Monday, December 14, 2009

High society

There are three novels featuring the Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Back in 2007, I listened to the first one, and I just finished up number three: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. In between I [eye] read the second. I certainly see the appeal of four intrepid puzzle solvers who face down physical danger and true evil practically all on their own [70 holds on the two-year-old book and 17 holds on the audio at my library!] -- the first book is in contention for next year's Young Readers' Choice Award -- but none of them really sent me.

The eponymous Society is Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance, gifted children all. Each has something that they excel at and each has the opportunity to bring their individual skill to the aid of the group when they find themselves in peril from the evil Ledroptha Curtain. Mr. Curtain, brother to the kindhearted Nicholas Benedict (who originally recruited the children), has ambitions about ruling the world, or some such. He is bad, bad, bad and employs a crew of henchmen, called Ten Men because they have 10 ways of hurting you, to implement his malevolent plot. Curtain and his Ten Men are fairly scary in the pantheon of children's book villains -- while they do tend to talk too much, the mayhem they create can and does cause pain, fear, and injury. These books aren't for the sensitive reader.

In the third installment, Mr. Curtain attempts to regain possession of his Whisperer -- a mind-control device that he almost successfully employed in the first novel. The Society are kidnapped -- as Mr. Curtain finds their skills as useful as Mr. Benedict does -- and their combination of wits and derring do win the day. It appears that the Society's work is done, but never say never in the world of successful sequels.

I gushed on and on about Dion Graham two posts ago, but I'm having trouble rustling up any enthusiasm at all about Del Roy, the narrator of this series. I didn't like him two years ago and I don't like him now. His voice is extremely difficult to listen to, as it is raspy, saliva-filled and has very little variation. He doesn't voice any characters, and only rarely alters his delivery to reflect the story's emotions. The voice sounds compromised in some way (smoking?) that severely limits Roy's range of expression, and occasionally causes swallowed or mispronounced words. I also hear a lot of breathlessness in his delivery -- he pauses in odd places and occasionally gets strained when he runs out of air. As a listener, unfortunately, focus on the story disappears as I hear (and internally comment on) a gulp, a gasp, some juice, an elision, etc.

On the scale of audio performances, this one is just not worthy of your ears. Particularly when there are so many great ones out there waiting. Dion Graham anyone?

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