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13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi

Mitchell Zuckoff, with the annex security team, read by the author. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-47895319-7

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Journalist Zuckoff has a knack for recreating the emotional intensity of combat in his reading of his book, which describes the horrific experiences of the security team at the U.S. State Department Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, during the 2012 terrorist attack in which J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was killed. Zuckoff effectively conveys the camaraderie of the team of CIA contract operators—all men in their 30s or 40s with specialized military backgrounds—prior to the attack. Zuckoff’s evocative delivery also successfully captures the ambiguity of the conflict, as the soldiers find themselves unsure of exactly who they are fighting and how to engage the enemy. Given the rapid-fire style of the interactions, casual listeners may find themselves struggling to keep up with the story. A Hachette/Twelve hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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An Untamed State

Roxane Gay, read by Robin Miles. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $14.99 ISBN 978-1-4915-8656-3

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In Gay’s debut novel, protagonist Mireille is living a charmed life with a fulfilling law career, a loving husband, a baby son, and a beautiful Miami home. But on a family visit to her wealthy parents in Haiti, she is kidnapped and held for ransom for 13 horrifying days, during which she is tortured, starved, and gang-raped. Finally freed, she struggles to overcome the trauma and put the shattered pieces of her life back together. Reader Miles’s portrayal of Mireille is nothing short of phenomenal. As Mireille describes her ordeal, her voice struggles to stay calm and neutral, the occasional tremor or sob revealing the anguish that lies under her thin veneer of control. Describing how she fought her captors, her voice is full of fierce, wild rage; at other times, it falls to a whisper, empty and hopeless. Miles also creates authentic, memorable voices for the other characters, including the brutal, Haitian-accented “Commander” and Lorraine, Mireille’s practical, Midwestern mother-in-law. Her breathtaking performance is not to be missed. A Black Cat paperback. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Hound of the Baskervilles

Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright, read by a full cast. L.A. Theatre Works, , 2 CDs, 2 hrs., $29.95 ISBN 978-1-58081-963-3

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Of all Doyle’s stories about the redoubtable Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend and chronicler Dr. John Watson, arguably the best known is their investigation into what appears to be a homicidal “gigantic hound” pursuing the Baskerville clan. There have been numerous film, radio, and television adaptations, but rarely has one been as flat-out entertaining as this radio-like full-cast performance, directed by Alexis Jacknow and recorded before a live audience. Much of this is due to the clever script by Pichette and Wright, which includes most of Doyle’s original plot but manages to be as humorous as it is thrilling and, though set in Victorian times, ends with a refreshingly contemporary noirish twist. Assisted by splendid sound effects, the cast performs with energy, enthusiasm, and invention. For example, Moira Quirk portrays the 221B Baker Street housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, with an amusingly flippant attitude. Seamus Dever is a sharp-witted and sharp-tongued Holmes, but, as in the novel, the character spends quite a bit of time observing events from afar (and is therefore often away from the mike). In his absence, Watson and potential victim Sir Henry Baskerville carry the plot, with Geoffrey Arend presenting the good doctor as a capable and humane straight man considerably out-charmed by actor James Marsters’s Sir Henry. The production also features comments by Leslie S. Klinger, editor of the Edgar Allan Poe Award–winning New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Place

Tana French, read by Stephen Hogan and Lara Hutchinson. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 16 CDs, 20 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-1-61176-135-1

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French’s fifth Dublin Murder Squad entry focuses on Stephen Moran, a smart detective feeling his ambition cool in the cold-cases department. When 16-year-old Holly Mackey, a student at St. Kilda’s exclusive suburban school for girls, presents him with key information on the unsolved murder of a boy from a neighboring academy, he sees this as his ticket back into the city’s elite Murder Squad, where he once apprenticed with Holly’s father, Frank. But first he has to convince the detective assigned to the case—Antoinette Conway, the squad’s ultra-abrasive sole woman—to use him in the investigation. The book consists of Moran’s narration, broken by flashbacks from Holly and her closest schoolmates, recalling a time before the murder. Readers Hogan and Hutchinson, Dubliners as well as skilled performers, present the compelling prose with nuance and lyrical naturalness. Hogan captures Moran’s anxious desire to succeed and the brittle loneliness not quite hidden in Conway’s hard-boiled attitude. Hutchinson’s softer, higher-pitched voice clearly delineates Holly’s flashbacks, moving between a schoolgirl’s sentimentality and the snobbery, anger, and impatience of a temperamental teen. Most of the novel takes place at St. Kilda’s, and it’s a testament to the quality of the prose and the readers that, at 20 hours, it never feels claustrophobic. A Viking hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rose Gold: An Easy Rawlins Mystery

Walter Mosley, read by J.D. Jackson. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-385-36226-9

