Eliza Blunt is a cultural studies academic from Brit-Cit on her first visit to Mega-City One. A longtime fan and scholar of Truman Kaput’s famous Slick Dickens potboilers, she’s visiting the city to talk to Kaput’s editors about the rumours that there’s a new Slick Dickens novel, as well as a chance to meet some members of the Mega-City One literary community. Truman Kaput himself has been in jail for years on a minor breaking-and-entering charge because his stories defamed Mega-City One’s most famous law enforcement official, Judge Dredd. But her meeting with the editor is interrupted when none other than Slick Dickens himself jumps into the room – and kills the editor. Has a fictional character come to life and began a killing spree? Blunt must team up with Judge Dredd himself to find out.
David Bishop’s Stranger Than Truth is the first instalment in Judge Dredd: Crime Chronicles, a new line of 2000 AD audio dramas from Big Finish Productions. They’re done in a similar style to Big Finish’s Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles, with one actor narrating events in the first person and occasional interpolations from another actor. In this case, the primary voice is Helen Kay as Eliza Blunt, alongside Toby Longworth as Judge Dredd, reprising a role he originated for Big Finish in their 2002-04 2000 AD series.
My familiarity with 2000 AD is pretty minimal, but I certainly enjoyed Stranger Than Truth. The story is fun and over-the-top, as Slick Dickens works his way through everyone who’s ever offended him: his editor, literary critics, fanfiction writers, and Judge Dredd himself. His crimes are committed quite preposterously, and there are a lot of references to literary theory – I was not expecting a reference to Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish in a story like this! As an academic myself, I appreciated the in-jokes at the expense of the academic and literary world. I think the discussion of fanfiction was my favourite part.
The resolution to the story is fairly predictable, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable tale, and the ending itself is nice and chilling. The story never really lets up and it throttles on at a good pace. There are a couple inconsistencies, though – for example, Blunt initially tells us that Kaput’s sentence ended long ago but the Judges just never released him, but later we’re told that he’s still serving his time. But they’re just minor bumps in an otherwise smooth ride.
Helen Kay carries most of the weight as Eliza Blunt, and she does an excellent job. She’s an engaging narrator, and her moments of dialogue work well, too. She able depicts the personality of someone who’s an utter fangirl, but has couched her fandom in more distancing, academic terms. Some of the moments where she squeals in enthusiasm were overdone, I thought, but on the whole Kay has a great voice, and she was a pleasure to listen to.
There’s probably no beating Toby Longworth’s Judge Dredd, but he does as good a job as ever here. My favourite moment was his motorbike conversation with Blunt, where Dredd is forced to explain that he doesn’t do relationships. With anyone. Ever. Longworth carries off the macho lawman with a nice mixture of seriousness and fun. Due to his vocal versatility, Longworth also doubles up as the narrator of the Slick Dickens segments, putting on a schmarmy film noir voice, which adds to the humour of those segments. In yet another role, he also performs Truman Kaput. Kaput’s voice is close to Dickens’s, which makes a certain amount of sense, but it also a little distracting and confusing at times.
To this 2000 AD neophyte, at any rate, Stranger Than Truth was a load of fun, and it promises well for Big Finish’s new line of Crime Chronicles. How could you not like a story where one of the characters claims to have replaced the literary canon with a “literary six-shooter”?
Stranger Than Truth (by David Bishop; starring Toby Longworth) was released by Big Finish Productions in October 2009.