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All the Old Knives

Olen Steinhauer, read by Ari Fliakos and Juliana Francis Kelly. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 5 CDs, 5.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-5809-0

Steinhauer’s new standalone thriller focuses on a couple meeting for lunch at a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Henry Pelham and Celia Favreau are former lovers who met as young CIA agents working together in Vienna in 2006, when militant Muslims attacked passengers at that city’s airport. Celia is long retired but Henry is still active, as is his investigation of a report that the terrorists had an information source at the embassy. But has he traveled from Europe to California just to test her memory of dark events, or does he have another motive, like rekindling their long-ago affair? Using flashbacks and smart chitchat, the author offers a tasty mixture of down and dirty spycraft, bittersweet romance, and deception that voice actors Fliakos (handling the Henry chapters) and Kelly (giving voice to Celia’s) serve with flourish. Fliakos’s interpretation of Celia’s speaking voice smoothly fits into his sections, and Kelly easily enacts Henry in her chapters. But in the instances when, for no obvious reason, they suddenly engage in dialogue together, they continue to read the material rather than perform it, with the result that their pacing is off and the conversation sounds forced. Fortunately, these awkward moments are infrequent and fleeting. A St. Martin’s/Minotaur hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fox Is Framed: A Leo Maxwell Mystery

Lachlan Smith, read by R.C. Bray. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-747-9

Smith’s third exploration of the noir life of San Francisco attorney Leo Maxwell (after Lion Plays Rough) is a tense courtroom drama that focuses on the family tragedy that has haunted Leo and his older brother, Teddy, for over two decades. Recently uncovered evidence has convinced a judge to order a new trial. Leo winds up assisting and falling for Nina Schuyler, a top lawyer as hard-boiled as she is beautiful. Leo’s pretty hard-boiled himself, especially as presented by reader Bray, whose voice sounds as if he’s recovering from a case of laryngitis. Surprisingly, he’s able to remove some of that sandpaper gruffness when no-nonsense Nina, the snippy prosecutor Angela Crowder, and other women have their say. As for the men, Teddy’s halting speech carries a touch of barely controlled frustration. But it’s when Leo is narrating his story, describing his mixed feelings about his father, interpreting the events that unfold in the courtroom, and trying to deal with bad calls he’s made (which hurt the defense and distance him from Nina) that Bray really makes his case. A Mysterious hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Lady from Zagreb

Philip Kerr, read by John Lee. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 13 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-1-61176-449-9

The 10th book in Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series (after A Man Without a Breath) is largely set in 1942 Berlin. This time, Bernie, an officer in the SD, begins to serve at the beck and call of Josef Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Truth and Propaganda, whose main interest of the moment is Dalia Dresner, a beautiful young actress he is promoting as “the German Garbo.” Dalia enlists the help of Bernie to find her estranged father, who she thinks is in a monastery in Yugoslavia. She wants Bernie to deliver a message to her father asking him to come to Germany to see her. After she and Bernie begin an affair, he agrees to make the trip, traveling across the dangerous countryside and discovering that instead of being a monk, Dalia’s father is the cruel, fascist commandant of an infamous Yugoslavian concentration camp. Reader Lee gives the commandant a surprisingly cordial, Austrian-inflected accent, similar to that of Dalia. Lee’s Goebbels is outgoing, with more than a hint of smug amusement in his speech. Many of the German officers have a sardonic curl to their conversation, twisting simple statements into smarmy innuendo. Bernie, the narrator of the novel, is Lee’s best vocal creation; his crisp British delivery sounds insouciant, sarcastic, and self-effacing—a perfect match for Kerr’s flippant Nazi- and self-loathing hero. A Putnam hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Endangered: A Joe Pickett Novel

C.J. Box, read by David Chandler. Recorded Books, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4703-8195-0

The 15th novel to feature Joe Pickett (after Stone Cold) opens with the Wyoming game warden facing the apparently senseless slaughter of dozens of young sage grouse, a problem he quickly moves to the back burner when he’s told his 18-year-old adopted daughter, April, has been found beaten and left to die on a road near his hometown of Saddlestring. Narrator Chandler’s rendition of the book’s expository sections is precise and professionally delivered but unemotional to a fault, undercutting the vivid and propulsive quality of the author’s prose. However, when it comes to bringing the book’s characters to life, Chandler’s Broadway (Death of Salesman) and TV experience (Law and Order) kick in. The wheelchair-bound Sheriff Reed sounds thoughtful and just, a hard man to rile, while prosecutor Schawk is as tightly coiled as Box describes her. Providing Joe with a deep, leading man’s voice, Chandler takes it through a series of emotional changes, from love for his daughter and fear for her safety to full-out fury when he eventually confronts the book’s collection of truly monstrous villains. A Putnam hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Only Game: A Home Team Novel

Mike Lupica, read by Keith Nobbs. S&S Audio, unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7641-0

Seventh grader Jack Callahan is his team's star pitcher and shortstop, so everyone is shocked when he quits baseball during the lead-up to the Little League World Series. "My heart's not in it," he tells his disappointed parents, before spilling the real reason he's abandoning the team: "Baseball won't bring my brother back." Lupica thoughtfully explores Jack's belief that he could have saved his daredevil older brother, Brad, who died the previous year in a dirt-bike accident. While Callahan sorts out his life and the events of the past year, he slowly finds a new crowd of friends at school who show him a life beyond baseball. Nobbs reads with a strong narrative voice that has good emphasis, timing, and tone, especially when delivering the weight of emotionally tense scenes. But when it comes to providing the voices for the colorful slew of other characters, Nobbs's narration is either flat or overly caricatured. Ages 8–12. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime

Scott Simon, read by the author. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-6128-1

Simon delivers a powerful and heartfelt reading of his memoir, which recounts the last week he spent with his mother. As he sits by her hospital bed, Simon flashes back to various childhood memories, revealing a portrait of a gracious, elegant woman and a loving mother. Simon portrays his mother with steady, deliberate pacing that reveals her unending patience, love, and selflessness, while his inflections convey her calm consideration of the questions he asked. In revealing his memories, it is clear how Simon himself has adopted her ability to focus on the positive aspects in situations, embracing life and love in all gestures. While Simon offers accents and character voices to inject humor and lighten some of his recollections, he also allows for deft pauses and slow delivery to emphasize his awe and respect, such as when referring to nurses in the ICU. Simon provides thought-provoking social commentary on some of the paradoxes of the elderly in the United States and doctors who think they know it all. These observations are made all the more poignant by Simon's evocative portrayal of his mother during their frustrating and anxious search to find a doctor who would listen to what she was saying. Simon's moving story and narration is a beautiful tribute to his mother. A Flatiron hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Heir to the Jedi: Star Wars

Kevin Hearne, read by Marc Thompson. Random House Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hours $40 ISBN 978-0-8041-9175-3

Luke Skywalker has just joined the Rebel Alliance and helped destroy the first Death Star. The Rebels now have him running missions while they look for a place to hide from the Empire. In his latest mission, he gets close to the Imperials several times, makes some new friends and alliances, and begins to find his way in the Force. Thompson does a solid job narrating this first-person tale. At times he sounds uncannily similar to Mark Hamill, who portrayed Skywalker in the movies, which fans will enjoy. Thompson doesn't do nearly as well with other established character voices, such as Princess Leia, but since they have minimal roles in this audio book, it is less relevant. The production includes a variety of sound effects, such as beeping from R2-D2, igniting light sabers, and weaponry firing during spaceship battles. Additionally, listeners will enjoy the occasional infusion of the classic John Williams Star Wars soundtrack. A Del Rey/Lucas hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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