Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Audible Review, "The Cold Dish"

Been A While Since One of These
            Recently, that is to say 4 weeks ago, I bought a daily deal on Audible.  This was “The Cold Dish” first of the “Longmire” series of Mystery/Western novels set in the rural areas of Wyoming, in this instance dealing with the interactions between the white community and the Cheyenne Indians native to the area kept on the nearby reservation.  This series has served as the inspiration/template for a TV show and it is on Netflix.
            Overall, I did not enjoy the book.  Nor did I enjoy the performance of the book.  I can see how this story would work better as a TV show as there are LONG periods in which things are described, having that as a visual, with actors moving and struggling would be more entertaining.  At it is in the book, there are times when paragraph after paragraph goes on and boiling it down amounts to, “I got lost in the snow”.  I have not watched the show and cannot speak to its quality, but I am going to log a big complaint for this book.  The mystery element to the story is WEAK.
The show does appear to be well cast and I imagine it is well produced, at least since Netflix picked up production.
How Mysteries Work
            Forgive me if this does not need explaining to you, but I want to define my terms before moving forward.  The key/core appeal of a mystery story is watching it get solved.  The reader/viewer is shown all of the clues, all the suspects, and the main character takes those pieces, and presents something about them that provides greater insight than the reader could be expected to get on their own.
            For instance, Sherlock Holmes being able to determine the approximate height of a person by where they wrote a message on a wall, or being able to see that the word “Rache” is not an incomplete “Rachel” but in fact the German word “Rache”.  The point of a mystery is for it to be solved via insight into the suspects prompted by the correlation of clues.  It is mental triangulation. 
            With all that in mind, imagine my disappointment when I managed to figure out who the killer was not by seeing clues in the story, but because SO MUCH TIME is spent exploring the character/perpetrator in the course of the narrative that I assumed the only reason so much of it was included was that ultimately the character had to be the killer.
            At first I was trying to give the book credit.  That maybe this was going to be a character that would serve to anchor the protagonist, or explore something about his character, or maybe just provide some key insight later on.  You know the type, you’ve seen it on “House MD” when he talks to a walk-in patient in the clinic and solving their problem gives him insight to solve the “real” case for the episode.  I figured this character could be one of those.
            You don’t include someone in the plot to this level unless they matter, ESPECIALLY when their inclusion is such a boring subplot.  Unfortunately, after listening for 5 hours of a 14 hour story the character all but vanishes and I couldn't think of why their scenes would be in the book unless they were the killer.

Voice Work
            Let’s talk about something not directly related to the story.  The narrator, George Guidall fits the character of Longmire perfectly.  His voice is old, craggy, and feels like someone who has lived in the world of the narrative.  He is perhaps a good fit for the book beyond that, as the story is mostly older sounding guys, but George reads it SO SLOWLY.  Listening felt 4 hours longer than what it was, and I listen to my books at x1.1 speed.
            To put in perspective how long it took me to get thru this book, after about 6.5 hours of listening to “Cold Dish” another book I wanted to listen to more, “All These Worlds” came out and I snapped it up.  I listened to the entire 8-hour “All These Worlds” in 4 days, and then swayed back to this one out of a sense of… Obligation?  I guess.

I feel like I should give a complete review of this series.
I kind of loved it, and it juxtaposes perfectly with a recent more successful book that I hate.
            A book that feels faster and more alive, that I can listen thru in a 1/4th or 1/3rd the amount of time I took on this story.  “Cold Dish” does not grab the reader.
            Almost all of my “reading” these days is done via audio books.  I am trying to get more in shape and the best way to do that is to go on long walks, and the best way to make those walks tolerable is to listen to a story.  I have listened to maybe 15-20 voices reading stories at this point and I know what I like.  If this sort of thing does not bother you, then feel free to disregard this criticism.

            “The Cold Dish” is not nothing.  There are things to like, the characters talking about spiritualism, the history of the area, the folksy charm of a small town, and the challenges that comes with trying to go out into a hostile wilderness investigating murder.  Even the forensic aspects of the story are good even though I think the deluge of forensic programs that came out when I was younger demystified a lot of its charm.
            There are good things and good characters in the book, but god damn was it too long and the case was solved not by interesting clues aligning, but by me just being up on conventions of the genre.  That is weak.  That is fatally weak.
            I cannot imagine someone who has read numerous mysteries getting anything out of this story unless they prefer character drama to investigative aspects.  MAYBE you prefer the types of stories that are about the CHARACTERS and there is a mystery, rather than a story about characters solving a MYSTERY.  It is a matter of emphasis and taste, but for me this did not work.

Random Confusing Element
            Also, Indian Magic is real in this book's universe?  That seems to be more explicit than I expected.  There are ghosts.  They are alluded to in several scenes that make them more fact than hallucination/delusion.  I don’t know how to feel about that.

            Overall, I give it a 2/5.
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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