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Natchez Burning

Greg Iles, read by David Ledoux. Harper Audio, , 30 CDs, 36 hrs., unabridged, $65.99 ISBN 978-0-06-233186-1

Theater and film actor Ledoux is given a full vocal workout in this ambitious novel set in the apparently still (as of 2005) Ku Klux Klan–infested state of Mississippi. The book spans several decades of Klan villainy, from torture and murder in the 1960s to more recent homicides prompted by the return of a witness. Ledoux delivers Isles’s rich, eventful story in properly dramatic style, underlining its many suspenseful moments while capturing the book’s atmospheric trappings and the voices of its large cast—from homicidal racists to African-Americans, fearful and proud—with effective accents that are subtle rather than stereotypical. But the author’s major achievement is his handling of the chapters narrated in present tense by Penn, the humane and honorable mayor. Ledoux captures Penn’s increasing desperation as his efforts to save his father, his relationship, and his city fail, adding a touch of mental anguish as the mayor struggles to decide if his search for justice is worth it. A Morrow hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Marathon Conspiracy

Gary Corby, read by Erik Davies. Dreamscape Media, , 11 CDs, 13 hrs., unabridged, $59.99 ISBN 978-1-62923-560-8

Corby’s fourth novel set in Ancient Greece finds Athens inquiry agent Nicolaos investigating two murders—the 30-year-old death of the democratic city’s final dictator, Hippias, and the recent, savage mauling of a teenage girl who discovered the skeleton of the hated tyrant in a cave. Actor Davies provides the 21-year-old Nico, the book’s narrator, with a voice that’s smart and glib, with more than a hint of youthful sarcasm. His partner in life and criminal investigation, Diotima, sounds spirited and every bit his equal in intelligence and confidence. The other characters, which are also given on-the-mark interpretations by Davies, include fast-talking politicians eager to profit in the upcoming elections, and an assortment of priestesses at the murdered girl’s school. There’s also a bloviating used-donkey-cart salesman whose voice is as much a testament to Corby’s playful view of ancient Athens as it is to Davies’s talent for narration. A Soho Crime hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Magnificent Vibration

Rick Springfield, read by the author. S&S Audio, , unabridged, eight CDs, 9 hrs., $34.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7049-4

On the verge of committing suicide, Horatio Cotton finds God’s phone number in a self-help book entitled Magnificent Vibration and proceeds to call the “S.O.B.” (Supreme Omnipotent Being). The decision sends him on an adventure that involves him confronting his boss, getting over his extremely unfaithful ex-wife, meeting the Loch Ness monster, falling in love, and deciding whether or not to destroy mankind. Springfield does an excellent job with narrating in a distinct voice that isn’t perfectly clear, but that fits well with the book’s overall tone. He provides rich singular voices for his main characters and a great narrative voice that keeps listeners engaged throughout this comedic tale. On rare occasions, sound effects add color the story (a phone ringing and a contorted voice of God on the phone), but these scarce occasions seem out of place with the rest of the production. A Touchstone hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I Am Pilgrim

Terry Hayes, read by Christopher Ragland. S&S Audio, , 19 CDs, 22 hrs., unabridged, $49.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-6944-3

Screenwriter Hayes’s action-packed debut thriller introduces Scott Murdoch, a burnt-out, upper-echelon spy known as Pilgrim, who is drawn out of retirement when a Middle Eastern terrorist launches a devastating biological attack on the U.S. The voice that British-trained American actor Ragland uses is, on first hearing, surprisingly soft and youthful for a brilliant, world-weary ex-agent. But as the story progresses on a twisty, neatly crafted journey from the U.S. to Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and, eventually, Turkey, this almost-nerdy narration develops a harder, determined edge. There is a particularly grueling, gruesome sequence in which Murdoch is battered, beaten, and waterboarded, nearly to death. Ragland turns the spy’s very human reaction to the torture into a performance piece. An Atria/Emily Bestler hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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High Crime Area

Joyce Carol Oates, read by multiple narrators. HighBridge Audio, , six CDs, 7 hrs., unabridged, $29.95 ISBN 978-1-62231-464-5

Each of the six performers chosen to narrate Oates’s collection of dark character studies suits the atmosphere of malaise and despair that emerges from the author’s odd, elegant prose. Ray Chase starts the collection by portraying an orderly at a facility for the elderly in “The Home at Craigmillnar,” with a dispassionate voice as the character describes the discovery of the body of an aged, unloved nun. Chris Patton provides a tense, anxious history of the child in “Demon,” who has suffered most of his young life, while Tamara Marston employs a plaintive yearning in “Lorelei,” in which the title character searches for a touch of humanity in the subways of New York. Donna Pastel uses a dry and mildly distracted approach for “High,” in which a middle-aged widow tries to cope with the loss of her husband, first with marijuana, then by courting danger. Whelan shifts from determined to dreamy in “The Rescuer,” as the promising grad student who travels to Trenton, N.J., to save her brother from a druggy vortex, only to find herself slipping in. Finally, reader Luci Christian finds the perfect hardboiled teenager voice for the 13-year-old narrator of “Toad-Baby,” a grim, not-quite-nuclear family tale that, surprisingly for Oates, ends with more than a hint of hope. A Mysterious hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Confabulist

