Monday, November 2, 2009

There is a house in New Orleans

I've never read a Secrets of Droon title, but by virtue of the sheer quantity of them I was prepared to treat the author with scorn. Then I read and listened to the beautiful and thoughtful Firegirl and I had to rethink that scorn. But now that I've listened to two installments of Tony Abbott's latest series, The Haunting of Derek Stone, I think perhaps I should limit myself to Abbott's hardcover books. This is not my cup of tea. Well, at least I got to start at the beginning.

In City of the Dead, 14-year-old Derek Stone is traveling by train with his father and older brother, when the bridge that their train is rumbling over collapses into the Bordelon Gap. Derek survives, but the bodies of his father and brother -- along with those of several other victims -- are not found. Derek returns, griefstricken, to his family's house in New Orleans. Then ... great news! Ronny, Derek's older brother has been found alive! It doesn't take Derek long to figure out, though, that something is very, very wrong with Ronny.

Derek figures out that Ronny is really Virgil. And Virgil was a passenger on a train that experienced the exact same accident in the exact same place 70 years earlier. Only Virgil's wasn't a passenger train, it was a convict train. And when someone dies in the same place in the same way (and there's a rift in time of some kind that I didn't quite understand), then the older dead entity can take over the body of the more recently dead. This is called "translating," and I think they are different than zombies. Virgil was a guard on that convict train, but the rest of the undead hanging out at the bottom of the ravine are murderers and now that they've got bodies again, they are on the rampage. Virgil is escaping from them, and he's come to Derek for help.

What those convicts want from Virgil (revenge?) and Derek isn't completely clear -- I don't think it's clear to Derek either, actually. I might go so far as to say that it isn't clear to the author, but that would be sheer speculation. Regardless, they're chasing him, and in the second book, Bayou Dogs, they are chasing him some more. They are chasing him to the place of his nightmares, the place Derek almost drowned -- the Bayou Malpierre.

This series is probably pretty good material for reluctant reader who appreciate a good chase and plenty of gore. They're relatively short (that was a blessing for me) too. But listening to them was six hours I'll never get back.

The usually reliable Nick Podehl (heard most recently here) is the reader and here we simply have the case of a bad match between narrator and material. Podehl adopts a heavy N'Awlins accent and it's clear he's not comfortable using it. It seems to restrict him from the natural phrasing and delightful character development that he's shown in previous audiobooks. He's concentrating so hard on sustaining the accent that he can't do anything else. It's a bit of a dud.

Interestingly, Podehl's accent immediately brought an African American character to my mind. Once I got into the story I realized that Derek -- who is the narrator -- is white, although other characters in the book are black. But why does Derek have to be described that closely that I know he's white? In a book like this, it would be so easy to just leave it up to the reader/listener to inhabit the story however s/he saw it. Worth thinking about ...

Another gripe: How can you set a book in New Orleans and not mention Hurricane Katrina? Not even in passing? It just doesn't seem right.

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