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Very Bad Deaths    by Spider Robinson Amazon.com order for
Very Bad Deaths
by Spider Robinson
Order:  USA  Can
Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

A widowed hippie, a telepathic hermit, and a female cop walk into a bar. Well, they don't walk into a bar but they certainly come together for a very sick joke. But the joke is on them as they work together through this intense, albeit humorous, story to combat a psychopath who makes Jeffrey Dahmer seem like a petty shoplifter. This vicious master of masochism has no intention of stopping, and why should he when he's having such a great time coming up with new ways to torture his victims?

Spider Robinson delivers a tale that blurs the boundaries between speculative fiction, thriller and comedy. Robinson's stories usually function in the world of science fiction but selling Very Bad Deaths in the same genre as his tales of Jake Stonebender and the rag-tag gang of galactic travelers might be a bit of a stretch. Non-science fiction fans would more willingly accept this audiobook despite the telepath. The protagonist has all the markings of both the author himself and his former protagonists. Robinson paints Russell as a tall, skinny, pot-loving hippie with a tendency to loathe government and bureaucracy. Russell fights with depression - in the absence of his dead wife - when he is reunited with his school friend, Smelly Xander, a person with horrific odor but also an unusual knack for reading minds. In his wandering, Xander's mind picked up the thoughts of a serious psychopath who has plans to perform some truly sadistic acts. Xander, Russell, and Nika (the policewomen) must race the clock to stop the maniac, but must also prevent him from discovering that they're after him.

This departure from Robinson's more popular narratives provides listeners with great entertainment. Part of the fun of reading Robinson is that he has such rich and eccentric characters, to which this book is no exception. As in his other stories, Robinson strives to make his audience use their imagination by hinting at, but not detailing, certain actions, moments, and people. As is predictable (and unsurprising to fans), Robinson's characters show no love of the United States, in particular, the Bush administration. Spider Robinson reads this audiobook himself in a delightfully good voice that does well to convey the identity of the main character, an older man with hints of youthful vigor. Interestingly, Blackstone Audio, which is not known for its use of sound effects, did sneak in some voice alteration when characters were on the phone or in other situations where sound in the story might be altered. New listeners to Robinson could use Very Bad Deaths as a litmus test to decide if his style is of interest, while existing fans may appreciate the departure from his other stories, particularly since he reads this himself.

Note: This review refers to an unabridged (7.5 hours) audiobook, read by the author, available at Blackstone Audio as CDs, cassettes & MP3 CD, and also as an audio download at Audible.com.

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