Like Music to My Ears

Solve: Capturing the vibe with the right accent

There I was in the visitors’ gallery of the Old Bailey (London’s famed criminal courthouse made famous by Rumpole of the Bailey). The male and female barristers were indeed dressed in black robes with white collars and wigs of various shades of off-white, with tight rolls of curls and little ponytails down the back. The prosecuting barrister, with his elegant British accent, was reading the testimony of a young gang member accused of murder, with every third word being “like” (just as young folks do in the U.S.) and saying the “F” word with emphasis every other sentence.

I'll Keep You SafeThe situation made me realize how a charming, easy on the ears accent can really enhance the listening experience by capturing and projecting the right vibe for the characters and the story. But the intriguing thing is that it doesn’t necessarily mean the narrator’s accent has to match the location.

For example, I’LL KEEP YOU SAFE, the most recent in Peter May’s Lewis series, takes place on a Scottish island and is narrated by Peter Forbes with a strong but very easy to listen to and understand Scottish accent. Forbes ALSO narrates the recent re-recording of May’s THE FIREMAKER, the Chinese Thriller series which takes place in Beijing. In an Audible Sessions interview with May and Forbes, author May comments that he has come to view Forbes as his voice. May says that it doesn’t matter if the narrator is Scottish, Chinese, American, or English, it is the way the narrator is able to make the subtle changes in character that does the book justice. For the listener, this allows for a wonderfully engaging listening experience.

The Temptation of ForgivenessAnother example of the use of accent to effectively convey character and atmosphere that is true to location is Donna Leon’s THE TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS, Book 27 in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series. Narrator David Colacci uses slightly varying Italian-accented English to give the listener the experience of conversations that are supposed to be in Italian. His use of accents, tone, and pace invite the listener to stroll with the characters through the maze of Venetian streets.

Back on U.S. shores, the importance of an inviting, easy to understand accent is no less important. Take Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Stephanie, the lead character, is a Jersey girl through and through. But who wants to have a Jersey accent in your ears for hours!? And I should know, I was born and still have a house in New Jersey.

Hardcore Twenty-FourThanks to Lorelei King, who has narrated the series from Book 7 on to the most recent entry, HARDCORE TWENTY-FOUR, Stephanie has a neutral accent with just the right Jersey attitude. I look forward to spending time with Stephanie and her quirky family and friends. (And it would be absolutely wonderful if Lorelei King could re-record the earlier books.)

Feel free to share with me in the comments section your experiences in how accents, properly applied, enhance the listening experience.

Ellen Quint
A mystery writer, audiobook reviewer and Audies judge. Ellen is currently the program chair of Sisters in Crime-NY and has published two crime short stories: Crossing the Line (Family Matters); Taking the Brooklyn Bridge Back (Where Crime Never Sleeps).

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