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The City

Dean Koontz, read by Korey Jackson. Recorded Books, 3.5 hrs., $39.99, $ ISBN 978-1-4906-2396-2

The middle-aged African-American protagonist of this novel, Jonah Kirk, describes his account of his youth in the city as an oral history, and Jackson reads it that way—with the conversational, easy-going attitude of a guy talking to friends, unaware that he’s being recorded. It’s a beguiling performance, charming enough to add some needed sparkle to Koontz’s not always on-key tale of a musical family trying to make ends meet in the late 1950s. Instead of developing a unique voice for each family member, Jackson follows the example of most dinner-table raconteurs: he concentrates more on attitudes. Young Jonah, a piano phenom, is naïve and generally happy. His mother, Sylvia, is upbeat around the boy, but there’s an underlying air of weariness she can’t hide. His grandfather, the respected pianist Teddy Bledsoe, is confident and a little self-satisfied. The book’s villains, gang member Fiona Cassidy and her partner Lucas Drackman, are both perennially angry. The only character for whom Jackson seems to have developed a special voice, jivey and insouciant, is the mysterious Pearl, an attractive young woman who claims to be the living incarnation of the New York. She also seems to possess magical powers. This being a Koontz novel, would anyone expect less? A Bantam hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Contents Under Pressure

Edna Buchanan, read by Erin Bennett. Dreamscape Media, $59.99 ISBN 978-1-62923-722-0

Pulitzer Prize-winner Buchanan’s first book about tough, resourceful, and beautiful crime reporter Britt Montero, published in 1992, has its dated aspects—the absence of cellphones, laptops, and other tools of the trade, not to mention the Internet’s influence on journalism. But few recent novels feature as knowledgeable and compelling a portrait of Miami, its environs, and its history. And the book’s major set piece, a description of a riot prompted by the acquittal of white and Cuban-American cops charged with beating a popular black ballplayer to death, is not only decidedly credible but also unnervingly relevant to today’s headlines. The novel is narrated by Montero, and it takes a while for reader Bennett’s performance to compensate for the fact that she sounds a bit young and refined for a seasoned 30-something crime reporter. Still, she eventually succeeds in becoming Britt and has no problem giving voice to other key characters, including the reporter’s equally job-obsessed photographer pal Lottie, a tough-talking friendly homicide cop named MacDonald and an even tougher, snarling, and very unfriendly Police Department major named Alvarez. A Hyperion hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America%E2%80%99s Moral Integrity

Charles Lewis, read by Don Lee. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, digital download, 9 hrs., $25.87 ISBN 978-1-62231-166-8

According to Lewis’s outspoken study of recent U.S. history, his title reflects the exact number of times members and allies of the Bush-Cheney White House issued untrue “facts” justifying military action in Iraq. Not that the book is focused solely on W’s term as president: there are vehement condemnations of Lyndon Johnson’s truth-bending on Vietnam, Richard Nixon’s response to Watergate, and even Barack Obama’s handling of the Affordable Care Act. Taking the brunt of Lewis’s wrath are current members of the news media who enable politically inspired lies. He also pulls no punches when he describes the reasons why he felt forced to resign as Mike Wallace’s producer on the television series 60 Minutes. Lee has a deep, resonant reading voice. It’s also authoritative—a trait most crucial to the work at hand—and Lee adds a layer of indignation and/or contempt when the material indicates that register. Considering the subject matter, it’s no surprise he’s obliged to do so frequently. (July)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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David Foster Wallace: His Own Words

David Foster Wallace, read by the author. Hachette Audio, unabridged, eight CDs, nine hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-4789-0073-3

This collection of essays, speeches, and interviews is a colorful reflection of the late author’s work in the last 15 years of his life. It includes some of his most famous later essays, such as “Consider the Lobster” and “This Is the Water,” and the interviews often provide some nuggets of insight about Wallace, despite the fact that they sometimes are of a promotional nature. The entire collection, except for the introduction, is as the title suggests, spoken by Wallace himself. Some pieces were captured in a studio and provide crisp and clear sound that makes for an intimate experience compared to the pieces that were recorded in front of an audience or with an interviewing reporter. The studio recordings are enjoyable because the focus is often the written work of Foster, but the interviews are equally compelling since they flesh out the author in ways that the writing cannot. Taken together, they provide the listener with a unique and endearing understanding of Wallace. A Hachette Audio original. (May)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Intent

