I’ve been listening to and writing reviews for audio books for 3 1/2 years now. Two of my favorite fiction audio books were The Swan Thieves, a storyline that visits France, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo immersing the listener in Sweden. The Return has become my third favorite audio book. It takes place in Mexico and Viet Nam. The common thread for me in these audio books is the different cultures. I am a culture aficionado.
I’m surprised author, Michael Gruber, isn’t as popular as John Grisham or Michael Connolly – authors whose names are household words. The Return is beautifully written and exceptionally performed by Jonathan Davis. It is a story with characters of depth. I demand better writing from myself when I listen to Gruber’s words.
The story begins in New York. The main character, Richard Marder, (sounds like martyr for a good reason and is addressed in the book) learns at the beginning of this tale that he has a brain aneurysm and could die at any time. It is inoperable. The only people who know this are Marder, his doctor, and you, the listener. His friends and family suspect that something is wrong, but they probably can’t be sure because he spent time in the Viet Nam war and they might attribute his behavior to those days even though any aftereffects never showed up before. Unbeknownst to them, he is now having flashbacks to those days, blaming their arrival on the thing in his brain he’s dubbed, “Mr. Thing.” Actually, there are two storylines; one going forward and one going back. The one going back are to his days in Viet Nam with his crazy buddy Patrick Skelly, and to his marital days with his now deceased Mexican wife, Chóle, the light of his life. Marder’s son blames him for her suicide; they are estranged. Marder also blames himself.
This sounds like a depressing story, but only at first glance. It’s inspirational, sometimes philosophical, with threads of religion, and at times, laugh out loud funny. Marder’s daughter, Carmel, provides some of the hilarity. She and Marder are close. She is also close to Skelly, who was a sort of substitute father while she was growing up, teaching her survival techniques that he learned in his career, taking her fishing, teaching her how to fight, how to shoot, skin, and cook deer, rabbit, and more. Marder, on the other hand, took care of the bedtime stories. Perhaps his busy schedule as a book editor of some note didn’t allow him the time to spend with her. Yes, Marder is cultured and well spoken, the opposite of Skelly who is loud mouthed, uncouth, frequently getting into drunken brawls and then rescued through a phone call to Marder, typically at 3:00 am.
Although seemingly different as day and night, they have some similarities. Neither man has money worries. Marder is rich thanks to the Apple stock he bought when it first came out. This is just another well-kept secret. He is a man full of secrets. So is Skelly, who claims to be a “security agent.” He is evasive about his work. They both have a fondness for guns.
Since much of the story takes place in Mexico, be prepared to hear many melodious names of cities there, lilting phrases, and names of the many characters, who take part in Marder’s extraordinary plan to defend his newly bought home, spread on a 277-acre island, from the drug lords who want to take it away from him. They want to develop the land with a casino. Marder has other ideas. He is impervious to the dangers. After all, what does he have to lose?
Jonathan Davis pronounces all the Spanish words and names impeccably. Is it any wonder since Davis was raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico? I did a little research to find that out because I was dying to know, as I am enthralled with his voice. He transitions from male to female voices smoothly and believably. Normally, I would not want to read or listen to a book about the Viet Nam war and I’m not that crazy about wars with drug lords. However, this story is so much more. For example, Peppa Espinoza, the news reporter, and Carmel are strong, female characters. Bravery, intelligence, and perseverance are not limited to the men.
I did not know what the story was about when I pulled the audio book off the shelf. I was interested in it because of the reader, Jonathan Davis. I came upon his name while listening to another audio book called Twisted Tree. It too, is a good audio book but is very dark and as you might guess, twisted, with perverted characters. I decided not to review it on my blog because the topic was too smarmy. The chapters in Twisted Tree are read by a variety of excellent performers; I did not know which one was Davis. All I knew was that his voice reminded me of Robert Redford. I knew it wasn’t Redford, but there is so much about Davis’ voice that has the same sound with a similar delivery: professional, cool, and speech that is somewhat clipped at times. On the other hand, that describes the Marder character. Anyway, who can resist Redford? Long story short, I tracked down Davis performing Gruber’s book, The Return. Why they picked such a bland title for such a meaty book is beyond me.
Therefore, ladies, for your listening pleasure, by all means, get The Return! There is romance, many forms of love, a hot, steamy bedroom scene, picturesque vistas, a multitude of well-described visual images, and some unforgettable dialog. In addition, men, there is action, arms, heroism, pretty girls, and adventure to knock your socks off. If you haven’t guessed by now, it is a thought-provoking story. It’s the kind of audio book that you won’t want to turn off so be prepared to let the bills slide, the housework go to hell, and the phone messages to go unanswered. Enjoy 17 ½ hours of this thriller on 14 CDs. You will never guess how it ends. Meanwhile, I will be searching for another audio book by the Gruber/Davis duo. Hasta luego!