Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dead Men Kill by L. Ron Hubbard (unabridged zombie thriller audio book)

L. Ron Hubbard is probably best known as the founder of Scientology and creator of Dianetics. These days, his name is largely connected with the antics of the some of the more "outspoken" members of the religion, overshadowing the fact that the man really knew how to tell an entertaining story. All 150 of the stories Hubbard wrote for the pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s are being rereleased in paperback and audio under the evocative title Stories from the Golden Age.

The recordings I've tried so far are just terrific. They are a professionally produced combination of traditional narrated audiobooks (with narration deftly handled by R.F. Daley) and old-time radio, with skilled actors playing the characters (often multiple roles) and genre-specific music and sound effects rounding out the experience.

"I have come to kill you, Gordon."

So says a voice reminiscent of the grave, as its fingers wrap around Gordon's throat and slowly take his life. Detective Sergeant Terry Lane arrives on the scene and notes the similarity with another recent murder. All the evidence points to a no-longer-assailant, and Lane's fears are confirmed when he uncovers the suspect's empty coffin and has to fight off a trio of expressionless figures with only his fists.

For a while, Lane has only questions, like how do a letter from "Loup-Garou," a Haitian pharmacy bill, and the mysterious Dr. Leroux tie in to the murders? The primary targets seem to be rich and influential businessmen, but if Lane doesn't find out who's responsible and stop the culprit, the next zombie will be him.

Matt Scott turns in a solid performance as the ultranoble Lane, and John Mariano plays the mad scientist with relish (complete with a selection of diabolical laughs). But the real star of the Dead Men Kill audiobook is narrator R.F. Daley.

Author L. Ron Hubbard's prose is heavy on description, and Daley is more than up to the task. His voice is perfect for pulp fiction, and he adds just the right touch of emphasis (along with the occasional wink where appropriate) without drawing attention away from the story.

Dead Men Kill is the only zombie horror story Hubbard wrote, and the author succeeds by presenting this questionable subject in a realistic manner. He doesn't try to overexplain, but simply focuses on keeping up the story's quick pace (so we don't think about it too much). Its focus on the Haitian voodoo aspects should appeal to fans of more recent takes on the same subject, such as Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's novel Cemetery Dance.

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