“’I think I killed someone,’ the man’s voice whispered across the phone lines.”
What a compelling way to start a book, let alone an audiobook that requires the perfect tone to properly engage the listener. In the just-released audiobook version of Jode Millman’s The Midnight Call (Immortal Works) — a recent recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Bronze IPPY Award — audiobook narrator Janel Valentine has to get it just right. She opens Millman’s courtroom thriller in the voice of a male, intentionally using a flat monotone that we soon will learn is so unlike the Terrance Butterfield character portrayed by Millman. He is “no longer aware of reality.”
Everyone dreads that terrifying call — the one that comes in the middle of the night. Your worst fears might be realized, your life changed forever in the minute it takes to answer. Corporate attorney Jessie Martin never expected to hear the word murder on the other end of the line. That ringing phone was the sound of an ill-fated trajectory that would tilt her world, throwing her life into freefall.
Jessie answers the phone at 1 a.m. Valentine shifts her vocal emotions quickly and convincingly. Jessie “tried to control the tremor in her voice,” a tremor that the narrator has to capture subtly as the protagonist tries to keep her cool.
Rising to these challenges makes the audiobook version as heart-pounding as the original novel, as Valentine delivers smooth, steady and confident narration.
A COURT CASE THAT ASKS THE QUESTION: HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR FRIENDS?
Butterfield, Jessie’s former teacher and mentor, and now a friend, says he’s about to kill himself. Against her fiancé Kyle’s protests — she’s seven months pregnant, after all — they race to Terrence’s house only to meet the police. What she finds shakes her to her core. There’s a boy’s body in the basement, and Terrence declares himself the murderer.
Drawing upon her connections as a corporate attorney, Jessie asks her former boss, criminal lawyer Jeremy Kaplan, to take the case. Jeremy used to be the most celebrated criminal defense attorney around, but he may have lost his edge. This case might be the one that gives him back his mojo, and he might just set another legal precedent.
When Jessie and Jeremy speak to Terrence about the murder, Jessie can’t believe he’s the same person she’s known and loved all these years. He was a popular high school teacher and a patient friend who’d helped her through a difficult time in her life, the keeper of her most intimate secrets. Now she sees a flicker of insanity pass over his face as he swears he doesn’t know what happened after those boys showed up at his house. The malicious grin — a quick flash of fiendishness — comes and goes in an instant. Were Terrence’s idiosyncrasies just the mark of his eccentric character or were they snippets of a deranged mind?
District Attorney Lauren Hollenbeck is thrilled at her good fortune that the case of the century just landed in her lap. Convicting the handsome and charismatic teacher will catapult her career. She assigns the case to Assistant District Attorney Hal Samuels; she doesn’t yet know that Hal and witness Jessie Martin have a history.
Hal can’t imagine that Jessie witnessed the crime. She was kind and compassionate, the former love of his life. There is no way she could be involved, but his boss insists on having her testify. Seeing her again makes him question everything about his life.
The tension mounts as Terrence tries to manipulate Jessie, Jeremy uses her as a pawn, her fiancé Kyle pressures her for more, and the man she may have let get away becomes a part of her life.
A SKILLFULLY PERFORMED AUDIOBOOK ADAPTATION
This is the fifth audiobook narrated by Valentine, a body of work that includes: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk by Scott E. Tarbet; Blood Creek Beast by Jay Barnson; Blood Creek Witch also by Barnson; and Stonebearer’s Betrayal by Jodi L. Milner.
Valentine sings, performs for local theater, teaches music to a local youth program, and leads a choir. Her voice was noticed by her employer, and they requested she become the voice of their automated phone system. She always loved reading aloud to children, and, on a whim, decided to audition for an audiobook. From that, she learned how to record professional audiobook recordings.
Friendship, insanity, the drama of a courtroom, all with a touch of romance rounding out the narrative, will have readers struggling to answer the question: What happens after you answer that terrifying midnight call?
The Midnight Call is now available in audiobook format. Learn more about Millman on her BookTrib author profile page.