The Child by Sebastian Fitzek (Audible Studios Dramatisation)

the childGreat listening experience…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

It’s been a while since I did much listening to audiobooks, since I don’t spend as much time driving as I used to. But when Audible offered me this one for review, the genuine enthusiasm that came across from the publicist’s e-mail made me pause – and then I spotted the stellar cast-list and was hooked.

Ten-year-old Simon feels he needs a lawyer, because he believes that fifteen years ago, he murdered someone – in fact, more than one person – in a previous life, and now he wants to tell the police. The boy is suffering from a terminal brain tumour, so when his nurse Carina contacts her old boyfriend, lawyer Robert Stern, he believes at first that Simon must be hallucinating. But when Simon leads him to discover the body of a man, killed by an axe just as Simon said, Stern suddenly finds himself sucked in to a strange and dangerous investigation…

Very unusually the book is being issued in audio form first, in the UK – quite often audiobooks still come a long time after the printed word. Also the audio presentation of the book takes a new approach – half narration, half-dramatisation. Normally audiobooks are entirely narrated, with just one or occasionally two voices throughout, or they are abridged and adapted for dramatisation. This one is completely unabridged, with a running time of just under 7 hours. All sections where there is dialogue have been dramatised, and the bits in between are superbly narrated by Robert Glenister. The cast list for the dramatised pieces is amazing, with some of the top UK actors in the big roles – Rupert Penry-Jones (Spooks, Whitechapel) as Stern, Emilia Fox (Silent Witness) as Carina, Stephen Marcus (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as Stern’s sidekick and Andy Serkis (aka Gollum) as the police officer. Jack Boulter gives a great performance as young Simon, and there are loads of good minor performances from the cast of 20.

Not only is the acting of an extremely high quality throughout, the whole sound throughout the production is great and, in my experience, innovative for audiobooks. They have recorded actual Berlin street sounds for the background which give a real feeling of being out and about with the characters as the plot gathers speed. The incidental music, used to separate the chapters, is incredibly spooky and really adds to the atmosphere. And the distorted voice of the baddie is so well done that when he first appeared in Chapter 3 my hair quite literally began to stand on end! I started out listening on my beloved Kindle Fire but soon moved on to better speakers to get the full benefit of the sound quality.

As you can tell, I found this a great listening experience and for three-quarters of the book it was well on its way to 5 stars. The book started with a bang and by the third chapter I was completely hooked, listening in huge chunks (which isn’t usual for me with audio) and desperate to know what happened. It’s ambiguous for much of the story as to whether there’s a supernatural aspect to it, and I found some bits really creepy and atmospheric, enhanced by the music and sound. The plot is complicated but not too much so, and the three main characters, Stern, Carina and Simon, are all well-drawn and likeable. Stern’s personal demons, caused by the sudden death of his own baby son ten years earlier, are handled well – important to the story without overwhelming it. Unfortunately, and I’m really sad to say this, the story collapses completely in the last quarter. It’s as if Fitzek had written himself into a corner and couldn’t quite see how to get out. So suddenly we get well over an hour of explanation where characters just tell each other what’s been going on. All tension is lost along with a good deal of the credibility that had been so effectively built up in the rest of the book.

Sebastian Fitzek
Sebastian Fitzek

It’s so disappointing, because the whole thing had been just great up till that point and the acting and sound went on being great to the end. If I were just rating the book, it would get a maximum 3 stars, but the performances and production still make it well worth a listen in my opinion, so it gets 4. I really hope that Audible will continue to make audiobooks in this style though – it’s a real step forward in my opinion, and I can think of so many books that would be perfect for this treatment, especially crime and thrillers.

NB This audiobook was provided for review by the publisher, Audible Studios. It is due for release on 7th August and, as far as I know, will only be available initially as a download from Audible or via Amazon – neither a paper book (in English) nor an audio disc set is yet listed. I also can’t find any US links yet, so it looks like it’s only going to be available in the UK at present.

