“City of Sand” is a pleasant and welcomed change from your standard piece of contemporary science fiction found today on Audible. The book is written by Robert Kroese who currently has authored nearly twenty books at the time of this review; most appear to be well received. The audiobook’s narration is decently performed by Jennifer D. Ledford. This audiobook appears to be her premiere piece and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future. The book is mostly a procedural mystery story revolving around a father attempting to find the person who murdered his daughter. What he finds instead are conspiracies and coverups that hit him like a wall in every direction. I’m not one who often gravitates towards detective stories, yet this book’s writing kept me engaged and wondering what I have been missing by not listening to more of this genre. If you are a fan of gumshoe crime fighting books with some quite interesting and fun bits of science fiction woven in, I think you will enjoy the almost 10 hours of audiobook listening this provides.
Imagine retiring from the police force and coming back to the town you were born and grew up after nearly fifty years. When you arrive, what used to be familiar has been replaced by the unrecognizable. A few of the old hangouts and streets remain, but much of the farming community has been replaced with new and modern corporations in the likes of Silicon Valley. The place is called Sunnyview and it is where our main character’s estranged daughter heads when seeking a job. (The next sentence is not a spoiler) When he attempts to reunite with his daughter, she is discovered dead in a creek and the story begins to unfold like a paracord bracelet. And, let me say that this story is multi-faceted. Just as you think you have things worked out, the author throws you a curve ball. If you were anything like me growing up, a curve ball was one that I could never hit, it was always a swing and a miss. As this ex-detective works alongside the local Sunnyvale police force, Mr. Stone begins to unravel much more than he expected. His daughter’s murder is only the tip of the iceberg of what is hiding in this town. In many ways he wants to solve the murder, but I also think he did not think he would get in this deep and stumble upon the truth behind it.
As its title suggests, Sunnyview is a city of sand. One can imagine spending the day at the beach and how sand is able to get into nearly every nook and cranny of your body. Like water, sand flows, moves, and shifts unpredictability. This is exactly what you will get in this audiobook. The story moves, flows, and shifts just like sand, and for me, this is what made it unique and enjoyable. The author also does a good job of including many items that may be nostalgic for older readers such as Cingular Wireless, Blockbuster and the ever-present Starbucks. I had to smile as the name of these places alone brought me back to parts of my childhood. Where the science fiction comes into place is around technology and components of time travel. At times, the story made me feel like the TV series “Travelers” but in reverse. Each well placed and timed. I do not want to give away too much as this is a core aspect of the storyline, so if this whets your appetite, I suggest you pick up the book and give it a listen.
Throw in bits and pieces of pre-cognition, dreams, and a military clandestine project called GLARE (one has to love acronyms), and you have a procedural science fiction book that actually works. I did like the continued use of the public library by the main character when doing his research. As with Blockbuster, these are sadly becoming less funded and, in some places, disappearing completely. I also found the main character’s continued heavy use of aspirin alarming, yet you discover why later in the book. If I were to sum up the book, it revolves around answering the question of what it real and what is simply an illusion. At times, it reminded me of the original Twilight Zone series.
The audiobook’s narration by Jennifer D. Ledford was good overall with only a few things I would call out for listeners. First, her reading was well paced, and I enjoyed her voice. It was clean, crisp, and she did well articulating. It felt it a bit odd at first having a female narrate a male character role, yet it worked as I was able to quickly adjust. Not sure it was the author’s intent, but it made me feel the story was really being told from another’s perspective. I guess this add to the mystery. If I were asked for any changes or recommendations around the narration, I would give two. The first was the narrator’s ability to distinguish the characters while reading. At times I would get confused who was speaking and maybe using an accent or other means of distinguishing characters could have helped. Secondly, the audio at places of silence, such as between chapters, had a tiny white noise sound which can be caused by compression during post production. Neither of these would prevent me from listening to the book, however I point them out for people who have very high standards in audiobooks. I also wanted to point out at least two places where a sentence was repeated and not edited out. These take place around the 3h25m and 3h35m mark. Again, nothing that would stop me from listening to this book again. I’m certain over time, the narrator will correct these items in future books.
For parents and younger readers, this book does contain vulgar language at times. Much less then I would have assumed for this genre but be aware it is there. Other than this, I do not recall, nor did I make note, of sexual subject matter or other adult content. Going into this book, remember it does deal with murder and at times can be graphic; but not simply for shock value. At times the book can get complex and confusing, so I would not recommended it to younger readers unless they have a limited understanding of time, physics, etc.
In summary, for a book whose action takes place mostly during the last chapters, the writing style and storyline kept me focused and engaged the entire way. The characters felt real and multifaceted and I can tell the author made sure to focus attention on this element. I would say if you are a fan of mysteries, this is a great book to listen too. I would also say that for those who, like me, are more science fiction focused, give this book a try as you may be surprised at the direction it takes you. It truly is a blending of these two genres and it works.