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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Gail Honeyman, read by Cathleen McCarron. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-5247-4968-2

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old and profoundly lonely, working in a dead-end job and stuck in an endless routine. At the start of the story, she seems to merely be socially awkward—she is overly blunt and truthful in a way people find off-putting, she doesn’t grasp social cues or pop culture references, and she takes everything literally. Then she and her coworker Raymond unexpectedly help an old man who has collapsed, the three form an odd friendship, and Eleanor begins to open up about her traumatic past. Narrator McCarron gives an award-worthy performance: her Eleanor is by turns comical in her obliviousness to basic things and utterly heartbreaking in discussing her past. Her narration is nuanced, conveying both Eleanor’s surface facade of “everything’s fine” and all the subtle layers of repressed pain and trauma underneath. It’s a performance that will stay in listeners’ minds long after the story is over. A Viking/Dorman hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Jersey Devil

Hunter Shea, read by a full cast. GraphicAudio, 6 CDs, 7 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-62851-363-9

Horror writer Shea (The Montauk Monster) spins an audio-format original tale set in Pine Barrens, New Jersey. Sixty years ago, while hunting, Boompa Willet came face-to-face with a winged beast known as the Jersey Devil. In the decades since, he and his family have been preparing for their next encounter with the monster. Still, the entire Willet clan is surprised to learn of the emergence of multiple devils—a full-blown infestation due to toxic pollution in the area. Over two dozen actors lend their voices to this highly produced audio-format original drama, with a different actor voicing each of the nine of Willet family members and the numerous townspeople and side characters. The director of the production, Ken Jackson, serves as the main narrator and keeps the story moving along. His deep voice and dynamic pacing help to draw out the tension of the more macabre moments of the story, such as when the Willets finally confront the monster. Actor David Jourdan stands out for his rendering of Sam Willet, Boompa’s son and leader of the survivalist family. He sounds both tough and determined, with hints of vulnerability as he starts to fear for his family. Music lends mood, and the sound effects (such as the crunch of footsteps trekking through the Pine Barrens or buzzing of an insect) create a spooky realism. (May)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Switch

Joseph Finder, read by Steve Kearney. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-5247-2363-7

Late for his flight home to Boston, Finder’s protagonist Michael Tanner grabs what he thinks is his laptop, realizing later that it belongs to U.S. Sen. Susan Robbins. The senator is silly enough to stick a Post-it with the computer’s password to its case, allowing Tanner to access top-secret files about a very nasty government program. A friend of Tanner’s convinces him to hang on to the laptop and reveal its contents, causing the senator’s chief of staff, Will Abbott, to engage fixers to hunt Tanner down. Soon, he is on the run, not only from Abbott and his goons but also from a wily Russian named Gregory and Earle Laffoon, an NSA agent. Narrator Kearney brings energy and a fast pacing to the production, taking the plot swiftly past a few credibility potholes to get to the heart of the book, the fever-paced chase. Kearney makes character identification easy. Tanner sounds like an honorable guy, trying to decide what the right thing to do is now that he knows the contents of the computer. Kearns follows Finder’s description of Gregory’s “barely detectable accent” precisely and slightly modifies Laffoon’s “deep-southern accent” to a mild drawl that sounds sternly authoritative. Kearney’s best portrayal, of Abbott, the novel’s most complex character, is all faux efficiency around the senator, filled with self-doubt and guilt when with his wife and baby boy, and dangerously angry when on Tanner’s trail. A Dutton hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Sixth Victim

Tessa Harris, read by Fiona Hardingham and Gemma Dawson. Blackstone Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-4708-4963-4

Harris’s historical thriller is set in London’s Whitechapel district during Jack the Ripper’s rampage, but, surprisingly, the infamous slayer, his victims, and the city’s seedy West End are used mainly as backdrop for a tale that focuses on newly clairvoyant flower girl Constance Piper and her search for Emily Tindall, the kindly teacher responsible for her education. Miss Tindall has gone missing, and Constance is worried she may be in danger of becoming the killer’s victim number six. The audio edition usefully employs two actors: reader Dawson provides Miss Tindall’s schoolmistress elocution, softening it when speaking of and with Constance, and reader Hardingham captures Constance’s myriad moods, her delight in the company of her family, her fear of living in Ripperland, and her fierce determination to find her mentor. The actors smoothly and efficiently trade off on the rest of Harris’s characters, including Constance’s sweetly perplexed mum, her streetwise sister, an oddly distracted doctor whose wife has disappeared, and the befuddled Scotland Yard coppers. A Kensington hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Spoonbenders

Daryl Gregory, read by Ari Fliakos. Random House Audio, unabridged, 11 CDs, 14 hrs., $50 ISBN 978-1-5247-3480-0

