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The Infidel Stain

M.J. Carter, read by Alex Wyndham. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-6816-8060-6

This sequel to Carter’s The Strangler Vine (2015) finds unlikely pals—raffish inquiry agent Jeremiah Blake and gentlemanly but two-fisted Captain William Avery—back in Victorian London in 1841, three years after their sojourn in India. This time they partner up at the behest of prominent philanthropist Viscount Allington, who hires them to investigate the murders of two printers found butchered in their workplaces, where they printed pornographic and politically radical material. British actor Wyndham (best known from his role on the HBO series Rome) uses an educated, eager voice for the whodunit’s narrator, Avery, who naively expects the best from people. When he is exposed to evidence of man’s inhumanity, while following clues through the Dickensian impoverished city streets (at one point spying Dickens himself), Wyndham conveys surprise so effectively you can almost hear his jaw drop. A Putnam hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Fool Me Once

Harlan Coben, read by January LaVoy. Brilliance Audio, , unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5012-1758-6

In his new thriller, a seemingly unsolvable puzzle isn’t so unsolvable. Two weeks after witnessing her husband, Joe, murdered in Central Park, retired special-ops Army Captain Maya Stern consults her newly installed nanny cam and sees Joe enter their living room with their two-year-old daughter. Is it possible Joe survived? Is she losing her mind? Is someone trying to fool her? (The title gives that last one away.) The question becomes, who’s trying to fool her, and why? Reader LaVoy does a masterly job of ginning up genuine suspense and adding much-needed heft to characters so gossamer they threaten to blow off the page. The author did make his protagonist, Maya, fully dimensional, but it’s LaVoy’s impassioned enactment of her trials and tribulations that makes the listener care what happens to her. A Dutton hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Terror in Taffeta

Marla Cooper, read by Romy Nordlinger. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, 7 CDs, 8.5 hrs., $59.99 ISBN 978-1-5200-0269-9

The pseudonymous Cooper’s debut novel introduces Kelsey McKenna, a bright young San Francisco–based wedding planner, whose carefully crafted nuptial in the romantic Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende suffers a few unexpected setbacks. One of the bridesmaids is murdered, the sister of the bride is arrested for the crime, and the bride’s monstrous mother blames Kelsey for everything. The book is smart and witty, and respectable as a whodunit, but theater and television actress Nordlinger turns Kelsey’s self-deprecating narration into something even more delightful, a stand-up routine that is entertaining and often hilarious. Her version of the hapless wedding planner, in which she describes her awkward attempts at amateur detecting with a buoyant optimism, makes the misfortunes funny and charming rather than downbeat. The secondary characters, including a pleasantly snarky photographer named Brody, a couple of ill-tempered Mexican lawmen, a part-time smuggler who is almost a love interest, and the remaining wedding party, are all given distinctive voices. Yet they all sound a bit like Kelsey imitating them, which is appropriate, this being her breezy, amusing, fast-paced recollection of her first (and hopefully not last) planned wedding from hell. A Minotaur hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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No One Knows

J.T. Ellison, read by Terri Schnaubelt and Nick Podehl. Brilliance Audio, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-5113-6811-7

Schnaubelt’s performance as Aubrey Hamilton, the dicey heroine of Ellison’s standalone thriller, is entirely convincing. Aubrey bemoans the loss of her husband, Josh, who is declared legally dead at the start of the Nashville-set story. Schnaubelt’s portrayal makes us feel the character’s unbearable loss, loneliness, panic, and escalating anger as the story folds and unfolds, the current scenes intertwined with flashbacks to the days of her husband’s disappearance five years earlier. We’re given to understand that no one, including Aubrey, knows Josh’s whereabouts. Voice actor Podehl soon pulls us into Josh’s bouts of fear, jealousy, anguish, and treachery as Josh tries to extricate himself from a dangerous situation of his own making. Though the listener is sometimes bemused by tone changes and awkward plot complications, the story is an entertaining brainteaser with a surprising ending. A S&S/Gallery hardcover. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Maestra

L.S. Hilton, read by Emilia Fox. Penguin Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-451-48308-9

Hilton’s debut novel introduces femme fatale Judith Rasleigh, who seduces and slays her way up from a petty existence—as gofer at a respected London art auction house by day, while serving as a hostess in a seedy club by night—to a life of hedonist excess among billionaire yacht owners lolling on the Riviera. As written, Judith narrates her own sociopathic, narcissistic rise, complete with a few murders and sexual encounters as lavishly detailed as the book’s fashion notes, with a relentlessly sardonic tone. Reader Fox adds a snarky, ruthlessly dismissive edge, using a razor-sharp British accent. She’s excellent at pinning down Judith’s smarmy auction house boss; her fragile, silly, Cockney girlfriend; a growly nightclub patron who introduces her to Cote d’Azur high life; an affectless American gazillionaire who finances her biggest step up; and an assortment of international high rollers, mistresses, and ne’er-do-wells who keep casino wheels and novels like this (book one of an announced trilogy) rolling. A Putnam hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dodgers