Steven Galloway, read by Jason Culp. Dreamscape Media, , unabridged, library exclusive, eight CDs, 9.5 hrs. $59.99 ISBN 978-1-62923-638-4

“I didn’t just kill Harry Houdini. I killed him twice,” asserts Martin Strauss, the protagonist of Galloway’s latest novel. Strauss suffers from a rare and worsening condition that causes him to produce false memories and that will eventually consume his entire mind. The narrative blends the facts of Houdini’s life into a fictional tale that is filled with fascinating tidbits about the escape artist and that also provides an exhilarating story told from the perspective of a truly unreliable narrator. Culp reads the story with a fantastically hypnotic voice that is low and has a slight rasp to it, which can easily pull in listeners and keep them enthralled throughout the book. He also provides a distinct range of voices for the male characters. His female voices are not as successful, but Culp nevertheless manages to distinguish them from the narrative text and the other characters in each scene. A Riverhead hardcover. (May)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Three

Sarah Lotz, read by Andrew Wincott and Melanie McHugh. Hachette Audio, , 11 CDs, 14 hrs., unabridged, $30 ISBN 978-1-4789-5226-8

In Lotz’s debut as a solo novelist, four commuter planes crash nearly simultaneously on different continents, with three children as the only survivors. The international consequences of these tragedies are the subject of a book within the book. Edited by a reporter named Elspeth Martins, it is comprised of media excerpts, interviews, audio clips, debates, speeches, diary sections, and other informative scraps and pieces, many of them involving conspiracy theories. The highly inventive, cleverly satiric, and frequently chilling results provide readers Wincott and McHugh with an actor’s showcase of roles. Among them are a righteous Bible-thumper preaching that the end is nigh, a Brooklyn-accented grandmother of one of the survivors, a Japanese witness to the crash, and a gruff, duplicitous old Southern blogger, along with the intrepid, brittle-voiced Martins, with her final jaw-dropping interview with one of the eponymous Three. The performances add up to a mesmerizing audio production. A Little, Brown hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Iron Man: Extremis

Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, read by a full cast. GraphicAudio, , five CDs, 5 hrs., $19.99 ISBN 978-1-62851-068-3

In this audio adaptation of the graphic novel by Ellis and Granov, Tony Stark, the man behind Iron Man, seeks balance in his chaotic world. He wants to get away from his work running an international arms manufacturer but is unsure of the effects this move will have on him, his corporation, and Iron Man. When an old friend reveals that a potent new virus is in the hands of a terrorist, Stark—and Iron Man—must fight a man who is programmed to quickly evolve in response to threats. The audio edition delivers an aurally charged adventure that listeners will thoroughly enjoy. Richard Rohan, who directed the production, leads the narration with a strong and deep voice that demands attention and provides the right pitch and momentum as the battle scenes are executed, but Richard Cutting steals the show with his performance of Stark. His tone, timing, and execution have all the swagger, style, and charisma of the many portrayals of the character in other media. Fans of Iron Man comics and movies should not overlook this production. A Marvel hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Man from Berlin

Luke McCallin, read by John Lee. Tantor Audio, , 12 CDs, 14 hrs., unabridged, $49.99 ISBN 978-1-4945-0232-4

McCallin’s debut novel takes place in 1943 Sarajevo, a city that, in the midst of WWII, is ethnically, religiously, and politically divided. German military intelligence officer Capt. Gregor Reinhardt is assigned the thankless task of partnering with a thuggish local policeman on a hurried investigation into the murders of a well-connected beautiful Yugoslavian activist/filmmaker and another German officer. McCallin’s plot is engaging, involving multiple intrigues, deceits, and trickery. But it’s his internally conflicted protagonist that distinguishes the novel. Veteran narrator Lee provides the large cast of characters with an apparently endless variety of German and Serbo-Croatian speech patterns, all dramatically animated. But he takes special care to enrich Reinhardt’s accented speech with an initial disinterested weariness that eventually hardens into a resolve that justice must be served. Along the way, there are subtle touches—a hint of whimsy when the captain recalls the pleasure of dancing with the vibrant filmmaker, and, later, a breathlessness prompted by the fear that the investigation may be taken away from him. No chance. A Berkley paperback. (June)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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FaceOff

Edited by David Baldacci, read by multiple narrators. S&S Audio, , 10 CDs, 11 hrs., unabridged, $39.99 ISBN 978-1-4423-7004-3

This anthology, in which members of the International Thriller Writers society double up on 11 short mysteries featuring their famous protagonists in tandem, is both gimmicky and intriguing—and surprisingly testosterone-soaked. All but two of the tales feature male bonding. Dennis Boutsikaris’s tough, verging-on-cynical voice stands in for the lion’s share of the protagonists, including Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme and John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport, in the longest, and most entertaining, entry, “Rhymes with Prey.” Narrator Dylan Baker scores with two fantasy-mystery duets, adding Southern-tinged sarcasm to “Infernal Night,” in which F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack and Heather Graham’s Michael Quinn meet in a New Orleans cemetery, then using a suspenseful whisper for “Gaslighted,” a nightmarish thriller with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Aloysius Pendergast and Slappy, R.L. Stine’s ventriloquist’s dummy—by far the anthology’s oddest coupling. Narrator January LaVoy easily handles the women protagonists; she adds a thick Boston accent to Det. D.D. Warren and a brittle, energetic pacing for a N.Y.C. prosecutor. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (June)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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