Denis Johnson's Nobody Move as an audio CD seemed to have everything going for it. The author had received a National Book Award for Tree of Smoke, and this was said to be a follow-up. The New Yorker had said, "So noir it's almost pitch-black..." It had been in part a serialization in Playboy, and this audio version had Will Patton doing the reading. I was familiar with Mr. Patton's style from a number of his narrations of James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels. All in all, looking forward to listening to these CDs was a fine thing to anticipate.
But it didn't turn out that way.
There's a cast of very marginal characters who, in a slightly noir classic sense, have a penchant for theft and violence. There's Jimmy Luntz, a bottom feeder of a gambler whom loves Hawaiian shirts and barbershop-chorus singing. There's a corrupt judge and lawyer who have embezzled a couple of million dollars, and the lawyer's beautiful wife Anita, who has been framed for the larceny, and she's ready for revenge.
There are more characters, but the problem with all of them is that they really have no depth; the entire story seems flat, yet almost claustrophobic. There's sex, but it also seems flat and not as erotic or even as passionate as one might expect, considering the characters. Jimmy takes Anita to bed after a booze-filled night at a local bar; they hop in bed, fall for each other, copulate, and scheme together. It's as flat as that, and often had this listener to the point of sometimes almost dozing off.
It's tough when you're faced with protagonists in a story one that just can't relate to, or just simply do not care for. Combine this with personalities that make them anything but likable and it makes the story quite difficult to follow, as one can't bond with the characters. Nobody Move falls into this trap with Jimmy and Anita, and at some point, almost everyone in the story decides that violence is the solution to practically any problem, and it's often the first solution they try, with some fairly gruesome results.
Johnson's Nobody Move tries to be is a stretched-tight crime story about a group of low-life types and a few people other with them, but it just doesn't deliver. The paradox is that Will Patton's reading makes the audio version seem worth listening to. He does a good job of capturing moods and sounds with perfection. Each of his voices does seem perfect for the character, and his narration fits what there is to the novel quite well. But it's a fast-paced story that often reads like some movie script; it's almost nothing but dialogue and action, and even Will Patton's expertise as a narrator just doesn't breathe the three-dimensional life into this one the way that this reader/listener hoped that it would. The plot is rather humdrum, but it's told with such energy and style that it keeps the listener's interest for the most part.
However, the bottom line is that writers like John Grisham, James Lee Burke, Lisa Scottoline, Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard just seem to do it better. Read Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard and you'll probably see the difference. And when it comes to narration, just listen to what Will Patton does with James Lee Burke's Swan Peak: A Dave Robicheaux Novel, to name one of many.
So the end result here is a mediocre 2-star tale coupled with a very good 4-star narration. That averages out to a 3-star product that left me wishing that it could have moved me.