I have only recently ventured into the world of audio books and my only experience before this one was limited to Stephen Fry’s (excellent) telling of the Harry Potter series. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so thought the next step would be to try one of my other favourite authors; James Patterson. I had some trepidation about whether or not I would enjoy it, because James Patterson’s books, as you will know, are completely different to the light-hearted children’s books of J K Rowling and so I wasn’t sure whether they would work as well. I needn’t have been worried though, because Alex Cross’s Trial made an excellent choice for an audio book.
Trial is Alex Cross’s account of a lawyer, Ben Corbett, who fights against oppression and racism in the early twentieth century. He is sent from Washington DC by none other than Theodore Roosevelt to investigate the rumoured lynchings of black people in his hometown, with the help of Abraham Cross and his daughter. He immediately finds his own life threatened by the very people that he grew up with and he soon becomes determined to do the impossible – make a difference in a town that violently resists change.
When considering this story and in this format, I find it hard not to draw comparisons with the Harry Potter series; whilst I’m fully aware that they are an entirely different style, genre and story, it was never-the-less a shock to hear a drawling Deep South accent telling the story rather than the rather prim and proper English voice of Fry. It did take a while to get used to it and I had to listen to the first chapter a couple of times so that I could focus on the story rather than who was saying it, but the voice became familiar and likeable very quickly.
The story is narrated by Dylan Baker, an American film and TV actor who most notably played Dr Curt Connors in Spiderman 2 and 3. He has a perfect accent for the story, which is based in Eudora (a small town in Mississippi) in the early 1900s when the lynching of black people was commonplace, despite the outlawing of the Ku Klux Klan some 40 years earlier. Baker narrates the story so that you feel like he is an eyewitness from back in the era and he makes you really feel like you are walking the streets and seeing the things he does. The fact that he is an actor shines through in his narration and he portrays the various characters, male and female, black and white, equally well and completely believably. It really felt like I was listening to the soundtrack of a film and it was very easy to put the images to that film myself using Baker’s narration.
Aside from the narration, it was very dramatic production with sound clips and music thrown in at various intervals. For example during a fight ‘scene’, there was an accompanying sound clip of horses stampeding, men shouting and bullets being fired. This all added to the tension of the story and I thought it was very atmospheric. I must admit though, I could have done without the little snippets of music that kept appearing throughout the narration. It was OK when it was a tense part and the music was building up that tension, but there were times when it just appeared for no reason and it just seemed a little cheesy to me. It only happens a few times though and it didn’t impair the story at all – I just tuned it out!
As for the story itself, it has caused a little controversy amongst die hard Patterson fans – particularly those who are very fond of the Alex Cross series. It is advertised as the next instalment in the series, but it has very little to do with the man himself. In fact the idea of the story is that it is a book written by him rather than about him. The preface of the story is, in this case spoken, by Alex Cross (Shawn Andrew) and it is an introduction to a book that features his uncle and cousin. That is where the connection ends. I must admit, I didn’t listen to the preface properly and so spent most of the book wondering when Alex Cross was going to appear, so I can see why people are annoyed about it. That is not to say that it isn’t a good story because it is.
These frustrations should take nothing away from the fact that James Patterson has still retained his crown as a master story teller, although I will say that this story is very similar to John Grisham’s A Time To Kill, which tells of the same troubles in the Deep South of America. The fact is though that both of these stories are based on the truth. I don’t mean by this that they are based on true stories, but that they are fictional portrayals of things that really did happen at the time. This is something that makes the audio version of this story even more compelling – Patterson’s story telling is very graphic and it makes for uncomfortable listening in places but it also makes it more realistic.
Audio books in general are a great alternative to the traditional format. I decided to take the plunge because they are easier to handle on the beach! But I have found that they are a also a great substitute to a film - if they are well narrated and if they are telling a good story - and Alex Cross’s Trial certainly ticked both of those boxes for me. So if you’re looking for something different – even if you aren’t already one of the millions of Patterson fans – you should definitely give this one a try.
For your information, Alex Cross’s Trial (the unabridged version) is on 8 discs and lasts approximately 9 hours and is published by Hachette Audio. Its RRP is £10.00, although at the time of writing this review, it is available on amazon.co.uk for £7.70 with free delivery.