07/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Baldacci, Coben and Connelly: The Boys of Summer's Audiobooks - Reviewed

The bright rays of the coming summer brings the bright stars of pop publishing, those big boys of thrills and mayhem whose glossy covers shine on supermarket, airport, book store shelves with their much hyped-up and hoped-for best-sellers.

Among the male marquee names this year, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben and David Baldacci all have titles with heavy print and Internet promotions behind them. Is all the hype and expectations worth it?

FIRST FAMILY, by David Baldacci
Genre: White House Family Mystery
14.5 hrs - Unabridged
Narrator: Ron McLarty
Publisher: Hachette Audio

The First Family's past skullduggery puts the presidential re-election in jeopardy as former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are called in to find the First Lady's kidnapped niece. From this event, all things nefarious unfold.

That's the 'A' story and if Baldacci had kept to that, First Family might compare favorably with the author's early Camel Club and King-Maxwell entertainments - but it doesn't. The 'B' story, involving Michelle's mother - takes the listener down a separate path that doesn't connect with the main story line and seems to only serve as a tightening connection between the two private-eye partners. It's not worth the distraction.

Ron McLarty's considerable voice chops give the story a needed accelerant but it's not quite enough.

A dysfunctional First Family story probably worked better in an earlier time when a dysfunctional family was actually in the White House. The timing for this milieu may have passed its sell-by date.


LONG LOST, by Harlan Coben
Genre: Whodunit with Attitude
Approx 9 Hrs - Unabridged
Narrator: Steven Weber
Publisher: Brilliance Audio

If you follow Coben's Myron Bolitar series on audio, the charm of this series is a lot about Myron's flip banter, irreverent attitude and self-deprecating humor, plus the off-beat characters surrounding the 6 foot, 4 inch, 220 pound, former pro basketball playing, chocolate Yoo Hoo-drinking, ex-FBI, now entertainment agent, who's always available to help women in distress. In this case, the disstress-ee is a former lover who's a suspect in her ex-husband's murder, in Paris, which adds a fast-paced international flavor to a story that includes danger from Islamic terrorists and help from a sympathetic Mossad agent.

Also on-hand is Myron's personal back-up system - the ultra-rich, good-looking, misogynist and semi-sociopath Windsor Horne Lockwood, who's always on-call to protect Myron and kill only when someone deserves it.

The Bolitar audiobook series is an prime example of how narration adds significant value to the printed book - and sometimes detracts from it. The first seven, or so, in the Bolitar series were voiced by Jonathan Marosz, who brought the right balance of charm and smart-ass to Myron's character. Harlan Coben tried his own narration for Promise Me and, wisely, never did it again. Veteran TV series actor Steven Weber adds appreciable worth by enlivening this material.

When it comes to whodunits with attitude, no one puts on a better show in audio better than Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar with a Marosz or Weber, at the microphone.


SCARECROW, by Michael Connelly
Genre: Reporter-Solving Mystery
Approx 11 hrs - Unabridged
Narrator: Peter Giles
Publisher: Hachette Audio

The prolific Michael Connelly, who plows the crab-grass area of L.A.'s criminal justice system, is back for the summer with a follow up to his 2002 hit, The Poet. This time, The Los Angeles Times cop-shop reporter Jack McEvoy is determined to score one last career-changing story before he's laid off. His paper, like many, is caught in the no-fly zone between print and the Internet.

Scarecrow is an open mystery, so right off we're introduced to the cyber-psycho whose awesome Internet security skills allow him to manipulate and control the reporter's investigation. The idea of a formidable net-master villain is inviting - the better the villain, the better the story - but the result here is not fully realized as this perp ultimately fizzles, rather than pops out, as a worthy opponent. The real villain of the piece is the newspaper. Author Connelly, a former police reporter for the L.A.Times, uses Scarecrow to vent his ample frustration and disdain for the current state of the newspaper business and management. When Sam Zell, the real owner of the Times and Chicago Tribune, says his purchases were a big mistake, it tends to re-inforce Connelly's POV.

Actor Peter Giles, Connelly's The Brass Verdict, narrator, adds his resonant vocal weight to the piece which might have helped if the story had the same entertaining heft.

For a peek into a daily newspaper's decline, Scarecrow has its moments. As an engaging, eleven-hour audiobook mystery, not so much.