Wendy Hornsby, read by Donna Postel. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, digital download, nine hrs., $18.87 ISBN 978-1-62231-100-2

Book three in Edgar Award–winner Hornsby’s Maggie McGowan series, originally written in 1995, catches the independent TV journalist just after she relocates from San Francisco to Los Angeles to be with her lover, Mike Trent, an L.A. police detective whom she met while he was investigating her sister’s murder. Meanwhile, a sleazy self-ordained cleric and a self-serving district attorney begin an investigation into a 15-year-old murder conviction stemming from a case that Mike and several other homicide detectives worked on. Postel possesses an attractively deep and smoky voice that is also intelligent and alert for Maggie, the story’s narrator. She adds a brusque impatience, a sense of knowing the game, to Maggie’s deal cutting with network news producers, then switches to an empathic approach when the reporter is coaxing information from reluctant subjects. Postel also provides the men in the story with credible baritone variations. The only false note is the voice given by the narrator to some of the novel’s African-American women (a little heavy on the Ebonics). An Open Road/MysteriousPress.com e-book. (July)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Buried Caesars

Stuart M. Kaminsky, read by Stephen Bowlby. HighBridge Audio, unabridged, digital download, nine hrs., $18.87 ISBN 978-1-62231-112-5

This 13th entry in Kaminsky’s breezy, entertaining series featuring 1940s private eye Toby Peters finds the engaging Southern California sleuth in the company of real-life celebrities and fictional screwballs and lawbreakers. With WWII raging in the South Pacific, Gen. Douglas MacArthur makes a clandestine visit to Southern California and hires Peters to recover stolen documents that could severely derail his planned postwar presidential run. Peters encounters Dashiell Hammett in Hollywood, where the author is avoiding his paramour Lillian Hellman while waiting to join the army, and Hammett lends the detective a helping hand. Voice-over actor Bowlby is a smart choice for these swift-paced tales; he endows Peters with a wry, mildly world-weary voice that comes across as tough without sounding rough. He saves the full hardboiled effect for Peters’s eternally angry homicide detective brother, Phil. Peters’s office-mate, Sheldon Minck, the world’s most unsanitary dentist (he chomps cigars as he works) sounds as slurry, whiny, and needy as he is on the page. As for Bowlby’s interpretations of MacArthur and Hammett, their personalities—stern and humorless for the general, slightly bemused and relaxed for the writer—fit hand in glove with what we know from the history books. An Open Road/MysteriousPress.com e-book. (July)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Vacationers

Emma Straub, read by Kristen Sieh. Penguin Audio, unabridged, six CDs, 6.5 hrs., $30, ISBN 978-1-61176-395-9

Sieh, a relatively unknown character actress who has appeared in Boardwalk Empire and Orange Is the New Black, steals the show in this audio production, impressing listeners with her wit, humor, and remarkable accents. Straub’s novel takes place on the island of Mallorca, where the Post family and some friends have retreated for two weeks of sun, sand, and soul baring. It’s challenging to provide believable voices for around a dozen characters in many different stages of life, but Sieh nails them all without a hiccup. She is as adept with Sylvia (the teenage daughter whose epic bouts of sullen eye-rolling mask hidden depths) as she is with Sylvia’s brother Bobby, a 28-year-old Peter Pan who can’t quite settle into a job or a committed relationship, even though he’s brought his older girlfriend Carmen along to the beach. Sieh does an excellent job with Carmen’s Cuban-American Miami accent, then perfects the lilt of Sylvia’s handsome Spanish teacher, providing the appropriate lisp in his pronunciation of “Barthelona.” Add to this the indefatigable purposefulness of the Post matriarch, Franny, and the humor of several other characters, and Sieh’s narration makes for winning entertainment. A Riverhead hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Silkworm