In his newest work of speculative fiction, World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Award–winner Gregory introduces the dysfunctional Amazing Telemachus Family, all but one of whom possess some variation of a seventh sense. The outlier is grandfather Teddy, con man and cardsharp. His deceased wife, Maureen, was a true psychic, as is his son Buddy. His older son, Frankie, is telekinetic, his daughter, Irene, a human lie detector. Her young son, Matty, takes out-of-body journeys. The author uses this mix of fantasy and family life to present a multigenre mash-up that includes a couple of romances, scams, a coming-of-age tale, government duplicity, gangsters with guns, and, not least of all, genuine magic. Narrator Fliakos vocally underlines Teddy’s love for Maureen, Frankie’s frantic attempts to avoid the wrath of mobster Nick Pusateri, Irene’s difficulty living in a world of liars, Buddy’s inability to cope with his knowledge of the future, and the poignancy of Matty’s sweetly sad love for his cousin, and the greasiness of CIA Agent Smalls’s deal with the family. In flashbacks, Fliakos gives Maureen the voice of the most caring, dependable psychic wife a fast-talking wheeler-dealer could want. A Knopf hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Here and Gone

Haylen Beck, read by Abby Craden. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-5247-7403-5

This new novel by Beck (a pen name of Irish crime novelist Stuart Neville) begins with Audra Kinney on the run with her two children, escaping an abusive husband and monstrous mother-in-law. While driving through Arizona, she gets pulled over by local sheriff Bob Whiteside, for what seems like a routine traffic stop. He arrests her on a fake drugs charge, knocks her around in a cell, and tries to convince her that she was alone when arrested. When the media get wind of the case, Whiteside easily manipulates them into demonizing Audra as a crazy person who’s killed her children and hidden their bodies. The soft-spoken, ultracool Danny Lee, an ex–hit man for a San Francisco tong whose late wife suffered a fate very similar to Audra’s, is a frighteningly self-contained good-bad guy who gives both Audra and this riveting thriller new hope for justice. The novel is rife with highly emotional moments, and actor-narrator Craden performs them with full intensity, matching Beck’s descriptions of Audra’s overwhelming unhappiness and lack of self-esteem at home and her sense of empowerment leading to her breakaway. Trapped by Whiteside, she gives vent to frustration, fear, and fury. The quick-to-anger sheriff is full of smarmy good-ole-boy charm (with an accent to match) when dealing with the press, but there are moments when he can’t keep his self-loathing under wraps. A Crown hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Stephen Florida

Gabe Habash, read by Will Damron. HighBridge Audio, 12 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-68168-649-3

This debut novel by PW deputy reviews editor Habash unfolds mostly in the mind of the title character, a Division IX college wrestler who is entering his senior year at a community college in the fictional town of Aiken, N.Dak. Stephen is an odd, angry young man, an orphan raised by his grandmother, totally obsessed with winning wrestling trophies and with the sexual satisfaction denied him by his wrestling coach’s rules. For the audiobook, voice actor Damron treats the wrestling match descriptions like a professional announcer, adding color to performance and helping listeners stay attuned. He channels Stephen’s anger, anguish, and soul-searching and gives character to Stephen’s few acquaintances, like a college professor who may have murdered his wife, a coach who’s generally off the wall, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Mary Beth. For the most part, it’s a straightforward listening experience that relies on the strength of Habash’s prose. A Coffee House hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Unsub

Meg Gardiner, read by Hillary Huber. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-1-5247-2279-1

Narrator Huber provides plenty of chills as she maneuvers her way through the twists and turns this dark thriller. In the 1990s, a serial killer known as the Prophet terrorized the citizens of San Francisco. Twenty years later, new deaths begin to occur, each bearing the distinctive markings of the Prophet. Detective Caitlin Hendrix, whose father was the lead detective on the original case, is now in charge. Huber does an excellent job in bringing Gardiner’s characters to life. Her Caitlin is stalwart, determined and single-minded to a fault, while Caitlin’s father’s sounds constantly distraught by his failure to solve the case the first time around. She voices the Prophet in a mechanical, detached voice that makes the maliciousness of his threats all the more haunting. Huber increases the suspense by slowing down the pacing as the final confrontation between Caitlin and the Prophet grows ever nearer. A Dutton hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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So Much Blue

Percival Everett, read by Patrick Lawlor. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 7.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8565-6

Audiobook veteran Lawlor rises to the challenges presented by the latest novel from Everett. The story gradually weaves together three sprawling threads in the life of painter Kevin Pace: his current life as a husband and father raising two teenagers in a picturesque New England community, an extramarital affair with a young woman in Paris a decade ago, and a violent journey through war-torn El Salvador 30 years previously. Lawlor remains poised as the threads intertwine. He is particularly gifted in his empathetic rendering of the angst-ridden 16-year-old daughter, April, as she seeks parental help after getting pregnant, but the most memorable parts of the audiobook are the flashbacks to El Salvador involving a mysterious American mercenary known as “the Bummer.” The audiobook requires patience and attention to detail given Everett’s contemplative style of writing and slow pacing, but Lawlor demonstrates his talent throughout the journey. A Graywolf hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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