Born to Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann

Audiobook narrated by Melanie Ewbank and Patrick Lawlor 

Set in an exceedingly grim near future, Suzanne Brockmann has created a world where the US government has given up, the economy is broken, and law enforcement is in corrupt private hands. The Obermeyer Institute is a privately funded entity actively engaged in a war against a deadly drug epidemic. The drug wreaking havoc is known as Destiny, lab-concocted by eeee-villll scientists  from the blood of kidnapped adolescent girls who are regularly terrorized and raped by their captors. It’s a very risky and ugly premise to hang a plot on unless you’re a skilled crime writer. There are several disturbing, repulsive graphic scenes that Brockmann does not have the chops to pull off. You’ve been warned.

Launching a new paranormal series, Born to Darkness is heavy on world building, setting up a large cast of continuing series characters, including an endless glossary of Very Special Words Required Because I the Author Have Created A Very Special Unique New World.  With this audio running over 18 hours the Very Special Vocabulary just about drove me crazy in its repetition. In addition to the (unintentionally funny) Very Special Vocabulary, the book is overstuffed with a full-blown thriller plot as well as three (3!) romances. The Obermeyer Institute personnel talk the talk with the Very Special Vocabulary excitedly and incessantly while my eyes glazed over and my ears cried  at having to listen to hours of it.

It wasn’t easy, but I managed to ferret out the main storyline. The Obermeyer Institute commando team plans and executes a raid on the drug cartel in order to save the captive children. Mac (don’t-call-me-Michelle) Mackenzie and Shane Laughlin are the couple pictured on the cover and featured in the blurb. They meet in a bar where each is trolling for a one night stand. Mac is a commando in OI’s drug enforcement unit and Shane is a new recruit slated to report for duty the next morning. When Mac realizes she’s slept with her new recruit she freezes him out, displaying her macho nasty-to-everyone-but-especially-you side. That’s pretty much all there is for this couple until well past the halfway point when they indulge in another decidedly unromantic bang.

The heart of the book and the primary couple are Dr. Elliott Zerkowski and Dr. Stephen Diaz who finally act on the mutual yearning they’ve been silently nurturing for seven (7!) years. Their story is on center stage for the bulk of the book and Brockmann has lavished loving care in developing their romance. These two are conspicuously missing from the cover image and blurb and I call that deliberately deceptive. As sincere and justified as the author is in her campaign to rid the world of homophobia, bait and switch is not the way to do it. I agree with Brockmann’s politics and even I feel beaten over the head with her preaching.
Mac is initially read by Lawlor as one tough bitch–which she is–but I cringed as he read her girly orgasmic squeals. Ewbank reads Mac a little softer but there isn’t much she could do to humanize a character who’s written as a cast iron bitch. Shane’s charcter is vapid–Mac is definitely the dominant one–whether Lawlor or Ewbank is reading. Lawlor’s goofy golly-gee-I’m-in-a-comic-book interpretation didn’t inspire me to think of Shane as a studly romantic hero. Lawlor voices Elliott as a lovable not-too-bright goofball and Diaz as a very basso he-man. Ewbank has only one male voice, requiring the listener to pay close attention to dialogue tags.
Ewbank and Lawlor take turns reading in thirty to forty minute stretches before handing off to the other. They never interact. Just when I’d get used to hearing seven primary characters as interpreted by Lawlor, Ewbank would take over with her own style and just as I settled in with her, Lawlor would be back and so on and so on. I found this jarring in the extreme. This narration choice may work for some books, but it failed for me with this book and this narrator team. Lawlor tends to get loud and shouty and overwrought. Ewbank has a staccato, no nonsense style. It’s a relief to hear her after Lawlor’s shouting, but I wouldn’t call her soothing. Just less intense. Sorry to say that neither strikes me as a very accomplished actor, but they are certainly enthusiastic and well-suited to Brockmann’s prose.

SLIVER MOON. I heartily disliked the book and the narration.

 

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