Robert Galbraith, read by Robert Glenister. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 14 CDs, 17.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-4789-8090-2

Once again writing under the pseudonym Galbraith, J.K. Rowling begins her new fair-play whodunit a few months after the conclusion of The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013). Here, London private eye Comoran Strike and his almost aggressively efficient assistant, Robin Ellacott, are searching for the murderer of novelist Owen Quine, the author of a scurrilous roman à clef certain to damage the careers of an assortment of publishing power players if printed. Popular British actor Glenister (MI-5, Hustle) takes on a highly-charged crime puzzle, peopled by a panoply of mainly vile suspects as well as a totally engaging pair of detectives. Matching Rowling’s praiseworthy ear for dialogue, he catches the subtleties—a touch of snark in cocktail party chatter, the arrogance in the voice of the overprivileged, the fear almost hidden in the raspy croak of a chain-smoking literary agent. His Strike shifts from a weary attitude when dealing with his personal life to an air of vitality and confidence when on the job. Robin, too, is at her best when working, sounding bright and on top of things; while at home, her conversation is dulled by her increasing uncertainty about marriage to fiancé. This developing doubt seems justified, since the husband-to-be, as Glenister’s interpretation perfectly captures, is a demanding and humorless bore. A Little, Brown/Mulholland hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil in the Marshalsea

Antonia Hodgson, read by John Lee. Tantor Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0281-2

In Hodgson’s debut novel, set in 1727 London, 25-year-old gentleman-rake Tom Hawkins is robbed of his last farthing and, shortly thereafter, tossed unceremoniously into the city’s nightmarish debtor’s prison, The Marshalsea Gaol. Once the gates slam shut, the author’s fluid style and fertile imagination (assisted by considerable existing diaries and other firsthand accounts) are in full force as she takes her antihero through a series of dire straits and hairbreadth escapes. Lee’s upper-class London accent fits Hawkins’s narration well, catching his air of roguish charm—the aural equivalent of a jaunty swagger. His interpretation of Sam Fleet, Hawkins’s off-putting cellmate, includes a moist, smarmy manner of speech, ripe with sinister innuendo. For the wellborn widow of Fleet’s former roommate, Captain Roberts, who visits the prison calling for an investigation into his death, Lee uses a fluty, properly posh delivery. And he’s equally successful in finding voices for the other inhabitants of Marshalsea, from the snarling, angry gatekeeper Cross to the aggressively cheery owner of the gaol’s coffeehouse, jolly Sarah Bradshaw. An HMH/Mariner hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Mercedes

Stephen King, read by Will Patton. S&S Audio, , 12 CDs, 14 hrs., unabridged, $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-6978-8

King’s latest foray into suspense is a no-holds-barred cat-and-mouse contest between ex-cop Bill Hodges and Brady Hartsfield, a nerdy, mama’s boy who is also a mass murderer. The two combatants are connected by a homicidal hit-and-run that occurred months before, when Hartsfield purposely steered his stolen Mercedes sedan into a crowd of the unemployed waiting in line for the opening of a job fair. Hartsfield begins to stalk the ex-cop, and sends Hodges a taunting letter. Actor Patton (TNT’s Falling Skies) not only finds the right voices for protagonist and antagonist, but he matches their many mood swings. As Hodges undergoes the moments of elation and travail King has in store for him (the joy of an unexpected romance, the death of a close friend), Patton finds the perfect tone for him. As for Hartsfield, it’s a matter of making him sound like a normal, likeable fellow to his coworkers at an electronics store, but a passive-aggressive monster when conversing with the ex-detective and a full-out lunatic when thinking or talking to himself. Patton’s performing skills are equally impressive for the supporting cast, from Hodges’s elegant and bright new girlfriend to Hartsfield’s boozy, clueless mother. But it’s his compelling interpretations of the two male leads—King’s avatars of good and evil—that distinguish this riveting production. A Scribner hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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