Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 8 hours, 20 minutes
Author Laura Baumbach has released her novel, The Dark Side, on audio and Joel Leslie is the voice behind bringing this admittedly steamy tale to life. Before I get to the vocal talents of Leslie, let me recap the story and give you a few thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses that stood out.
Reese Holt runs a private company that deals with top level officials and big money clients, often retrieving items that are critical and difficult to grab or going into enemy territory for a snatch and grab rescue mission. He and his men are all ex-military and top notch at their jobs. Reese is that perfect combination of cool, calculated, and aloof. Given his lifestyle, finding someone who is able to look beyond the fact that if needed Reese can be a cold-blooded killer is pretty hard to find. Hence his love life is fairly non-existent.
While Reese and his team are on a watery retrieval mission, a surprise visitor is dropped into the water near Reese—bound and gagged and rapidly drowning. Reese follows his gut and rescues the man, only to discover he has brought a kidnapping victim onboard and he is the son of a very wealthy man who somehow has ties to a Colombian drug cartel. Normally Reese would get rid of their unscheduled visitor immediately, but there is something hinky about those sent to receive the brave young man and Reese throws his normal caution to the wind to pursue what exactly happened to Alex Throne and who wants him so badly as a hostage. Before he realizes it, Reese is falling for Alex and losing what normally is his razor-sharp ability to remain cool under any circumstances. Alex is recaptured and now it’s a race against time for Reese and his team to find and save Alex before the animal who holds him hostage tortures and kills him.
I must admit that I am a big Laura Baumbach fan normally, but this story had me shaking my head more than a few times. Between the rather dramatic and long-winded descriptive passages and the near insta-love between Reese and Alex, I felt the story sometimes slipped into what can only be described as a bad bit of melodrama. If there was one more line about Alex’s piercing blue eyes or someone’s nether regions “twitching” I would have had to laugh out loud at the rather campy prose this author resorted to on more than one occasion. That was really unfortunate because I did think the storyline and plot itself was very interesting and action packed in terms of pacing and content. This was a top-notch military team and they worked with precision—very believable and exciting to read about.
I could even buy into the attraction between Alex and Reese, but the intensity of their feelings was a bit overwhelming considering the limited amount of time they actually spent together. I also was rather saddened by how the author chose to treat the subplot regarding Alex’s sister, who obviously meant the world to him, but whom we never really got to know at all. In the end, this story seemed a bit rushed due to the overabundance of action sequences that only highlighted how ruthless Reese could be when it came to hunting down the bad guys. Consequently, that left very little time to really establish the love interest that blossomed between these two men and made it feel like more of a hero-worship scenario than a solid relationship.
The audio narration, on the other hand, really gave this story some much needed depth. One of the things narrator Joel Leslie excels at is dialects and he uses them to his best benefit in this novel. From a charming southern medic, to a Scottish engineer, and an Aussie body guard, to name a few, Leslie slides into these voices with incredible ease and finesse. Once in a while he would slip and carry the accent into the line of prose following these dialogue passages, but that was pretty rare and rapidly adjusted. While I am not a huge fan of Leslie’s rather plodding and pause filled narration for the longer descriptive passages, I do think his character voices are really hard to beat. Reese was deep and smooth as silk and when juxtaposed with Alex’s slightly higher and breathier tone, the two together were pretty darn convincing as two men trying to deny their immediate attraction.
This coupled well with the familiar and easy comradery that earmarked the various team members’ speech. Their occasional mocking tones when teasing Reese and their almost lazy way of relating the various tasks they were performing allowed the listener to really sense the fact that these men were a solid team who had each other’s backs. The easy, nearly lazy, way in which Leslie voiced these men actually solidified the idea that they were all part of a well-oiled machine that knew exactly how lethal they were when on a mission. But honestly it was the voicing of the evil Pablo Cali that stood out—it was just stunning. He came across almost oily, a bit crazy, and just so incredibly sinister sounding that I cannot imagine anyone else voicing this character. This was where Leslie really shined vocally. Overall, I think his narrative skills actually helped this novel and made it much more accessible and entertaining.