Podcast Review #107: Serve it Cold

Title: Serve it Cold
Author: Ronnie Blackwell
Genre: Mystery
Released: 24 May 2007 – 21 December 2007
Located: iTunesPodiobooks
Formats Available: podcast only I believe
Rating: R for language, violence, adult situations and drug use

Serve it Cold has been on my reading list for quite some time. How long? I don’t’ really know. Who recommended it? I haven’t a clue. Why did it take me so long to listen? Well, my preference on most days is speculative fiction of one type or another. Mostly fantasy (in all of its many incarnations) and science fiction. Occasionally though, I enjoy a good mystery, adventure, military action or other type of non spec fic work. I have to be in the right mood for these though, and even when I am, then I quite often have a favorite author or series, such as Dan Sawyer’s Clarke Lantham series, that I choose to fill my time with. So, when I finally got around to listening to Serve it Cold much of the original reasons that I had placed it in my queue had slipped my mind.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis:  Detective Jonny C. Speed’s life can’t get much better. He’s booked into the French Quarter’s most luxurious guesthouse, and his day job as convenience store manager is 104 miles behind him in Catherine, Mississippi. He’s already taken care of one pro-bono missing persons job since he’s been in New Orleans, and his paying client’s cheating wife is a beautiful and very accommodating exhibitionist. Are things too good to be true? Of course they are. Jonny starts to worry when his client turns up dead, but when the suspects start dropping, Jonny and his crack team of beauty queens, recovering addicts, professional athletes, computer hackers, and pampered dogs find themselves caught in a twisted scheme of revenge that threatens to turn the town of Catherine inside out.  (stolen from podiobooks.com)

Production: Dancing Cat Studios is credited with the production of this book. I love a story that introduces me to new experiences outside of the simply the story itself. Serve it Cold had some really, really terrific music in it. The theme was sung by Michelle Malone. After having located some of her music on iTunes, I can say that I’m now a fan; and I owe that to Serve it Cold. The story is told as a full cast audiobook with equal parts narration and dialogue. All voices are at appropriate levels and sound very good. There is a pretty constant sound effects layer that always enhances, and never disrupts, the story. There are few stories I’ve listened to that exude the slick production qualities that Serve it Cold does. I have no idea who Dancing Cat Studios is, (nor did I bother to google it) but this cat has some serious moves!

One final production note. Long time readers of this blog know full well the disdain I hold for “The story so far”. Well, this one got me. It got me good. I was listening to episode 7 and asking myself why each episode since ep 2 had started with a strange non-character phone call to another non-character. All they did was gossip about everything that had all ready happened. Yeah. I’m slow. I admit it. Guys, if you’re going to do a “The story so far”, do it like Tee Morris did with Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword, or as it is done here. Truly, while still not needed, at least I didn’t find myself seething during the retelling of the previous episodes cognizant points.

Grade: A+

Cast: The cast for this story is rather large. I admit I’ve never heard of most of them with the exception of Paul Fischer (whom is credited with a small role). However, this truly could be because I simply haven’t heard the “right” stories, because this merry band of voice actors knows how to get into character and have a bit of fun with a story. I enjoyed each voice and never really found myself distracted by a character that didn’t seem to fit. Kudos to all voices involved.

Grade: A

Story: Serve it Cold is a pretty straightforward mystery. An unusual event happens in the first ep which turns out to be tied into a case that the lead character is drug into along the way. The story moves back and forth between a “small” city (hey, I grew up in a town of less than 5,000) in Mississippi and New Orleans. There are the prerequisite number of larger than life supporting characters and the obligatory hidden backstory that so many mysteries seem to carry.

Grade: C

Verdict: I enjoyed listening to Serve it Cold simply because of the production. I usually put up with production being subpar when the story is good. I rarely put up with a mediocre story because it is “fun to listen to”. Serve it Cold was one of these for me. Mr. Blackwell wrote a story that had, to me, a more interesting back story than the one he wrote. I looked, on three occasions no less, to verify that this was not the second or third book in a series. If it is, I never found that information. Don’t get me wrong, this story does stand on its own, but the listener still might feel (I know I did) that some of the characters mentioned are much more developed than a non seen character usually is.

I also had issues with one of the larger plot points in the story. *Spoiler alert: At the beginning of the story a rather large amount of an unusually potent strain of marijuana is introduced into the storyline. Throughout the story we follow this drug around Mississippi and New Orleans. Before the end of the story however, it seems that everyone loses interest in where it came from, why it happened to make its way to small city Mississippi and any repercussions any characters might have had because of it. The epilogue also felt a bit forced to me, trying to force the listener to accept rather than just allowing us along for the ride. This is really too bad, because although the drug and adult content was more than I needed, Serve it Cold started with an interesting concept that deserved a better implementation. I believe that a good editor could help Mr. Blackwell take this story, which I felt was no more than average, and help him turn it into a very good mystery novel.

Disclaimer: I do not follow Ronnie Blackwell on Twitter. I do not recognize or follow any of the voice talent either, with the exception of Mr. Paul Fischer. I was not asked to provide a review of this novel and received nothing in return.

