Amok by Sebastian Fitzek (Audible Studios Dramatisation)

amokDead or alive…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

A year before the story proper begins, Jan May is waiting for his girlfriend Leonie to arrive for dinner. He has decided this will be the evening he will propose and is confident of her answer. But his plans are destroyed when she phones him to say they will not be able to see each other again for an indefinite period, perhaps forever. “They will tell you that I’m dead – but I’m not, OK?” And at that moment the doorbell rings – and the police inform Jan that Leonie died in a car accident earlier that day. Despite all his protests, Jan has never seen or heard from Leonie since and is unable to convince anyone that she’s alive.

Adrian Lester
Adrian Lester

Criminal psychologist and police negotiator Ira Samin has never forgiven herself for failing to prevent her daughter Sarah’s suicide, and now Ira is planning to end her own life. But she has to put it on hold when her old police colleague and ex-lover Gertz persuades her to attend a developing situation at the local radio station. Jan May has taken several people hostage and is threatening to kill them unless Leonie is found. He’s on-air and has told the audience that he will phone a member of the public at random each hour – if they answer with the correct slogan, a hostage will be released, but if they don’t, then one will be killed. Ira will have to negotiate with him on-air and he’s only prepared to talk to her if she’s willing to tell him about her daughter’s death… and the situation becomes even more tense when Ira discovers that one of the hostages is her other daughter, Kitty…

Natascha McElhone
Natascha McElhone

I loved the half-narrated, half-dramatised format of Fitzek’s previous audiobook, The Child, though I was less enamoured with the actual story, so I was keen to listen to this one. And my reaction is pretty similar. The idea, of having a cast of top actors to perform the dialogue while still retaining the unabridged nature of the book by having a narrator for the in-between bits, is great – a real advance in thriller-type audiobooks, I think. As in the last one, Robert Glenister is the narrator and he does an excellent job. Jan May is played by the wonderful Adrian Lester, possibly best known for his role in Hustle, but a very fine stage actor too, and he gives a good performance here. I wasn’t so enamoured by Natascha McElhone as Ira, partly because her rather clipped and “actor-y” accent grated on me, but also her role didn’t give her the opportunity to show us any emotions other than misery and despair, which can become a little tedious after the first six hours or so. Rafe Spall, Peter Firth and Brendan Coyle each perform well as the three main supporting characters. The use of sound effects during the dramatised parts and the snips of weirdly discordant music to divide the chapters add a lot to the overall effect, making it feel more like a drama serial than a novel.

Robert Glenister
Robert Glenister

But – you knew there was a but coming, didn’t you? – the story is far-fetched and relies too much on coincidence. I found it impossible after a while to keep my incredulity in check. I wondered if, in this particular case, the audio format maybe didn’t work as well as reading would have – I felt it might have been a fast-paced page-turner on paper, possibly leaving the reader no time to think about the unlikeliness of some of the events or to work out the various twists.

Sebastian Fitzek
Sebastian Fitzek

But when listening to audiobooks, the speed is pre-determined at a rate much slower (for me anyway) than reading, plus I don’t tend to listen in chunks as long as I would read for. I found that extra time stopped me from getting swept up in the action, and also allowed me to work out what the big twist was going to be by the time I was about halfway through the book, removing a lot of the tension from the second half. While The Child grabbed me and made me listen for longer chunks, doing that ‘just one more chapter’ thing, this one didn’t have the same effect. However, much of that is a subjective criticism – someone who normally listens in longer blocks or can get as involved in the spoken word as the written might well find the action carries them along.

So overall, loved the format, enjoyed most of the performances, and really hope that Audible do more books in this way in the future. But in the end the story is the most important thing, and unfortunately it didn’t grab me quite as much as I’d hoped.

NB This audiobook was provided for review by Audible UK via Midas PR.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

21 thoughts on “Amok by Sebastian Fitzek (Audible Studios Dramatisation)

  1. Gee, I’m not sure I’d enjoy a thriller on audio. Maybe a comedy, but not something like this. I kind of like feeling the pages, going back to re-read sections, trying to unravel the puzzles — all of which are more conducive with paper. Thanks for a great review, once again, and have a super weekend!

    • That’s why I like this format so much – it makes listening to thrillers more like a TV series than a book. But the story still has to be good enough to carry me away. I hope they keep doing these though – it’s a big step up from just having a single narrator. Hope your weekend’s great too! 🙂

  2. One of my reading bugaboos is being expected to leave too much of my disbelief behind, FictionFan. Just about every story asks us to suspend a bit of disbelief – it is fiction after all. But I think stories need credibility (and so do the characters) or for me, it just doesn’t work. It is great to hear though that the producers of audio books have gotten so much better at providing a rich experience. A lot of people do enjoy audio books, so why not make that way of experiencing a story as terrific as possible?

    • Yes, sometimes it seems to be the temptation to cram too much in – a simpler story can work just as well and be much more credible. But I do love this format, and I love that so many more top actors are getting involved in narrating and performing on audiobooks – makes a huge difference.

