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The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins, read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-1-61176-373-7

Hawkins’s bestseller introduces us to a young woman named Rachel Watson, whose life has been unspooling in the years since her recent divorce. Though alcoholism and a loss of self-worth have left her jobless, she continues to commute to London by train past her old Victorian, where ex-husband Tom now lives with his new wife, Anna, and their baby girl. She also passes her neighbors Megan and Scott Hipwell, who are, in Rachel’s words, “a perfect, golden couple.” When she learns that Megan has gone missing, Rachel has a vague memory of having been in the neighborhood, inebriated, the night of the disappearance. The novel consists of dated entries in the diaries of Rachel, Anna, and Megan, portrayed in this production by a trio of actresses. All three readers perform admirably, and as the novel speeds toward its breathless whodunit conclusion and the diary entries grow shorter and shorter, it almost seems as if readers Corbett and Fisher, following the leads of their characters Rachel and Anna, are one-upping each other to have the story’s last word. A Riverhead hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mort(e)

Robert Repino, read by Bronson Pinchot. Blackstone Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-4829-9316-5

Reader Pinchot delivers a sterling performance in this mind-bending dystopian tale. Sebastian is a happy, healthy house cat, with a family who feeds him and a loving friendship with Sheba, the dog next door. Meanwhile ant queen Hymenoptera, enraged by the anthropocentrism of humans, develops a race of super ants while releasing a pheromone that causes all animals to become humanlike. Sebastian, now over six feet tall and capable of handling firearms, adopts the name Mort(e) and becomes a ruthless soldier for the revolution, all the while looking for his canine friend, who went missing. Pinchot gives a masterly reading of Repino’s ambitious debut, which quickly develops into an absorbing morality tale. Pinchot’s calm, cool delivery fits perfectly with the world-weary tone of the book. His characters, especially Mort(e), are distinctive, diverse, and believable. He relays the dialogue with a realistic earnestness that belies the fact that it’s transfigured animals doing the talking. Suspenseful, action packed, and thought provoking, this listen is not to be missed. A Soho hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Descent

Tim Johnston, read by Xe Sands and R.C. Bray. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 10 CDs, 11.5 hrs., $36.95 ISBN 978-1-62231-503-1

With his first novel for adults, Johnston focuses on the Courtlands—Grant and Angela, their daughter Caitlin and son Sean—on a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains. They’ve barely arrived when the siblings head off to explore the area. Before long, Sean is discovered by the side of a road, badly injured... and alone. His 18-year-old sister, Caitlin, has been kidnapped by a disturbed woodsman who keeps her chained in his isolated mountain cabin. As the months go by, Grant and Angela’s initially fragile marriage breaks apart while the teenage Sean matures into a troubled adult. Johnston’s chapters hop from one Courtland to the other, occasionally skipping around in time. Such abrupt shifts can seem particularly confusing in an audio production, which is probably why two narrators were used. Sands, with her distinctive, natural delivery, quickly identifies the chapters devoted to daughter and mother, distinguishing them by using a firmer, depressed delivery for the suicide-prone Angela and a spacey, helpless natter for Caitlin. Sands also captures an infuriatingly patronizing passive-aggressiveness for Caitlin’s captor. Bray is responsible for a larger portion of the book, giving voice to the chapters featuring Grant and Sean, as well as a few told from the point of view of the sheriff and his younger brother, Billy. He gives Grant a rugged timbre, whereas Sean sounds more like a drifter who feels responsible for his sister’s misfortune. Bray’s sheriff is a hard man doing a tough job, while Billy is sly, brash, and arrogant, an obvious troublemaker who slowly becomes integral to this intriguing study of a tragedy’s aftermath. An Algonquin hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Almost Famous Women

Megan Mayhew Bergman, read by Lesa Lockford. Dreamscape Media, unabridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs., $29.99 ISBN 978-1-63379-457-3

