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Some Dark Turns for California Dreamers

April 28, 1999|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

California is the setting for two new unabridged thrillers, the better of the two being "Angels Flight," a hard-boiled police fiction from Michael Connelly. (Brilliance Audio; unabridged fiction; seven cassettes; 11 hours; $39.95; read by Dick Hill. Also available abridged; four cassettes; six hours; read by Burt Reynolds.)

The sixth in a series featuring Harry Bosch, it is a tightly drawn depiction of the best and worst of an inner-city police department. A phone call in the middle of the night informs the crusty detective that high-profile African American lawyer Howard Elias has been killed. Bosch, though not on rotation, soon finds himself digging for clues.

The case brings out everyone, from Internal Affairs to the FBI to the LAPD's independent inspector general, a woman who may have been having a clandestine affair with the dead lawyer. Elias made a living suing the cops, leaving Bosch the thankless task of investigating his own as the city erupts in riots.

Connelly spins a tight tale, as the story is complex and his characters carefully shaded. We feel Harry's edginess as he tries to quit smoking, hold together his year-old marriage and work a thankless and disturbing case.

Narrator Hill, as always, supplies the story with a full range of voices. All the investigating officers sound markedly different, and vocal personalities range from a young, angry black man to an older, grizzled white man.

Female voices, however, are not his strong suit. Hill softens his voice and raises the timbre some, but they are not convincing. Both this and the following audio book employ a few sound effects, such as alterations in tone when a character speaks through a telephone or microphone. I have always found this to be an annoying feature of Brilliance productions, so I am happy to report that these effects seem toned down.

*

Less successful, but not without merit is Frank M. Robinson's apocalyptic thriller, "Waiting." (Brilliance Corp.; unabridged fiction; seven cassettes; 10 hours; $39.95; read by Roger Dressler. Also available abridged, two cassettes; three hours; $17.95; read by Dressler.)

Though more absorbing than most in the sci-fi thriller genre, it is weakened by trite dialogue and characters who are less than mesmerizing. But Robinson works plenty of paranoia and a few creepy scenes into a story of San Francisco intellectuals who discover that not everyone walking the planet is actually human.

The plot uncovers no new ground, but Robinson has come up with an interesting twist. Instead of aliens among us, he has created a whole new species of near humans. A close cousin of modern man, this species may not be Homo sapiens, but does appear deceptively similar. While they did not develop our language skills, these creatures have telepathic and telekinetic powers.

Tired of watching humanity destroy a planet they must share, the Old Ones have begun a war against humankind.

If the plot sounds a bit farfetched, it is. But Robinson salts the story with factual ecological data that is creepier than the story's more outlandish tangents. And he does know his way around formula, having penned "The Power" and co-authored "The Glass Inferno," which was the basis for that 1970s high-concept flick, "The Towering Inferno." Robinson, however, offers little psychological insight into his sketchy characters. This is a quick listen, but do not expect it to stick in the memory banks.

Certain genres work better than others when heard aloud, and this is one of them. Fast-paced, it is entertaining without burdening your brain. The same can be said for narrator Dressler. Adept but not distinguishable, he sounds a little too careful, just a tad too studied. He manages several different voices, though they lack great range and nuance.

Dressler does not make much of an attempt at female voices, other than to soften his tone. Few men can successfully adopt a female voice, and it is better avoided than done badly.

The one real problem with Dressler is that he does not take long enough breaks between sections, causing momentary confusion.

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