  3. Sorry to hear that the story didn’t quite work for you – as you say the speed that a book is read is different to that it is narrated at which can make the difference to how absorbed you get in the storyline before questioning. I do want to try one of these though and thanks for the pic of Adrian Lester 😉

    • I do love the format even if this story didn’t work quite so well for me. It’s great to see so many really good actors getting involved in audio now – will be useful when I finally wear my eyes out with reading! Although I preferred The Child on the whole, I actually think you might prefer this one – it seems more your kind of storyline, maybe.

  4. I’d probably react the same way, especially if I had to a start-stop listening schedule. The tension drops with time away from a story. But the difficulty of suspending disbelief seems to have played a huge factor.

    • I find I can rarely concentrate on audio for more than about half an hour so it doesn’t work so well for me with thrillers as it does for factual or straight fiction. But this format does help me to keep paying attention – pity the story didn’t quite do it for me. I find suspending my disbelief quite hard unless I’m really sucked in to a story.

  5. I do not know that I would like this story too much; it has that Scandinavian feel (though I do not know where this author is from) of fairly unrelenting grimness. But I will recommend something to you that if you can possibly find, you will greatly enjoy. And that is two separate full cast dramatizations of Ross MacDonald novels. One is “The Zebra-Striped Hearse,” and then “Sleeping Beauty.” These dramatizations were done in the studio of a local radio station in Los Angeles. Harris Yulin is Archer, and he would then read the narrative parts, since Archer narrates the stories. The casts, including Yulin, are splendid, and for me it was like listening to a great noir movie, except that you get six hours or so each time, instead of two. I have many books on tape (I save the best ones), and this is the best listening experience I ever have had, mostly because MacDonald’s stories are so literate and engrossing, and then because the dramatizations are much better than any one person reading them. Try to find them, buy them, and you can thank me later. 🙂

    • I had a look but can only find them as second-hand cassette versions, and I haven’t got a player any more. (Isn’t it annoying how quickly technology goes out of date?) But hopefully one day they might get picked up and reissued by Audible – they seem to be reissuing more of the older stuff these days. I shall put them on my little list and check periodically. It’s definitely a better way to do thriller/action novels than straight narration – much more interesting to listen to. I must admit I really listen to audiobooks as much for the narrator/performance as the book usually. In this one the performances were good, but the story not so much.

      • I don’t think they ever came out on CDs. Many of the books I listened to were on tape, as CDs were not prevalent then. Actually, if I buy one and have a choice, I prefer tapes; I’m not sure why. Maybe because the tapes are in smaller segments, or maybe CDs of books seem “colder” than a nice package of twelve tapes. But it is a shame that you don’t have a cassette player; I did not know that they were disappearing. This worries me, as I depend on my VCR player to watch things I might tape; and if it breaks, I guess there are no more of them? As I mentioned, I am a luddite, plus I have no ability to transfer my old tapes into DVDs. Oh, well, more time to do other things. And at least books still exist to take to the park.

        If you can find an old cassette player, you might consider buying it, because there are several books on tape which never came out on CD, and are quite good. Sometimes when I buy one, it is only available on cassette. But I guess that most of the dramatisations you like are newer, and hence on CDs.

        • I didn’t really start listening to audiobooks till a few years ago, by which time they were already coming out as CDs or downloads. These days I only really listen to downloads – due to space I’m very keen on books, music etc that don’t need to be physically stored, since I’m not very good at getting rid of them once I’ve read/listened, as the piles of unshelved books lying around will attest. And I rarely listen to audiobooks at all now that I don’t drive as much as I once did. I think it’s possible to still buy VCRs but they do seem to be getting rarer. I’ve stopped recording things on the grounds that everything is perpetually repeated and I never get around to watching them anyway! But I do hope technology stabilises at some point – I’ve lost my enthusiasm for constantly upgrading to the latest thing.

  6. I don’t do well with audio. I start out well but suddenly I realize that the story has gone and left me lost in my thoughts which have nothing remotely connected to the story. I was doing okay listening when I was driving, but had to give that up. I just need to do one thing at a time and driving and listening to exciting stories do not make for safe driving conditions. I like a book not audio because if it moves slowly I can skim…or even skip parts of it. Inevitably, unfortunately, I miss something important.

    • I struggle more and more with it myself – I keep saying I won’t take any more, but unike books I think they must have problems finding reviewers ‘cos they just give me my pick of anything new coming along… and I can’t resist! I’ve just taken another 3! But I miss stuff too – that’s really why I like this format – it holds my attention better. And I find factual or horror/ghost stories works well on audio too.

  7. Now you must admit Robert Glenister has a pretty neatio look. I should pose like that. He’s a spice pot.

    And I think Natascha McElhone is actually JK Rowling. Isn’t it odd what I think of?

    • He’s rather spiffy, isn’t he? In fact, if Adrian Lester and Robert Glenister each asked me out on the same evening, I’d be torn…

      *laughs* It is indeed! And yet, somehow, there’s often a certain mad perceptiveness in the Professorial thought processes…

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