All it takes is the name — Zelazny — and you have my attention. Like a dog presented with a favorite treat, I’m completely attentive to anything following. So when an audio book of one of my favorite tales — read by the author himself — came up on the list … well. I am not ashamed to say I sat up and executed a proper beg. (Snuff, the narrator of this wonderfully quirky story, might have been ashamed of me; but I can live with that. I landed the treat, after all.)
And a yummy treat it is. My only major complaints are external: the box presents a unique cover illustration (by S. J. Zwart) rather than reproducing the hardcover version by Gahan Wilson. It is not, unfortunately, as attractive as the original. It looks like a collection of photos clipped and pasted into a room scene, and completely lacks the charm of the book cover. Another problem was the construction of the box itself; I had expected cassette tapes (yes, I’m a dinosaur), but on opening the case, I discovered a five-CD set on hinged plastic trays – and one hinge had already broken in transit. The remaining hinges all broke within a matter of days, leaving me with a box of loose plastic trays that slid around wildly and failed to hold the CDs themselves securely on the prongs.
It took me much longer than expected to listen to the entire set of CDs. I kept putting it off, over and over again, despite this being one of my favorite books and Zelazny one of my favorite authors. It took me almost as long to figure out why. At last I realized that while I could get through the entire hardbound book in under two hours, the CD set, on the other hand, runs six hours. And listening to an audio book, for me, is something best done on the road or while doing nothing in particular. However, I have no CD player in my car, and I have precious little time to sit and do nothing these days.
And there — but for one nitpick — ends my gripes, because once I finally sat my butt down to listen, nothing else mattered. Zelazny is a very good reader; he manages to shift inflection and tone to indicate different characters without going overboard, a neat trick in a book so heavy in dialogue and short on dialogue tags. My one nitpick is that in some sections, his reading flattens out to a monotone rhythm, changing from one section to another without a sufficient break. In the print version, of course, you see the extra blank line or ellipses that indicates a change of scene; but in the audio book it flowed together without pause and on occasion confused me. This didn’t happen often, however, and as I was already very familiar with the story it was a minor issue overall. Toward the end, as well, the pacing and tension picks up sharply, and Zelazny’s reading skills really shine in the concluding chapter.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, a brief summary: Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, Count Dracula, and Frankenstein all walk into a small village … and no, that’s not the setup for a bad bar joke, although Zelazny drops in at least two deftly placed alcohol-related puns. No, these characters are all part of a split conspiracy; some want to invite the Elder Gods back into the world, others to deny them that entrance. Calling themselves, respectively, Openers and Closers, none of the characters are entirely nice folks, which is standard for a Zelazny story (and one of the things I love most about his writing).
The tale is told from the viewpoint of Jack’s faithful hound, Snuff, an unusually intelligent dog with a heart big enough to allow for friendship with cats, rats, and bats. The plot frequently twists in unexpected directions, but the pacing is terrifically logical, given that the action spins out over the course of the entire month of October. Each chapter begins with a new day, leaving the reader (or listener, in this case) with thirty-one short, easily digested chapters.
Zelazny’s dry wit and smooth prose adapts extremely well to audio format, and I would not only recommend this audio book (construction flaws aside) to others, but would venture a guess that any of his other self-read audio books would be as great a treat.
I will leave this review with one final note: I found it amusing, and ironic, that the address given for Speaking Volumes, the producer of this audio book, is listed as “Sleeping Dog Road.”
Enjoy the nap, Snuff.
For a comprehensive assembly of information about Roger Zelazny and his writing, visit his author information entry on the Wayback Machine’s Internet Book List.
(Speaking Volumes, 2009)