Partners in Crime Pt. 3

I interviewed Louise Penny, author of the Three Pines mystery series, & narrator Ralph Cosham, the voice of Inspector Armand Gamache for my Booklist audiobook column “Voices in My Head.”  I want to share every word with you here on Audiobooker, as the column has their abridged remarks due to my single-page limit. It has been a total thrill to speak with a marvelous group of mystery authors & narrators for a three-part Mystery Month series. Be sure to check out Partners in Crime Pt 1 featuring Johanna Parker, voice of  Charlaine Harris‘ Sookie Stackhouse supernatural Southern Vampire mysteries and Partners in Crime Pt.2 with both author Lee Child & narrator Dick Hill talking about the Jack Reacher series. Thanks so much to all of these terrific talents who keep us all in suspense!

First, from Louise Penny:

Have you listened to your series’ audiobooks in their entirety?

Penny: No.  I listened to the first thirty seconds of the first book, when it first arrived – and shut it off, quickly.  Not because I didn’t like what Ralph was doing with the book, but simply because I realized I had my own particular ‘voice’ in my head, and I couldn’t risk confusing that.  I still haven’t listened to any of the books.  But I have to say, barely a day goes by without someone writing to tell me how much they love what Ralph does with the books.

Has your crafting of character or plot action changed due to your author / narrator connection?

Penny: No, and that was, as I mentioned, intentional.  The books and characters need to be mine, and not be influenced by anyone else, no matter how wonderful they are.

What are your feelings about your audience identifying strongly with the narrator as the voice of your books? 

Penny: I love it.  Indeed, for most people who listen to Ralph, he’s become the voice of my main character, Armand Gamache.  Many of the readers have a not-so-secret crush on Ralph!  I write to assure them that he’s as lovely a man as he sounds.

What are your thoughts on the continuity of retaining the same narrator throughout a series? 

Penny: I think it’s critical.  When someone really embraces the characters and books, and genuinely ‘gets’ not just the story, but the tone, then some magic happens.  That person ‘becomes’ the books, makes them richer, deeper.  Breathes life into the characters.  Ralph has done that for my books and people look forward to not just the book, but Ralph narrating it.  It would be a shame (and I’d hate to have to deal with the annoyed letters) if he no longer did the audio.

What are the benefits and drawbacks to a narrator & audiobook director reinterpreting your work in the audio medium? 

Penny: Well, I’ve been extremely fortunate and my experience has been only positive.  However, I can see the drawback of having someone who just isn’t suited to the style and tone of the book.  That would be so disappointing for me.  Indeed, upsetting.  I think it only really works when the director and narrator really understand the work they’re bringing to life.  It’s one thing to understand the words – most do – but the key is to understand the subtext, the tone.  What the book is really about.  If they don’t, I suspect the book would be flat, too literal.  Dull.

From Narrator Ralph Cosham:

Please share with me your experience narrating the Louise Penny’s series featuring Armand Gamache.

Cosham: First, let me say that much of whatever success I have had with the Three Pines series is due to the material that Louise Penny provided me with. As I have said before, including to my wife, I knew there was something special about Still Life by the time I had read the first few pages. Subsequent novels have more than confirmed my first impression. I love my work and I do my best with every book I read.  But if I had to choose a series that has given me the most pleasure it would have to be the Three Pines mysteries. Louise has created a wonderful environment filled with fascinating and memorable characters, most importantly of course, Armand Gamache.

Have you and Louise ever discussed the series together?

Cosham: Louise and I have never met or spoken together. Our email correspondence has been largely limited to feedback from Louise regarding comments on my work from her fans and so forth.  At her request, I contribute an item for her blog. The only substantive correspondence has been initiated by me regarding possibly typos–including the one about Rosa the “quaking” duck.  There seemed no reason for Ruth Zardo’s pet to be fearful, so I checked with Louise and discovered that it was a misprint and Rosa was indeed doing what ducks do – quacking. Otherwise there has been no discussion regarding my interpretation of the characters. This is not surprising since there is no way I could recreate the characters that Louise has in mind as she writes. All I can do as an actor is do my best to be faithful to the story Louise is telling and to the motives and emotions of the characters.  My goal as a narrator is to give the listener the feeling that we are discovering the story together.

What are your thoughts on the continuity of retaining the same narrator throughout a series? 

Cosham: The advantage of having a single narrator for a series of books is obvious: it gives the listener a sense of  familiarity with the continuing characters.  It has been most gratifying to learn from Louise’s fans that I am identified as the voice of Armand Gamache.

Thanks to Louise & Ralph for putting the perfect finishing touch on a look at great author & narrator partners in crime! I can’t wait for the next in the Three Pines series, The Beautiful Mystery (Macmillan Audio), due in August. Looking for more great listens? Try the Top 10 Crime Fiction Audiobooks – which includes Penny’s A Trick of the Light.



About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

2 Comments on "Partners in Crime Pt. 3"

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  1.' Jennie says:

    I enjoyed reading the interviews, most appealing is that it’s from both the author and the narrator.
    I like what Cosham said, “to give the listener the feeling we are discovering the story together” that is so intuitive of him.
    Louise Penny does write a good book, and from this interview it sounds like she has a better grasp on the audio book world than many authors do. Audio books are gaining in popularity, so one can hope that the recording studios will take care to match the narrator with the book.

  2.' Laurie C says:

    This was so interesting! Thank you for the insights from both author and narrator of this wonderful set of novels.

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