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The Second Life of Nick Mason

Steve Hamilton, read by Ray Porter. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-451-48354-6

In two-time Edgar-winner Hamilton’s new series, protagonist Nick Mason’s first life ended when he began serving a 25-year sentence behind bars for participating in a robbery in which a federal agent was killed. His second life kicks in when he accepts Chicago crime kingpin Darius Cole’s alternate plan: spending the next 20 years on the outside, living large, but ready to obey his savior’s every whim. The apparently obvious choice has unforeseen consequences. Chief among them: Nick is not a murderer, regardless of his conviction, but Darius expects him to assassinate on demand. Along with an assortment of distinctive voices—Nick’s has a chip-on-his-shoulder edge, Darius’s is filled with calm gravitas—reader Porter delivers the protracted setup crisply and smoothly. Once Nick gets his initial assignment and is nearly killed himself, Hamilton’s prose gets leaner, the plot (involving crooked narcotics cops) gets trickier, and Porter increases the pace and the intensity. A Putnam hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Wilde Lake

Laura Lippman, read by Kathleen McInerney and Nicole Poole. HarperAudio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-0-06-246665-5

Lippman’s new standalone, set in the affluent Baltimore suburb of Columbia, is a solidly plotted mystery novel wrapped in a devastating study of a family’s fall from grace. When the book’s heroine, local prosecutor Luisa “Lu” Brant, begins an investigation into the events leading to the suicide of accused murderer Rudy Drysdale, she opens a door to crimes and tragedies of the past, including a rape, an attempted murder, and a fatal stabbing. Lu only half-remembers these acts of violence from her childhood, and had assumed they all touched the Brandt family because her father, Andrew, was then Columbia’s highly respected prosecutor, and her brother, AJ, eight years her senior, was a popular, multitalented teen who knew everyone involved in the crimes. But the deeper she probes into Drysdale’s suicide, the more she realizes that the Brants are being held together by secrets kept from her. Lippman alternates between Lu’s first-person memories of the way things were and an objective, present-tense account of how things are. The use of two readers easily signals the chronological shifts. Reader McInerney begins with a voice filled with a youthful exuberance that gradually matures and grows more thoughtful as the memories draw closer to the present. Poole’s smooth, sophisticated observation of Lu feeling her way through her new job as state’s attorney has a nice subtle edge, indicating the character’s anxiety and vague feeling of disappointment, both of which increase as her family’s past comes into sharper focus. A Morrow hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Before the Fall

Noah Hawley, read by Robert Petkoff. Hachette Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 13 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-1-4789-8759-8

Hawley, an Emmy-winning television producer and writer, starts his fifth novel with a riveting event that reader Petkoff dramatizes to full effect: on a moonless night, a private plane carrying 11 people from Martha’s Vineyard to New York, crashes into the Atlantic. Scott Burroughs, a young artist, survives. He’s preparing for an impossibly long swim with a damaged shoulder when he discovers another survivor, a four-year-old boy. Hawley makes their swim as arduous as possible, with Petkoff adding a breathlessness to Burroughs’s progress and terror to the boy’s fearful cries. Their arrival on shore is just the start of a book that is part mystery (what caused the crash?), part thriller (past the swim, Burroughs is subjected to ruthless and uncompromising media scrutiny), and part social study (Hawley provides complex backstories of those aboard the flight, from the pilot and crew to the wealthy, powerful passengers). In unfolding the story, Hawley sets a fast pace, hopscotching from present to past. Petkoff delivers each shift in chronology and in characters smoothly and clearly, adding the proper emotional touches but being careful to narrate this story of redemption without sentimentality. A Grand Central hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Mercy

Michael and Daniel Palmer, read by Hillary Huber. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 11 CDs, 13 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-3366-0

This medical thriller by the late Michael Palmer and his son, Daniel, centers around Julie Devereux, a critical care physician at Boston’s White Memorial Hospital, who has always been an advocate of death with dignity. That changes when a brutal motorcycle accident leaves the love of her life, Sam Talbot, a quadriplegic. Instead of acting on his plea for euthanasia, she tries to convince him that, even in his condition, life is worth living. When he dies suddenly from apparent cardiac arrest, a bereft Julie discovers that a suspicious number of other patients have experienced fatal heart attacks. She begins searching the corridors for a “mercy” killer, prompting the killer to threaten her. Narrator Huber’s naturally calm, soft, intelligent voice is a splendid match for the thoughtful, empathetic Julie. It’s also ideal for objectively establishing the Palmers’ smartly conceived premise. As the authors tighten the screws, narrowing the distance between Julie and the murderer, Huber reacts with an appropriate increase of tension and intensity, and as the novel races to a dynamic close, she successfully guides the listener through several shattering surprises without overdoing or undercutting the suspense. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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LaRose

