard such whining from the carpool!), audiobooks are cool. And they help my work days go better.
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in the summer of 2018 and will be back yet again in 2022.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI and XXI.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.