Bill Beverly, read by J.D. Jackson. Random House Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-101-92357-3

Beverly’s fiction debut is an atmospheric thriller, a crime novel of violence and murder, and an on-the-road experience. The book’s young antihero is a 15-year-old named East, who is standing at a crossroads to his future. His upward mobility through the ranks of his South Central L.A. gang, due primarily to his high-ranking uncle Fin, was halted when he allowed his feelings for a young murdered girl to interfere with his guardianship of a drug house. To reestablish his nephew’s credibility, Fin sends him with three other teen gangsters on a road trip from L.A. to kill a judge on vacation in Wisconsin. Actor Jackson tells Beverly’s granite-hard story in a smooth, almost gentle voice that underscores the pressures East is feeling on the trip. Something in that just-telling-it-like-it-is attitude highlights the boy’s sense of confusion and frustration, saddled with a job he doesn’t think he can do, traveling in unfamiliar surroundings, with boys he can’t control. Jackson has no trouble clarifying the members of East’s teammates on the hit. But his finest achievement is his presentation of East, a too-rapidly maturing boy, confused by his conflicting emotions, uncertain of what to do, how to do it, and where to go to seek advice. A Crown hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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’Til Death Do Us Part

Amanda Quick, read by Louise Jane Underwood. Recorded Books, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-5019-2448-4

Quick, the pseudonym author Jayne Ann Krentz uses for her Victorian thrillers, delivers a funny, romantic historical whodunit featuring very likable sleuths. Calista Langley, a self-described spinster in her late 20s, is the owner/operator of an exclusive London matchmaking agency. When an apparently demented unknown stalker begins leaving sinister memento mori in her home, she eschews the ineffectual police, instead teaming up with popular mystery writer Trent Hastings to uncover the perpetrator. Their sleuthing includes a warming romance between them, witty bickering, amusing amateur detecting fumbles, oddball suspects, surprising twists, hairbreadth escapes, and several seriously horrific murders. Actress Underwood, whose British accent sets the stage appropriately, skillfully adds more than just another dimension to the material. She follows Quirk’s lead regarding the main characters. Her Calista is every syllable a British businesswoman unsuccessfully fighting her feelings for Trent. He’s initially stolid and wary, but both qualities thaw in Calista’s presence. Underwood is especially effective in delivering both sides to a conversation, be it adversarial or romantic. And she goes all in, vocally, when it comes to the author’s blustery British aristocrats, snarky suspects, and loony eccentrics, as well as the book’s moments of sheer knife blade-flashing terror. A Berkley hardcover. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Battlefield Earth

L. Ron Hubbard, read by Josh Clark and a full cast. Galaxy Press, unabridged, 44 CDs, 47.5 hrs., $89.95 ISBN 978-1-59212-962-1

In 3000 C.E., Earth has been ruled for 1,000 years by an alien race known as the Psychlos, while the remaining humans live in tribes around the world. When human Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is captured by a Psychlo named Terl—who wants to use the young man to leverage his way off Earth—Jonnie organizes clans of the remaining humans and leads a rebellion against the alien overlords. In terms of production value, this new audio edition is intense. Narrated by Josh Clark, the multicast performance features R.F. Daley—a frequent performer in Hubbard audiobooks—as well as Scott Menville as Jonnie Goodboy Tyler and Charlie Davis as the villainous Terl. Because this is Hubbard’s biggest book, it makes sense that the audio publisher would want to pull out all the stops. There are copious sound effects—the swirl of wind, the humming of a flute, etc.—and while this does add atmosphere, it can be distracting. But Hubbard devotees will find a lot to like in this new action-packed blockbuster of an audio production. A Galaxy paperback. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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All Is Not Forgotten

Wendy Walker, read by Dylan Baker. Macmillan Audio, , unabridged, 4 CDs, 11 hrs., $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4272-7412-0

In Walker’s novel, a controversial mind-altering drug erases a rape from teenager Jenny Kramer’s memory. Her parents, Tom and Charlotte, consider it a kindness when the drug works. But Jenny is stuck with damage to her body and a sense of fear and unease that, to her, have no cause. Dr. Alan Forrester, the story’s narrator, is a psychiatrist who eventually treats Jenny and others connected to the rape. The doctor’s approach to the story is professional and clinical, interrupted by his views on psychopharmacology; the book is more case history than thriller (except for certain sequences). Actor Baker has no trouble presenting most of this tale of rape and its aftermath in a voice as bloodlessly objective as the author intended. He does display emotion when necessary—­­such as when depicting Charlotte’s close-minded denial, Tom’s obsession with finding the rapist, and Jenny’s tragic decline as she searches for an explanation her increasing trauma. A St. Martin’s hardcover. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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