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Deep Freeze

John Sandford, read by Eric Conger. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-525-49734-9

Actor Conger shines as Sandford’s protagonist Virgil Flowers, a lawman with a strong sense of humor. The agent of Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Appre-hension doesn’t just have the gift of gab, he sees past the gruesome aspects of his investigations to their absurd elements and reacts accordingly. In Virgil’s 10th outing, he is sent to the unfriendly town of Trippton, where the corpse of the town’s wealthiest woman (who has been murdered) has been plucked from the nearby Mississippi River. Meanwhile, the governor gives Virgil an additional assignment: locate and arrest a woman who’s been manufacturing obscene Barbie dolls. But workers in the impoverished town have become dependent on the sexy dolls’ sales and prove to be as dangerous as the murderer. Reader Conger has a crisp, resonant voice, and he smoothly conveys Virgil’s air of bemusement and the sarcastic edge that appears when he’s forced to deal with deceitful suspects and his merrily duplicitous boss, John Duncan. He plays the self-absorbed murderer, identified early on, as weak and depressed, and the others in the town of Trippton, such as Virgil’s gruff good-natured pal Johnson Johnson, with specificity. All the characters are as carefully vocalized by Conger as they are developed by Sandford in this satisfying audiobook. A Putnam hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Rooster Bar

John Grisham, read by Ari Fliakos. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $45 ISBN 978-0-399-56499-4

Grisham’s latest focuses on three law students—Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero, and Zola Maal—who, shaken by the suicide of their law school pal, Gordy Tanner, take stock of their student loan debts and dim job prospects. They decide to drop out and practice law without a license, and to scam the rich man profiting from their tuitions and loans. The author uses the resulting inventive and intriguing yarn to illuminate for-profit law schools, massive student debt, and harsh, family-destroying U.S. immigration policies (ICE sends Zola’s parents and older brother back to their native Senegal) without letting commentary overwhelm the novel’s entertainment value. His style is breezy and upbeat, as is reader Fliakos’s. The veteran actor reads the novel with a voice that accurately reflects the roller-coaster emotions of the three young protagonists. He also smartly captures their differing personalities—Mark’s self-confident, outgoing persona that can’t quite mask his fear of failure; Todd’s pragmatic pessimism; and Zola’s desperation, which overcomes her hesitancy about joining the team. Fliakos’s strong performance is both enjoyable and affecting. A Doubleday hardcover. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Strange Weather: Four Short Novels

Joe Hill, read by multiple narrators. Harper Audio, unabridged, 13 CDs, 15 hrs., $44.99 ISBN 978-0-06-269445-4

Hill’s follow up to 2016’s The Fireman is a quartet of suspenseful novellas, narrated in this production by four familiar, well-chosen actors. Actor Wil Wheaton portrays, in “Snapshot,” a nerdy yet heroic Silicon Valley teen who tries to save an elderly neighbor from a sinister bully whose Polaroid Instant Camera erases memories. “Aloft” casts actor Dennis Boutsikaris as a reluctant novice skydiver who, trying to impress a young woman, falls into a cloud so solid it floats him away, then begins breaking apart. In “Rain,” actor Kate Mulgrew portrays an assortment of Coloradans trying to cope with storms that send crystal shards to Earth; the story’s protagonist is a woman trying to stay alive while traveling from Boulder to Denver to care for her late girlfriend’s family. In “Loaded,” Stephen Lang turns in two excellent performances: a roaring portrayal of an embittered small-town Florida mall cop as he transforms into a homicidal maniac, and a nuanced, subdued portrayal of the cop’s bête noire, a soft-spoken, maternal newswoman. The stories are intriguing on their own, but the readers raise them to a higher level of entertainment. A Morrow hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bonfire

Krysten Ritter, read by Karissa Vacker. Random House Audio, 9 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-5247-7896-5

Actress Ritter’s first novel is a smartly crafted thriller in which dedicated environmental lawyer Abby Williams travels from Chicago to her hometown of Barrens, Ind., as part of a team investigating the environmental harm of Optimal Plastics, the town’s main employer. Abby is searching for evidence of Optimal’s unhealthy practices and answers to questions from her past, primarily what happened to her best frenemy from high school, Kaycee Mitchell, who went missing just after graduation a decade ago. Reader Vacker’s rendition of a strong-willed but otherwise-fragile young woman trying to do her job while struggling with memories from a painful past is convincing. Just as impressive is her handling of other characters past and present, including snarky mean girls from Abby’s high school days, the sullen present-day townsfolk, and her once cold and impersonal father now in the throes of Alzheimer disease. Vacker is especially effective in the novel’s most dramatic and suspenseful chapter, when Abby faces what seems like certain death at the hands of a killer. The result is a stirring audiobook. A Crown Archetype hardcover. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change

Ellen Pao, read by Emily Woo Zeller. Random House Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-5247-7487-5

Zeller, a veteran narrator of YA audiobooks, reads tech-industry whistleblower Pao’s story of suing a venture capital firm for gender discrimination. Zeller adopts an enthusiastic, sometimes childlike voice in Pao’s descriptions of her family and her childhood in a suburb of New Jersey, which continues throughout the book and sounds far less appropriate when Pao is describing the sexism she encountered as junior partner at the tech venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, or relaying statistics about the tech industry’s lack of inclusion of women. Overall, the narration is deeply sympathetic to Pao’s cause, but does not capture its gravitas. A Spiegel & Grau hardcover. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 01/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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