Released back in 2011, Sandy Mitchell’s Dead in the Water is the first of two Ciaphas Cain audio dramas (so far, at least), and in common with the productions of the time is performed (pretty much) by Toby Longworth alone. It’s a classic Cain tale of accidental heroism and unsuccessful self interest, as he finds his quiet posting on the backwater world of Archipelaga unwelcomely enlivened when he’s backed into leading a search mission for a missing squad of Vostroyans. In typical fashion, what begins as a simple task quickly turns dangerous for Cain, Jurgen and co.
If you haven’t come across Cain before, imagine a mixture of Blackadder and Flashman with added grimdark – Cain’s a cad, who’s out for himself before others and always on the lookout for the easy life…but despite his protestations he’s actually quite the hero. If you’re already a fan it’s all instantly familiar, filled with the usual Cain hallmarks – the dry and brutally honest first-person narration, the “if I’d known what I was about to get into…” scene endings, the satisfying mix of matter-of-fact action with dryly funny dialogue. It really does feel like a classic slab of Cain, just in audio instead of prose, and can’t help but raise a smile.
There’s maybe not the sophistication of writing that you might expect these days, and hearing Toby Longworth do all of the voices (with the exception of a brief intro from Amberley Vail) is a slightly strange experience. His various accents and voices work remarkably well, even if it’s occasionally a touch confusing who’s speaking, but it does feel strangely like an audiobook with sound effects, rather than what a contemporary audio drama is like. Don’t let that worry you, though – the sound design might not be as sophisticated as modern productions but it’s still remarkably effective, and Longworth is such a good narrator and actor that it’s easy to forget his is the only voice.
Ultimately, the story is compelling enough for it not to matter that it isn’t quite so slick and made-for-audio as most recent releases. It’s still a really immersive experience, helped by a script filled with plenty of Mitchell’s trademark wry wit that gives Longworth plenty to get stuck into, and the simple fact that Cain and Jurgen are just such entertaining characters. Cain stories aren’t designed to be deep and thought-provoking, rather they’re an injection of light-hearted fun into a universe that sometimes benefits from a little humour. This offers exactly that – stick some headphones on, kick back and enjoy the ride.