James Siegel,
(Time Warner, 2003)

Derailed, a new audiobook thriller written by James Siegel and read by Gregory Harrison, is set in New York. The abridged tale takes approximately six hours to tell and is followed by an interview with the author. If you are reading this review, you're probably wondering if Derailed is worth your time.

Charles Schine is a mid-40s advertising executive whose life is about to start a downward spiral as one bad thing after another starts to happen to him. To begin with, his marriage is stressed due to the illness of his only daughter. Consequently, he and his wife have slowly been drifting further and further apart. If that isn't bad enough, he gets royally screwed at work and takes the fall for an irate customer who is unhappy with his firm's work. Charles' reward for being the scape goat: a demotion.

Just when it seems God is making a big joke out of his life, Charles is running late for work one day and misses his regular train. When he catches the next one, it dawns on him that he forgot to stop at the ATM and he can't pay for his ticket. Who should come to his rescue but a beautiful woman named Lucinda. Is it possible that God has quit laughing? Naturally, Charles and the gorgeous Lucinda need to meet up again so he can repay his loan. This is followed up by coffee which eventually leads to lunch, then dinner and before you know it, evening cocktails. Lucinda has told Charles that she is in an unhappy marriage as well and there is obviously physical attraction between the two. You know where this is headed. These two are going to forget their marriage vows.

But don't forget that God doesn't seem to be on Charles' side at the moment. His string of bad luck doesn't end. It gets worse. When they find a hotel to give in to their lust, a Hispanic thug breaks in to their room, beats Charles and takes his wallet. Then, the criminal rapes Lucinda not once, but multiple times. All the while, Charles is powerless to do anything other than watch. When the unspeakable deed is done, Lucinda and Charles realize they can't go to the police because their spouses would find out. Instead, they must part ways and pretend they never met.

Despite this close call, Charles counts his blessings that things weren't worse. That is, until this Hispanic starts calling Charles home and office. At first, he extracts blackmail of $10,000 not to tell on Charles and Lucinda. But soon, he comes back for more. What is Charles to do? Would it be better to confess his guilt to his wife and take his chances? What about Lucinda? She was the one that was raped and she has made it clear in no uncertain terms that she does not want to let her husband know what happened. Doesn't Charles owe it to Lucinda to keep his mouth shut, too? How much further can his life deteriorate? Hasn't he already crashed and burned? The rest of this six-hour tale will tell.

If you are like me, you are probably thinking that while Charles certainly doesn't deserve all of this, the worst of it would never have happened if he hadn't cheated on his spouse. Be that as it may, I was still ready to listen to the story to find out what happens. The book has several twists -- some of which are a little obvious and others that catch you by surprise. I guess the main question for any potential listener is, would you be interested in the life of a character you have no respect for? If so, this might be an audiobook for you. I mention the lack of respect I have for Charles because during the interview with the author at the end of the tapes, James Siegel mentions how he hopes his audience will still feel for the main character and all he is going through. I didn't. I felt bad for his wife and daughter.

I have heard other audiobooks narrated by Gregory Harrison. You might know him best from television's Trapper John, M.D., although I understand he was also on Touched By an Angel. I really enjoy his narration. His voice has a natural storytelling quality about it as he easily shifts from personality to personality, accent to accent. Harrison is adept at making listeners feel as if they are eavesdropping on a conversation.

As much as I enjoyed Harrison's reading of Derailed, I did have some issues with the story. I have not read the book, but I have a feeling that many of the issues arise from how this story was abridged -- which Siegel touches on during his interview. There were several spots where the listener would be taken from scene A to B to D. I would be wondering how I missed the jump -- but, eventually, the missing scene C would be explained. I think the listener was supposed to be surprised or caught off guard about what takes place. I don't care for this method of revealing important plot points. It is a cheap way to add shock value or "how did that happen?!!?" to the audience experience. I would much rather have the clues presented in a subtle manner so I am pleasantly surprised ... or, even better, smiling because I did catch what was going on.

Derailed is an OK thriller. I do not think I would have enjoyed it as much as I did if Harrison had not been narrating, since I did not care about the main characters. I also do not care for the way the story jumped around. If what I've revealed about the story grabs you, I would suggest you take a chance with the written work over the audio version.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 2 August 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.