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Set in 1967 Los Angeles, with the Vietnam War dominating the news, the latest book featuring Mosley’s beloved Easy Rawlins finds the private eye interrupted from settling in to his upscale new home by an increasing number of intriguing missing-person investigations. Chief among them is the search for a boxer-turned-political-protestor, last seen in the company of the missing and presumed-kidnapped daughter of munitions baron Foster Goldsmith. Reader Jackson’s cool, unruffled rendition matches the tone of Rawlins’s first-person narration, including the character’s cynical knowledge of the way things work in the racially divided city. For Easy’s LAPD pal Melvin Suggs, whose career has been blighted by his love for a lawbreaker, Jackson replaces the usual police truculence with a boozy haplessness. A long list of vivid characters spring from Mosley’s mind in each novel. Here it includes pugilists, a group of black militants known as Scorched Earth, and the Patty Hearst–like Rosemary Goldsmith. Jackson brings them all to life with admirable versatility. A Doubleday hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Select Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, read by Chris Lutkin. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-034-6

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This collection of Poe’s short stories mainly includes the author’s most-familiar works, chief among them “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” written in 1841 and considered to be the first modern detective story. It and “The Purloined Letter” (also included) feature Paris sleuth C. August Dupin, a deductive genius who influenced Sherlock Holmes and all the literary puzzle solvers that followed. Reader Lutkin’s rendition of these tales is effective and satisfying, as is his reading of “The Gold Bug,” a treasure hunt in the Deep South. But included among the other short works are “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” two tales told by madmen. These are famously nightmarish and highly charged accounts that offer a performer the chance to go full-out histrionic. Instead, Lutkin takes a step back from the material, as though he’s uninterested in the stories filled with such extreme emotion. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Perfidia

James Ellroy, read by Craig Wasson. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 22 CDs, 28 hrs., $55 ISBN 978-0-553-39926-4

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Ellroy’s latest guide to the dark passages of Southern California history is a prequel to his Los Angeles Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz), featuring many of the same characters. It opens with the murder of a Japanese family on the day before the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. The story quickly spins into a tale of a city so stymied by the possibility of Far East invasion it’s all too easy for a cynical police force to make homicides, greed, and corruption the order of the day. Actor Wasson (Body Double) once again proves to be the author’s ideal vocal interpreter, not only providing more than 50 distinct voices but keeping perfect pace with Ellroy’s unique style: hammering the novel’s staccato narration, intensifying the kinetic passages, and slowing down for the characters’ fantasies and self-delusions. A Knopf hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tinhorn’s Daughter

L. Ron Hubbard, read by full cast. Galaxy, , unabridged, 2 CDs, 2 hrs., $12.95 ISBN 978-1-59212-343-8

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Betsy Trotwood has come west to find her father, Slim Trotwood, a ruthless land grabber. Those who resist his entreaties seem to wind up in gruesome situations or outright dead. But cowboy Sunset Maloney looks to set things right—with or without the help of Slim’s naïve daughter. The audio edition of Hubbard’s western mystery is embellished with a musical score, sound effects, and a full cast. The character voices are appropriately caricatured and add to the entertainment value of the whole production. R.F. Daley voices the main narrator and provides an energized and excited tone throughout to keep listeners’ attention. All these elements create a listening experience that’s reminiscent of old-time western radio. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Malice

Keigo Higashino, trans. from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith, read by Jeff Woodman. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, 6 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-4431-4

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A nearly perfect example of the classic deduction-based mystery novel, Higashino’s artfully constructed tale begins with the murder of bestselling author Kunihiko Hidaka in a locked office of his locked home. His body is discovered by his wife, Rie, and his friend from boyhood, Osamu Nonoguchi. The latter narrates some of the novel, but most of it is taken from the notes of the police detective assigned to the case, Kyochiro Kaga, an investigator with Sherlock Holmes’s eye for detail and the patience and dogged determination of a bank auditor. He quickly settles on a prime suspect, whose confession is just the beginning of a unique, extremely clever cat-and-mouse game that continues to the book’s satisfying conclusion. Woodman, a theater and television actor (Cymbeline, Sex in the City), thankfully shies away from Japanese stereotypes. The main two voices both lack accents and suggest intelligence and formal education, but differ in subtle ways. As the sleuth confronts witnesses who are male, female, outgoing, subdued, friendly, and uncooperative, Woodman displays his impressive versatility. A Minotaur hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lila

Marilynne Robinson, read by Maggie Hoffman. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-3011-9

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Robinson’s novel, set in the fictional Iowa village of Gilead, trades in stillness and restraint. The challenge for recording an audiobook with this material is capturing its subtlety. There is no large cast of characters, all needing individual voices; there is only a tiny ensemble, anchored by the tormented drifter Lila, a young woman who seems to finally take root when she marries an elderly preacher. Hoffman, an experienced audio narrator, resists the temptation to simplify these rural characters with overdone country accents. The narration is unadorned, allowing Hoffman to direct attention to Robinson’s spare prose and the main character’s private anguish as Lila sifts through her past. This is a lonely and pensive book, and the wrong narrator could have killed the introspection with showy acting. Instead the performance is fittingly understated, at times seeming lost in thought, its mood as reflective as the novel itself. A Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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