The cast of Unsympathetic Magic

That’s (obviously) an audio sample from Graphic Audio’s adaptation of Unsympathetic Magic, which is now available in audio download and CD formats.

As explained in my previous post about this project, Graphic Audio’s format, which they describe as “a movie in your mind,” narrates the whole novel, as a standard solo-reader audiobook would, but they include sound effects and background music, and they have all the different dialogue roles read by a full cast of actors—as you can hear in the audio sample posted above, where Esther and Lopez, played respectively by Colleen Delany and Thomas Keegan, are talking.

I think Unsympathetic Magic is one of the more difficult of the Esther Diamond novels to adapt this way. For one thing, there’s a lengthy Vodou ceremony with singing, drums, dancing, prayers, and spirit possession. There’s also some Creole dialogue, a snake, a dog, zombies, baka, fire, storms, spirits entering this dimension, incineration, a romantic interlude (arrived at in Esther and Lopez’s habitually haphazard way), and various other story elements that aren’t necessarily a cakewalk to translate credibly from the written page to audio performance.

They did a great job with all of that, and I really enjoyed listening to it—so I think people who didn’t write the book, and therefore perhaps won’t listen to every moment of the audio adaptation quite as judgmentally as I do, are very likely to enjoy it.

Above all, I’m really pleased with the acting. Although these adaptations are well-directed (Colleen Delany, who plays Esther, is also the director), and the sound production and engineering are very good, I have always found that no amount of production quality or technical virtuosity (or Hollywood special effects) can make up for a bad script (and if you don’t like the writing here, that’s on me, obviously) or mediocre actors–or even a good actor who’s been badly mismatched with a role. (I’m having flashbacks to seeing a weary, stiff-limbed, hard-drinking, grey-haired Richard Burton in the twilight of his life reprise his early-career stage role as the young, energetic, idealistic King Arthur in Camelot.)

Colleen Delany & Avery Brooks, Othello.

So I’m very excited about the quality of the acting in this project. I think Delany is delightful as Esther—which is crucial, since she’s the first-person narrator and the protagonist. If she weren’t engaging, convincing, and pleasant to listen to, this whole thing would flop, no matter who else was involved. Colleen has done some screen acting and a lot of voice acting and stage performance. She’s done a lot of work with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and she has been nominated multiple times for the Helen Hayes Award. (And here’s something for Star Trek fans: a few years ago, she played Othello’s Desdemona opposite Avery Brooks, who led the TV cast of Deep Space 9 in the 1990s. As recounted in Unsympathetic Magic, Esther and her now-ex, Jeff Clark, also once did this play together.)

I’m also delighted by the performance of Bob Payne as Dr. Maximillian Zadok, local representative of the Magnum Collegium. He brings together Max’s erudition, befuddled dignity, and bravery, he’s got a lovely light comedic touch, and he does an excellent job with Max’s expository dialogue—those long speeches where Max explains the nature or history of various strange and mystical phenomena to the other characters.

Two other performers who hurdled that obstacle very well in Unsympathetic Magic are Dawn Ursula as Puma and Julie-Ann Elliott as Dr. Livingston, both of whom have to do a lot of Vodou-splaining to Esther. Ursula is a two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient who does a lot of stage work, and Elliott has an impressive résumé of stage, screen, and audio work.

The men in Esther’s life also do a great job in these productions. Thomas Keegan as Detective Lopez has an attractive, no-nonsense voice… that inevitably winds up shifting many gears as he deals with his wacky love interest, his volatile family, and the bizarre cases he keeps wading into. Lopez has many scenes throughout the series where he gets pushed, pulled, and shoved through more conflicting emotions in 20 minutes than most of us have to deal with in a week, and Keegan pulls it all off seamlessly. Meanwhile, KenYatta Rogers, another cast member with a long list of credits and awards recognition, brings Jeff Clark to life wonderfully, finding little moments in the dialogue that I didn’t even hear in my head when writing the book. This actor makes me glad I’m planning to include this character in more of the upcoming books, because I’d love to hear him play Jeff again.

The rest of the cast was also excellent, and the whole story came across so well that, despite (obviously) knowing exactly what happens, I couldn’t stop listening—which I hope is the reaction every listener has.

They’ve released this, as well as Disappearing Nightly and Doppelgangster. The next four Esther Diamond novels are also in production at Graphic Audio: Vamparazzi (release date, April 3), Polterheist, The Misfortune Cookie, and Abracadaver. (And, yes, I am writing more Esther novels. I’m just behind schedule.)

This series trailer, using sound clips from Disappearing Nightly, gives you a good idea of the overall feel (multiple actors, sound effects, music) of these productions.