How a talented author/actor gives his PI a voice
Red Desert (An Eddie Collins Mystery Book 2)
Coffeetown Press 186 pages
Audible $17.95, Kindle $5.95, Trade paperback $14.95
I have mixed feelings about audio books. They’re convenient when you’re driving, flying, walking or doing something that precludes reading. The spoken words of a good actor or announcer can carry you away as when you’re engrossed in the printed page. But sometimes the narrators sound as if they were auditioning for a Broadway play and their intonations overwhelm the story. This can be especially true of male actors doing female voices and vice versa.
Another popular option for recorded books is to have the author read. Authors know where their stories should speed up or slow down and which words require emphasis. But authors are not trained announcers. Some do a remarkably good job, others, not so much. I recently listened to a book read by an acclaimed Australian author. His heavy down-under accent added authenticity, but you had to listen closely to catch every word.
Now comes Clive Rosengren and his Eddie Collins mysteries. Rosengren is a retired actor, Ed Wood, Soapdish, Seinfeld, Cheers, who writes PI novels. A good combination for an audio book? I read his debut mystery, Murder Unscripted. It’s original, engaging and funny. So when I faced a long driving trip and thought about listening to a book, I downloaded Rosengren’s Red Desert from Audible.
Rosengren reads the book like he wrote it. Because he did. The first person point of view, common for PI novels, lets Rosengren talk directly to us as Collins. He often sounds as if he’s telling us a story, recounting something that’s happening to him, rather than reading a book. He renders the voices of the various other characters with enough difference in tone or pitch—and sometimes speed—so you know someone else is talking, but he doesn’t try to do impressions like Dana Carvey.
Actors reading others’ books can recognize an argument or fight scene and ramp up the vocal tension, but an author who wrote the novel should have a good idea of how to voice the entire book. Thus, for example, Rosengren is able to deliver Collins’ offhand observations and asides with the appropriate deadpan or enthusiasm depending on the circumstances.
And the story here is not beside the point. It is the point. Collins is a part-time Hollywood actor who started a detective agency to supplement his on-again, off-again show business career.
When someone breaks into the home of Mike Ford, a top leading man, Ford’s girlfriend is killed—drowned in the swimming pool—and the actor’s Oscar is stolen. Ford taps his friend Collins for help. He shows Collins anonymous, threatening letters he’s received and says he has no idea who might have sent them or what the motive might have been.
Collins’ investigation takes him from his Hollywood office to Venice, Calif., a seaside suburb developed after the turn of the 20th century with canals serving as residential streets.
As Collins tries to determine why Ford is being hounded, a fire is burning in the San Gabriel mountains above LA. “A bloodshot moon hovered over Burbank. The air was pungent with the smell of smoke from fires burning in the hills—a yearly occurrence.” The fire casts a pall over the city and colors the story.
During his investigation, Collins comes across Reggie, an old Army buddy who is now homeless and on the street. Collins tries to rehabilitate his old friend, offering him a job doing surveillance on the case. Reggie turns out to be one of the strong, likable support characters in the book in addition to Collins’ secretary, Mavis.
One thread in the case leads Collins to Red Desert, a film Ford directed and starred in. Ford recalls his remake of a 1949 pot boiler as a “tough shoot: heat, script problems, casting snafus, you name it.”
When Reggie is watching Ford’s home, a photograph he snaps turns into a valuable clue. Then things get hot. As the fire rages in the mountains, an assault and a kidnapping raise the stakes and Collins and Reggie find themselves on the defensive.
The affable Collins with his porkpie hat and lack of tech savvy is a PI with a sense of humor and a knowledge of Hollywood he uses to good effect. Following him and Reggie around is a kick, and Red Desert is a delight that will keep you entertained from start to finish.
Clive Rosengren was an actor for nearly 40 years, 18 of them pounding many of the same streets as does his fictional actor/PI Eddie Collins. Rosengren is a multiple Shamus Award nominee by the Private Eye Writers of America. His other Eddie Collins books include Murder Unscripted, Martini Shot and Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon. He lives in southern Oregon.