BY ED CHURCH (August 2021)

Wherever possible, I try to give my characters distinct voices. To describe some accent or verbal trait, then write dialogue that brings it out. I like to think it makes the characters more real, lifting them from the page and into the senses. And, now that I have belatedly started enjoying audiobooks, I sometimes wonder what the Brook Deelman series would sound like.

I think it was a need for escapism during lockdown that finally got me listening to books. Until then, I had resisted in much the same way I was sceptical of Kindles when they first appeared (yep, it probably says a lot about my attitude towards “change”). But I dipped my toe in the water with John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee books – a series I was already halfway through – and, before I knew it, Robert Petkoff’s voice had whisked me through the remaining novels.

At some point, it dawned on me I was now in the presence of two masters of their craft – MacDonald and Petkoff (good name for a detective duo, actually). And, even though the writing and narration were separated by decades, it sometimes seemed as if the author was doing all he could to test the narrator’s range:

“Ever since I had known Gilly, her voice had cracked like that of a boy in early adolescence, changing from the piercing songbird clarity of the Irish upper class countryside, to a burry baritone honk and back again…” (from “A Tan and Sandy Silence”).


After what was presumably a stiff drink, Petkoff coped admirably.

Perhaps starting with the Travis McGee series spoiled me, as the next couple of audiobooks I tried didn’t quite hit the mark. But then I was pointed towards “The Neon Rain” by James Lee Burke and, even before the end of the first paragraph, I knew my earphones and I had found a favourite new retreat. Will Patton’s unhurried Southern tones felt like having Johnny Cash read you a bedtime story. A voice so effortlessly textured and rich that – to borrow the last words of the book – “it might have been aged inside oak.”

But I’m being careful with Burke and Patton – I don’t want to burn through another series too fast. Instead, I currently find myself listening to Raymond Chandler’s classic detective novels with PI Philip Marlowe. This time, the narration falls to Scott Brick; not an easy gig as the Marlowe voice in most people’s minds is that of Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. Yet Brick is another of those narrators who makes it a sheer pleasure to hit Play.

His voice immediately conjures the perfect noir ambience of a 1940s L.A.detective story, and there is a moment when Marlowe meets the giant Moose Malloy (in “Farewell, My Lovely”) when you realise just how good he is. Brick gives the ex-con a voice that seems to emanate from the depths of a throat lined with velvet. Then we come across Chandler’s description from which the narrator took his cue…

“Don’t say that, pal,” the big man purred softly, like four tigers after dinner.

…And you can’t help but smile at just how perfectly the narrator has nailed it.

To go back to how this blog post started, I will no doubt carry on having the odd daydream about what the Brook Deelman series might sound like in audio form – especially in the hands of one of these vocal talents. But it’s a tricky thing for an “indie author” on a limited budget and, sadly, the likes of Petkoff, Patton and Brick are probably somewhat out of reach.

On the plus side, it’s not unknown for an author to narrate their own books, and Scott Brick is apparently writing an instructional guide. So, who knows? Though it does sound like the sort of thing I would probably need a bit of Dutch courage to commit to.

If you ever come across a Brook Deelman audiobook where everything sounds a little slurred… you’ll know why.

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