This collection of short stories takes actual women from history and weaves imaginative narratives around them. All of these characters are historical figures “lost to popular memory”—conjoined twins who aspire to show business, a painter who has not put hand to canvas in 40 years, and survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp whose jutting clavicles and hollow eyes are known in haunting photographs. The scope of the book is ambitious, with multiple settings and secondary characters serving as narrators; as a result, the stories in the audio edition are increasingly hard to differentiate. Reader Lockford does a fine job with the range of emotions, from wry detachment to despair to joy. However, she is less skilled at the many accents required by this diverse collection, whose stories require fluidity with German, Kenyan, Eastern European, Bahamian, and many other inflections. Most of these accents do not sound natural or believable. A Scribner hardcover. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night

Adapted by Matt Pelfrey, performed by full cast. L.A. Theatre Works, , 2 CDs, 2 hrs., $29.95 ISBN 978-1-58081-972-5

Novelist Ball’s racially charged 1965 whodunit features a brilliant black homicide detective from Southern California named Virgil Tibbs who’s forced by circumstance to help a racist white police chief solve a murder in a small Southern town. Fans who remember the 1968 Oscar-winning movie may be surprised by several elements of this version of the novel, including a murderer who doesn’t appear in either the screen version or the book itself—but that does not diminish this fast-paced, splendidly performed entertainment. Led by Ryan Vincent Anderson as Tibbs and James Morrison as the police chief, the ensemble, under the direction of Brian Kite, gives Ball’s story an engrossing audio presentation reminiscent of the days when radio drama was in its prime. More than just a satisfying detective story, the production effectively conveys the mood of simmering hostility that existed in smalltown America during the Civil Rights Movement. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Get in Trouble

Kelly Link, read by a full cast. Random House Audio, unabridged, 8 CDs, 10 hrs., $40 ISBN 978-0-553-39954-7

Link’s haunting collection of short stories trades in both the familiar and the macabre, creating worlds in which ghosts are accepted, space travel is a given, and superheroes are all too real. There isn’t a bad performance by any of the nine actors here, though three stand out more than others. Kirby Heyborne’s rendition of the melancholy tale “I Can See Right Through You,” in which he portrays an aging movie star who pines for his glory days, is poignant. Heyborne brings some needed humanity to “the demon lover,” another character in the same story, who is more complex and perhaps sinister than is immediately apparent. Another top-notch performance is by Susan Duerden in “Two Houses,” a futuristic story about a space crew awakened from cryogenic sleep for a celebration that takes a dark turn. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the breathy nature of Duerden’s performance, which sometimes descends to a mere whisper, is no accident but a spot-on character decision. Finally, the childlike voice of Ish Klein shines perfectly in “The New Boyfriend,” in which one teen girl is jealous of her friend’s newest robot boyfriend. A Random hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Before He Finds Her

Michael Kardos, read by Julia Whelan. HighBridge Audio, , unabridged, 9 CDs, 10.5 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-62231-592-5

Meg Miller, the teenage heroine of Kardos’s thriller, has been hiding under the name Melanie Denison for the decade and a half since her father, Ramsey Miller, murdered her mother, tried to kill her, and disappeared. Weary of living in terror, she runs away from her overprotective guardians in the hope of finding and confronting her father and her fear. The story alternates between Meg’s present-day search for information in Silver Bay, N.J., where the crime was committed, and the events in Ramsey Miller’s life leading up to the night of the murder. This leaves reader Whelan the task of constantly shifting from the voice and sensibility of a bright young woman on a dangerous quest, to a gruff young man with a Jersey accent who is putting himself through lifestyle changes. Both characters are brought strikingly to life, and as Kardos’s engrossing novel introduces a series of intriguing characters—including Meg’s aging hippie stepparents, a smarmy TV network weatherman, and a shrewd, unemotional police detective—Whelan takes each in stride. A Mysterious hardcover. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/21/2015 | Details & Permalink

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