cover image The Masque of the Black Tulip

The Masque of the Black Tulip

Lauren Willig. Penguin Audiobooks, $39.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-14-305802-1

With its shifts between past and present, and between a British protagonist and an American one, this larger-than-life romantic caper demands a narrator with extreme versatility and a strong handle on dialects. Reading is such a narrator. Since the bulk of the book follows the humorous spy-chasing escapades of a 19th-century couple in England, it's fitting that Reading is a native of the land. But as the consummate performer she is, she moves with ease from the clipped, bright tones of the book's aristocratic protagonists to the colloquial voice of American grad student Eloise Kelly, whose research into historical spy activities in France and Britain during Napoleon's reign provides the story's framework. Reading conveys each personality with elan, from the seductive drawl of a suspected villain, to the jovial, vacuous tones of a clueless aristocrat named Turnip. Indeed, it's such a joy to hear Reading's various interpretations that one can almost overlook the audio's length. At nearly 15 hours, it isn't staggeringly long, but the story, with its extraneous details and unnecessary padding, could have benefited from abridgement.