Comment Pages

There are 8 Comments to "Podcast Review #107: Serve it Cold"

  • Too bad, almost done with Captain Blackwell’s Prize and need another, but I guess it won’t be this one! LOL I will read more of your archieved issues.

    • odin1eye says:

      As you can see from the previous comment, Mr. Fischer and Ms. Holloway are the ones behind this production. Even if you choose not to listen to the whole thing, if you have some time, I would recommend you give it a bit of a shot just to hear this. Yes. It is that good. And who knows, you might have a completely different perspective!

  • Martha Holloway says:

    Thank you for reviewing the Podiobooks version of Serve It Cold. Your critique is well-stated and is sure to assist both Dancing Cat Studios and the author to improve our work.

    In the interest of accuracy and disclosure, I provide the following information:
    1) Dancing Cat Studios is the brainchild of myself and my husband, Paul Fischer.
    2)Serve It Cold & the sequel Spite are both available from Amazon in Kindle & trade paperback formats.
    3) To the best of my knowledge, Eric Rowe, “Jonny Speed” & “Butch Ellis” & “Sam” & a whole bunch more characters, has not appeared on any other widely accessible projects other than those he has done for DCS. Beth Wojiski, “Vera Hill” & “Narlene Moore” & “Bluehair”, played the dancer Billi took to breakfast in exchange for information in Billibub Baddings. Many of the other character voices were performed by ourselves, friends and family.
    4) However, some of the most entertaining characters were voiced by a few pretty well-known Podcasters: Christianna Ellis, Tee Morris, Phil Rossi, Heather Welliver, Marc Bailey, Phil Rossi, Command Line, Jim Van Verth & P G Holyfield
    5) Really glad you enjoyed the music! Big, big thanks to Michelle Malone for letting us use “Where is the love?” as well as many of her other songs. Music from the other featured artists is either from a pod safe source or is by explicit permission.
    6) Also glad the “Story so far” vignettes did not set your teeth on edge. Some were tough to come up with, others wrote themselves, but Ronnie wrote my favorite ones. I loved putting his Burnt Bridge Ghost Story together. Tee, Jim & PG were pitch perfect.

    As for the writing critique, I concede that the story could be improved by a strong editor. Serve It Cold was Ronnie’s first novel and our first editing job too. We were almost certainly not critical enough both from our inexperience and from being friends for many years with the author. In retrospect I would say the denouement should have been expanded and sharpened. In my opinion, the retelling of the Battle of Lake Catherine as written needed to be better integrated into the here-&-now of the novel. We kept the scene in the novel’s present in the audio version by using sound effects of a swamp undisturbed by gunfire & explosions. Also, I would have liked the reader to have had a better chance of figuring out who was behind the murders earlier in the book. Jonny C lacked a key piece of information to put all the pieces together until fairly late in the story. But I think the reader/listener might enjoy the story more if Ronnie had dropped a few more clues or casual references earlier on that might let the reader catch on before Jonny C does.

    However, I have to respectfully disagree with you on one aspect of the plot. I don’t consider the petering out of the maguffin storyline as a major flaw. Serve It Cold is not a police procedural. Jonny C is a private detective pursuing two major cases, one a missing persons case, the other a divorce case. When one of those cases becomes entangled with a murder investigation, he provides pertinent information to the police while attempting to keep his other client’s business confidential. He hasn’t been hired to track down the source of the drugs–does not in fact want to be–and would not necessarily be kept any more informed of the results of any investigation underway across multiple law enforcement jurisdictions than the average citizen. The PI operating at the edge of what is legal is a trope of the subgenre. Also, as Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes so famously said, “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies.”

    Thank you again for the review!

    • odin1eye says:

      Thank you for such a well thought out and comprehensive reply!

      I thought I recognized more than a few of the voices you mentioned, but as they were uncredited, I was unsure. I absolutely loved Ms. Malone’s Where is the Love. It is not only a great song, but a great theme for the story.

      As far as my points of contention, I’m just a guy. I have no training doing this and just call them as I see them. Thanks for your take on it, and I do understand where you’re coming from. At least I believe I do. And yes, I do agree, that isn’t what he was hired for and not the impetus of the story. However, such a big deal was made about the unique quality of the marijuana in question, and such detail was given, that it seemed strange to have that thread never work its way out of the tapestry for me.

      Regardless, all involved showed impress skills in this endeavor, and there is no way I could ever hope to do as well in any aspect of it.


      • Martha Holloway says:

        I believe Ronnie made the particular physical appearance and smell of the pot highly distinctive if not unique as a way of definitively identifying it when it shows up later in the possession of an unexpected player. The chain of possession is key to fitting the pieces of the puzzle together. The original source is incidental to the story arc by comparison. Perhaps another area needing fine tuning. 🙂

  • TerminusVox says:

    I enjoyed Serve It Cold and would like to hear additional stories about Johnny Speed. I too wondered whether I was listening to a sequel or second or third book in a series on occasion. It was kind of funny for me to hear Michele Malone throughout this podcast because she’s been well known here in Atlanta for years. She’s an amazing musician that shows brilliance live and in the studio (though regrettably not always evenly).

    • odin1eye says:

      I will have to find more of Ms. Malone. I like her sound quite a bit. And am willing to listen to a bit of uneven quality for those flashes of brilliance.

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