Denise Tiller,
Calculated Risk
(Timberwolf, 2000)

I did not know what an actuary was before I listened to the six-and-a-half-hour audiobook Calculated Risk, a murder mystery by Denise Tiller. The dictionary says that actuaries are clerks that analyze insurance risks. According to the main character, Liz Matthews, "actuaries do more than count bodies and crank numbers out of a mysterious black box." Liz states that she was "...trained to observe, record, regurgitate and analyze data." Considering that she also dates a cop, perhaps it is not surprising that Liz becomes a novice sleuth when the opportunity ends up in her hands, literally.

Set in Newport Beach, California, Liz lives a few blocks from the ocean and has a habit of running on the beach for stress release and exercise. During one late evening run, she happens upon one the beach's residents who has been raped and beaten. The only clue to the perpetrator's identity is a Mardi-Gras mask. As if this incident isn't enough to jangle her nerves, Liz's long estranged mother calls begging her to help find a half-sister Liz never knew she had. Reluctantly, Liz agrees. When her sister is found in a drug-induced coma in the same house as a dead body, Liz starts to use her analytical skills (plus a little woman's intuition) to offer intriguing theories about what all is happening. The only problem is, nobody is listening.

This is a story where pretty much everybody is a suspect as Liz uncovers evidence of blackmail and treachery. Many of the characters are quite despicable. I'm glad these people are in California and not my state! Events happen quickly and Calculated Risk is over before you know it. Initially, the book seems to be going in a few too many directions. Denise, however, neatly connects the various threads on the last CD. The ending is not much of a surprise, yet the ride getting there is worth your time.

Kathy Garver handles the voice of Liz Matthews. Calculated Risk is mostly told in first-person. The story unfolds with narration interspersed with dialogue. I thought that the narration could have been slowed down a bit. Living in the South, I am not used to people speaking at such a rapid-fire pace. There were a few instances where I had to back up in order to comprehend what was being said. I never had any trouble during the dialogues. Nine other actors flesh out the rest of the characters and, for the most part, do a believable job. I think Timberwolf Press did excellent work with the background noises. Hearing dogs barking, phones ringing or cars honking gives the impression that the action is happening as you listen. I also really liked Liz Matthews' dry sense of humor. She has a very biting wit. While murder is serious business, I often found myself chuckling at what Liz had to say.

This is the third audiobook that I have listened to from Timberwolf. In all, I think they do a decent job translating a novel to CD. Calculated Risk is definitely worth listening to. Denise Tiller has created a story with characters that come alive thanks to the help of a great cast of actors doing the voices. Some audiobooks are flat translations of written material that leave a lot to the imagination. Calculated Risk is a deeper experience that creates vivid visuals through audio cues. The story really comes to life. Close your eyes and feel like your there as Liz discovers the link between a rapist, a Mardi Gras mask, her half-sister and a murder.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 30 June 2001

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