Louise Erdrich, read by the author. HarperAudio, unabridged, 12 CDs, 14.5 hrs., $44.99 ISBN 978-0-06-246663-1

Novelist extraordinaire Erdrich proves she is also a gifted voice actor in the audio edition of her latest novel. She reads with a soft but authoritative voice that works so well with her subject matter—the lives of contemporary Ojibwe in North Dakota torn between their modern ideas and sensibilities and the traditions of their ancestors. Erdrich reads fluently, at a conversational pace that easily draws listeners in. As in The Round House, the story explores the quest for justice and the thirst for retribution. Landreaux Iron, an Ojibwe man, accidentally shoots and kills Dusty, the five-year-old son of his best friend, who is not a member of the tribe. In his anguish, Landreaux turns to an Ojibwe tradition that holds that he must give his own son, LaRose, to Dusty’s parents. Erdrich’s reading captures the complex emotions of both sets of mothers and fathers and each of their children; of the lonely, jealous alcoholic who years ago gave his son to the Iron family because he couldn’t raise him; and of the local priest painfully in love with LaRose’s mother. Erdrich’s narration adds depth to this contemporary story intertwined with the long history of the LaRose name and Ojibwe culture. A Harper hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Marrow Island

Alexis M. Smith, read by Emily Rankin. Random House Audio, 8.5 hrs., $35 ISBN 978-0-7352-8466-1

Reader Rankin beautifully renders the lyrical prose of this compelling and enigmatic novel. Twenty years have passed since a cataclysmic earthquake struck the northwest coast of Washington State, resulting in widespread devastation, including a terrible fire at an oil refinery on the isolated Marrow Island. Efforts to battle the blaze with flame retardants and other chemicals so polluted the soil and groundwater that the island was rendered toxic and uninhabitable. Lucie Bowen, an environmental journalist whose father died in the fire, returns to Marrow, where a small community of people have been working under the radar to make the land livable again. But the island harbors dark and deadly secrets. Rankin’s clear and thoughtful reading perfectly captures Lucie’s emotional turmoil as she tries to reconcile her past with the present and an uncertain future. She effortlessly navigates the story’s shifts in time, as well as the small, distinctly portrayed cast of characters. Her pacing and tone keep the story moving at a deceptively leisurely pace, building stealthily to a suspenseful and moving climax. A Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Vinegar Girl

Anne Tyler, read by Kirsten Potter. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $32 ISBN 978-0-451-48394-2

In the latest of Hogarth’s Shakespeare series, Pulitzer-winner Tyler transposes the famously shrewish Kate and her would-be master Petruchio to Tyler country: Baltimore’s genteel Roland Park neighborhood. This modern retelling has no big plot surprises, but actress Potter’s narration sparks new life into the taming of feisty Kate. Potter voices a cool but none-too-confident character who baffles her screwy scientist father and silly teenaged sister with sharp sarcasm and ironic humor. Against her inclinations, Kate begins to develop a liking for her father’s lab assistant, Pyotr. Potter makes smooth work of Kate’s transition from man-hater to wife and mother by slowing and softening her speech and diluting Kate’s vinegar voice with sweeter sounds. A Hogarth hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Charcoal Joe: An Easy Rawlins Mystery

Walter Mosley, read by Michael Boatman. Random House Audio, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-7352-0872-8

MWA Grand Master Mosley’s 14th Easy Rawlins mystery finds the unconventional, now middle-aged PI at the tail end of L.A.’s Swinging 60s, struggling with a broken heart (his wife-to-be opts for a return to her former partner), racist cops, crooked cops, murderous mobsters, deceitful informants, and a number of beautiful women eager to seduce him. Lucky for Easy, the author’s other series character, Fearless Jones, arrives to assist with charm and smooth efficiency. Reader Boatman, no stranger to Easy’s attitude—knowing, wry, and just a bit shy of sarcastic—adds that and more to the sleuth’s first-person narration. His Fearless has the lift of joyous optimism that comes from being able to accomplish just about any task. Mosley’s plot is more complex than Raymond Chandler at his most perplexing, but, as in Chandler’s books, there are enough unique characters and entertaining scenes to compensate for that. Boatman’s well-planned voices, pacing, and cool delivery make this a must for Easy fans. A Doubleday hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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