Karin Slaughter is one of the many crime writers who has been on my radar for years without ever making it onto my TBR list. All I really know about her is that she’s popular and prolific. I’ve found that popular crime fiction can be either sublime or dreadful, so I’ve remained mildly curious about Slaughter but was waiting for someone whose taste I trust to actually recommend her. But when I saw Martin Misunderstood, her new audio original, being distributed at the Book Blogger Convention (also available in print in the UK), I decided to take a chance. It was, after all, only two and a half hours longs, so I wouldn’t be giving up much time to it, even if it turned out to be dreadful. Which it kind of was.
The titular Martin is not really misunderstood. He’s treated as a loser, and he kind of is one. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s spent most of his life letting others talk trash about him, and he’s never said or done anything about it. He still lives with his verbally abusive mother and works at a toilet supply company where he’s harassed every day by many of the same people who harassed him in high school.
Martin’s life is pretty lousy, but it gets worse when one of his co-workers is murdered, and he becomes the prime suspect. The one positive outcome of this development is that it brings the detective Anther Albada into his life. Anther is a single woman whose co-workers never took her seriously until she made up a lesbian lover for herself (despite being straight). Now that her beloved Jill has died an imaginary death, she realizes that she misses the fantasy of having someone care for her. In spite of herself, she feels sorry for Martin, who is absolutely taken with Anther.
Early on, I was rather taken with the main characters in Martin Misunderstood. They had the quirky charm you find in the lovable losers of the Coen Brothers films. Anther’s situation in particular made me laugh. But it didn’t take long for the charm to wear off and irritation to set in.
A huge part of the problem is Wayne Knight’s terrible performance. Knight is fine at the third-person narration. He’s appropriately expressive, and you can hear the chuckle in his voice. But the character voices are abominable. He basically has three voices: nasal redneck, sassy black lady, and dopey doofus. All of them sound like cartoon voices, and it’s impossible to take any of them seriously.
The cartoon quality may be intentional because this is a dark comedy and not meant to be taken seriously. Comedy, however, is one of the most difficult kinds of fiction to do well, and individual reader’s tastes are extraordinarily idiosyncratic. For me, the comedy didn’t work because after a while, I came to feel that Slaughter was treating her characters with disdain. Knight’s narration only added to the problem. The Coen Brothers have similarly broad comic types in their films (even some rednecks!), but the depictions are so affectionate that it doesn’t feel mean. This book felt mean. I also learned the hard way that comic sex might only work in films. In prose, it’s a very, very, bad idea. Very bad. I can’t even tell you. So, so, so bad. (And I’m trying to be generous in presuming the sex scene was supposed to be comic. If not, it’s worse.) My ears need a cleaning after this book. Shudder.
The best thing I can say about this audiobook is that it was short and that it got off to a semi-promising start. The mystery was mildly interesting, but there was not enough actual detection to please the mystery fan in me. Mostly, I’m glad it was short.