Audible UK Link
Amazon UK Link

44 thoughts on “The Child by Sebastian Fitzek (Audible Studios Dramatisation)

    • The concept is great and they really went all out with the quality of the acting and sound. Shame the story fell apart a bit at the end, but still well worth a listen… 🙂

      • I am quite interested to see (or rather hear!) what they have come up with. I have been thinking for ages how cool it would be to update the talking book format and this looks like a good example 🙂

  1. FictionFan – There’s something about being told a story, isn’t there? It’s a shame to hear that the whole story didn’t do it for you. So annoying isn’t it when a story falls a part at the end. Still, the premise does sound great, and if the acting was good too, so much the better.

    • Yes, though I do have a tendency to regress to childhood and fall asleep pretty quickly! But this one most certainly kept me awake even when it fell away at the end – the acting and sound kept my interest even when the story lost it…

  2. Dadblameit! It took a nosedive! And this professor did think it was going to get five smileys. (Not even the big-smiling smileys!!!)

    Did Andy sound mean when he spoke?

    Now this professor is supposing that it had some supernatural elements…am I right? You must answer!

    • I know! Dadblameit indeed! So did I! But I still got hours of enjoyment out of it before it fell apart so still well wroth listening to…

      Andy was brill – a first-rate performance, but so were all the stars, I must say. They really brought it to life. They were nearly (but not quite) up to Punchy standards.

      Well, part of the collapse at the end was because the author seemed to be unable to decide whether the explanation should be rational or supernatural… but otheriwse you’ll just need to listen to it. *adds name to Prof’s list*

  3. I sent the link to your blog to a friend of mine who loves audio books. I have never tried one! This story sounds interesting I guess, except for the fall apart…..

    • I only listened to them for a few years when I had a long drive, but they’re good if you’re doing something with your hands and eyes – sewing or crafting. If your friend decides to try this one, I hope s/he enjoys it – I reckon the acting and sound made up for the weak ending… 🙂

  4. This sounds great! The way you describe it as half-dramatisation half-narration reminds me a little of when Radio 4 did an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere which had an incredible cast too and was a really enjoyable listen. It’s a shame the ending of The Child didn’t quite meet your expectations, but it sounds as if it was a great experience on the whole. I think I’ll definitely try and listen to this when it becomes available 🙂

  5. I’ve come across several reviews for this and they all say pretty much the same thing so clearly there is a fault in the narrative structure of the piece. However, like you, I think the format sounds very interesting and I would like to see it taken further too, but if they want it to work they are going to have to choose the material more carefully.

    • I blame you! Almost as soon as you commented that you’d seen some iffy reviews, the thing started to go dramatically downhill! 😉

      Seriously though, I thought it was a real step up from straight narration, which I can find my attention wanders from no matter how good the book and narrator. The dramatised bits and great sound effects and music kept it lively – and kept me listening.

  6. Oh no no no, when even the divine Rupert Penry-Jones looks, in your selected mug-shot like a professor who teaches the art of painful hatchet dismemberment, I felt far too scared. I think I need a nice soothing cup of chamomile tea and to go and speak kindly to butterflies or something, making sure none of those people come anywhere near them. No doubt wings would be pulled, little lepidoptera legs savagely ground into the soil. Too horrid and frightening for words. Must go to the hardware shop and buy myself an axe or 3, for self-defence purposes

    • I must admit it was incredibly scary in the early bits – freaked me out, man, as I would say if I was old enough to remember when people spoke like that 😉 As it went on and we found out more about what was going on it settled down a bit, but still stayed beautifully spooky most of the way through. Partly to do with the music, which was brill!

      Oddly enough, though, it didn’t scare me nearly as much as the idea of you running around wielding axes…

  7. Oh what a shame the ending let this down. I was getting quite excited despite not being a fan of audio books (listening properly for any length of time is another skill I don’t seem to have) especially for the acting and Robert Glenister so now I’m quite sad.

    • It really was a shame, because otherwise the whole thing is great. If you were an audio enthusiast I’d still be saying it was worth it, but since you’re not really, I don’t think this one would change your mind. But when I e-mailed the poublicist with my review, she said she’ll let me know if they’re doing any other books in the same way, so watch this space…

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