Friday, January 4, 2008

Beyond the Outposts by Max Brand (audiobook read by Kristoffer Tabori)

The best book I read in 2007 was originally published in 1925. And, as a bonus, it was actually read for me. The plot of Beyond the Outposts (originally published under the byline Peter Henry Morland) is unlike any I have encountered before: young Lew Dorset runs away from his Uncle Abner (looking after him since Lew's father went to prison) in search of his father, Will Dorset.

Along the way, he makes a great friend in Chuck Morris (and that's Morris, not Norris, in case you weren't really paying attention yet), fights Indians, later befriending them, and seeks a mythical horse. There's a lot more that happens, but I don't want to ruin this epic experience for you. This is one of author Max Brand's most ambitious plots, and he handles it deftly.

There's enough story in Beyond the Outposts for three more novels, and it contains two Brand signatures: the superiority of the Indian way of life, and the aforementioned horse search. Also, the complexity of the father-son relationship (even in the absence of the father) is dealt with especially well, giving Lew a depth that is not found in many characters.

As for the audiobook of Beyond the Outposts, let me begin by saying that it is a special occasion when an actor you were previously unaware of makes an impression — and to do so twice is extraordinary — but that is just what happened to me with an actor with the distinctive name of Kristoffer Tabori.

The first time I saw Tabori, he was truly inhabiting the usually thankless role of Henry Baskerville to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. (In fact, I defy you to name anyone you who has ever played that role memorably.) His portrayal, I wrote at the time, "offers up a sympathetic rendition of the lord of the manor that actually makes the viewer care about his safety (and his heart)."

Fast-forward a year. I came across this audio of Beyond the Outposts (Brand is one of my favorite authors, and one whose audiobooks, for some reason, I have a good deal of trouble tracking down through the library) — read by Kristoffer Tabori. Well, I knew the name rang a bell and looked up the Holmes review to reread it. Interesting, I thought, a Briton reading a Western, but I decided to give it a go anyway. (It turns out Tabori is actually an American, and the son of director Don Siegel and actress Viveca Lindfors, but I was ignorant of this at the time. Thanks, Wikipedia!)

The voice that came from my car's speakers was so different from that of Henry Baskerville that I had to do some Googling to confirm that it was in fact the same person. Tabori's reading reeks of the Old West. His personification of narrator Lew Dorset surpassed even my expectations for a Max Brand character. And his voice never falters as he gives each character a voice distinct enough to be different, yet similar enough to remind us they are all from the same area. Tabori makes the people in Beyond the Outposts live in a way they simply cannot on paper. And anyone who can actually improve on a Brand story gets high marks in my book.

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