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Death Wears a Beauty Mask and Other Stories

Mary Higgins Clark, read by Jan Maxwell and Robert Petkoff. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8706-5

Tony Award–nominated actress Maxwell, the narrator of many of bestseller Clark’s audiobooks, reads the author’s informative introduction and seven of the eight short stories in this collection, as well as the title novella. All of the shorts are entertaining and well performed, but a few of them stand out. In “Stowaway,” first published in 1958, a stewardess on a flight from an occupied (and only vaguely identified) country hides a young member of the underground from a brutal police commissioner, and Maxwell presents her with a teeth-clenched, nerves-of-steel delivery while portraying the commissioner, in all his unpleasantness, with a snarling Russian accent. “A Crime of Passion” features former U.S. president Henry Parker Britland IV and his wife, Sandra, who give off a Nick and Nora vibe as they try to defend his secretary of state from a murder charge. As for the one entry not read by Maxwell, “The Tell-Tale Purr” is a goof on the famous Poe short story. Petkoff does a splendid job of giving voice to the effete, homicidal narrator, but the story and its final joke are about as thin as, well, a cat’s whisker. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Between Here and the Yellow Sea

Nic Pizzolatto, read by Kirby Heyborne. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-922-0

Reader Heyborne brings just the right amount of vocal tidings to this debut story collection, originally published in 2005, by True Detective creator Pizzolatto. The author’s storytelling has a lyrical truth to it and touches on themes of loss, loneliness, and alienation, whether it be a mother searching for a missing and deeply troubled son (“A Cryptograph”), a park ranger who uses base jumping to work through his addiction and physical pain (“Ghost Birds”), or a young son discovering that his father is all too human (“1987, the Races”). Heyborne uses a straightforward, low-key delivery in his narration that fits well with the author’s reflective tone. His reading brings an almost dreamlike melancholia to these tales, elevating their emotional content and drawing the listener deep into the lives of these characters and their world. A Dzanc paperback. (May)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cradle to Grave

Eleanor Kuhns, read by Susie Berneis. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-633-799-69-1

Book three in librarian Kuhns’s historical series featuring Maine weaver-farmer and part-time sleuth Will Rees and his wife, Lydia, finds the couple braving the winter of 1797 to travel to a Shaker community in upstate New York, where their friend, Sister Hannah Moore, has been accused of kidnapping a widow’s five children. When the widow is found murdered, Will takes it upon himself to find the real killer. Reader Berneis, whose narration finds the sweet spot between soothing and alert, is careful to create voices that compliment Kuhns’s very human, fully dimensional characters. Berneis portrays Will as thoughtful and serious, a man yearning to do the right thing. Lydia is lighter, a gentle voice suggesting someone who looks for and finds the after-storm rainbow. Sister Hannah sounds naive but filled with angry indignation at the decisions of the town elders. The elders are mainly stiff and unyielding. Kuhns saves the who- and the whydunnit for the end, but Berneis keeps listeners captivated all the way through. A Minotaur hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Palace of Treason

Jason Matthews, read by Jeremy Bobb. S&S Audio, , unabridged, 16 CDs, 20.5 hrs., $49.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8088-2

Matthews, once again calling on his experience as a 33-year veteran of the CIA, has filled his new espionage thriller with more of his seemingly authentic examples of tradecraft woven into a vivid mixture of international intrigue, violent action, and hard-boiled romance. The focus of the novel is the continuing (after 2013’s Red Sparrow) love affair of CIA agent Nate Nash and Dominika Egorova, a Russian spy as deadly as she is beautiful. Bobb does a splendid job of narrating this globe-trotting misbegotten romance, smoothly switching accents (Russian, French, Viennese, etc.) and pronouncing the names of cities, towns, and streets as if he were a native of each location. In presenting Dominika, Bobb concentrates more on attitude than accent, an approach he uses for another of the novel’s key players, Russian president Vladimir Putin, who conveys a chilling arrogance and ego. Matthews describes one of Putin’s advisors, a steely woman officer, as having a “voice that sounded like melting ice cream.” Bobb’s interpretation is soft and emotionless enough to narrow that down to a frosty vanilla. A Scribner hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fixer

Joseph Finder, read by Steven Kearney. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-61176-429-1

Sins and fortunes of the father come into play when, in the blink of an eye, celebrity journalist Rick Hoffman loses his job, fiancée, and apartment, moves back into the long-vacant family home in Cambridge, Mass. and discovers millions of dollars hidden in the walls, apparently by his father. But the news of the hidden loot somehow surfaces and lures several very tough guys prepared to kidnap and torture Rick to get their hands on it. Finder uses breakneck pacing to keep his thriller on track, and reader Kearney, employing a crisp, no-nonsense delivery, keeps the story flowing fast and clear. For the exposition and for many of the characters—including women such as Rick’s faithless ex-fiancée and his just-reacquainted high school heartthrob—Kearney settles on a serviceable natural voice. But the hard-boiled types—the thugs, a half-friendly FBI agent, an extremely wealthy ex-cop, and the power broker pulling all the strings—are treated to the kind of gruff, very heated brogue one might hear unleashed in a Boston bar on the feast of St. Pat’s. A Dutton hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Finders Keepers

Stephen King, read by Will Patton. S&S Audio, unabridged, 12 CDs, 13.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8434-7

It seems only logical that King's new crime novel, which is linked to the Edgar Award–winning success of 2014's Mr. Mercedes, should reemploy the talents of that thriller's reader, Patton. Here, the actor's deceptively mellow, vaguely Southern delivery helps spin a thrilling yarn that shuffles two tales separated by 35 years. The earlier sections follow Morris Bellamy, a young sociopath so obsessed by the work of long-silent reclusive novelist John Rothstein that he kills him and steals the author's money, along with notebooks containing at least one unpublished novel. The other sections, set in the Midwest in 2010, focus on Pete Stauber, who finds the cash and notes where Morris hid them before his lengthy incarceration for another crime. Both stories converge when Morris is released from prison and arrives in town expecting to find his cache. Though the novel unfolds in third-person narration, King slants each chapter toward its featured player, and Patton adds an appropriate attitude. For example, he reads the chapters focused on Morris with a sort of grim determination laced with anger. The Pete chapters have a halting quality that reflects the teen's suspicious nature and lack of self-confidence. The chapters devoted to Drew Halliday, a crooked book dealer, are given a smarmy air of extreme self-satisfaction. The bottom line is that King has added another superb novel of suspense to his ever-increasing list, and Patton's inventive interpretations make it a must-hear audio. A Scribner hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Drunken Fireworks

Stephen King, read by Tim Sample. S&S Audio, 2 CDs, 1.5 hrs., $14.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-8964-9

This short, humorous tale, about a Fourth of July fireworks competition that gets magnificently out of hand, will not appear in print until November, when it arrives as part of King's collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. Its narrator, Alden McCausland, is a nonstop boozer who has been sipping away the summers with his similarly inebriated mom in a meager three-room cottage on Lake Abenaki. On a fateful Fourth, the McCauslands set off a few sparklers and rockets, and the Massimo family, the high-living, high-style occupants of the mansion across the lake, top that with their display, thereby initiating an ever-escalating rocket war that cannot end well. The production has the sound of a one-man theatrical performance, and its entertainment value depends as much on the one man as it does on the material. King's story, though its inevitable conclusion siphons off any suspense, is amusing enough to keep one listening, especially with Sample narrating it in the same kind of appropriate "down east" accent he used for over a decade on the "Postcards from Maine" segments on CBS News Sunday Morning. This audiobook is pretty much in the same wheelhouse as "Postcards," only drunker. And, ultimately, more explosive. (June)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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