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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

November 2007

by Jonathan Lowe

First up this month is longtime radio dramatist Garrison Keillor, among the funniest men I've ever interviewed. Heard nationwide by travelers everywhere, this host of the Prairie Home Companion possesses the gift of creating--spontaneously--characters who possess all the eccentricities inherent in Scandinavian immigrants and depressed, old school Lutherans. His latest, PONTOON, is a novel of just such inventions, born of rigorous observation and a nostalgia for small town America. But you need a framework for such rambling humor, so here the town of Lake Wobegon is planning a wedding that includes a flying Elvis and a pontoon boat (symbolic for newlyweds "about to take a journey.") To spice up the proceedings, a delegation of "renegade Lutheran pastors" have arrived from Denmark. and while one old biddy is preparing to die, her daughter is more interested in having a dalliance at the Romero Motel. Often compared to Mark Twain, Keillor also reads the novel, which is more like a series of vignettes--wry, ironic, and full of calculated surprise. His now legendary voice drifts, sometimes wearily, among all these shipwrecked souls like a pilot out of life preservers. And yet there is empathy and identity here, rather than pity, and so in his own way Garrison points out that any victims among the residents are floating in a pond, not an ocean. Chronicling their innocent insanity with long practiced timing, Keillor ultimately reveals how invisible we can be to each other--and to ourselves. (Highbridge Audio; 8 hours unabridged) AMAZON

Lorna Landvik is author of a bestseller with the offbeat title "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons." Her new novel THE VIEW FROM MOUNT JOY is not quite as eccentric, but as read by the ideally matched Robertson Dean, is more universal and therefore endearing. The story follows Joe Anderson, a teen hockey player who grows up to be a town grocer, while the girl he lusted for in high school moves on to become rich and famous. Joe has settled down and settled in, yet he still yearns for what might have been with the seductive Kristi Casey. . . until Kristi returns to town one day, and Joe realizes that his own life is the more meaningful. It's an old story with a modern retelling, and yet somehow, either by chance (or by what I hope is deliberate choice), the teller of the tale has been picked for his ability to elevate and enliven the text with his unusually sensitive yet self-assured delivery. (Random House Audio; 5 hours abridged) AMAZON

Next, Dick Francis is up for yet another horse racing linked mystery titled DEAD HEAT, written with his son, about a restauranteur named Max Moreton, whose latest catering job goes awry when undercooked kidney beans cause illness, and threaten his next job--an exclusive luncheon for guests at a high stakes horse race. When that race is terrorized by a bombing, Max's complications multiply, and lead to an investigation involving the transport of drugs inside the wombs of mares. The story moves slowly, as most "cosy" English mysteries do, but the benefit of moving slowly is that one has time to notice the scenery. Helping with that is narrator Martin Jarvis, whose inimitable poise and inflection give the tale a stately and refined aura. Jarvis is not only a character actor in Hollywood, after all, but is also invested with the Order of the British Empire for his services to drama. (Penguin Audio; 10 hours unabridged) AMAZON

Can anyone fault DUNE, one of the most beloved classics of science fiction? True, there have been other performances than the current 2007 release from Audio Renaissance. Imitators of the original story have been many as well--both in film and on TV. So is there anything to criticize in this latest production, whose audio values include the talents of narrators Simon Vance, Scott Brick, Euan Morton and Orlagh Cassidy, among others? Not really. Particularly intriguing is the occasional introduction of quotes, offset by moody music, that punctuate the production. Although I still puzzle on Frank Herbert's choice of the names "Paul" and "Jessica" and "Duncan," and his borrowing of Shakespearean entanglements and ambience, yet if you're going to borrow from anyone for a epic story, who better than the Immortal Bard of Avon? Certainly Star Wars borrowed from Dune, as its more modern influence. As you may know, the continuing saga of Dune neither starts nor ends with Paul Atreides as the Muad'Dib duke who commands the sand worms of Arrakis, and although the star of the movie version is now acting on "Desperate Housewives," the award winning original novel--if not the entire series on audio--will outlive any shallow television series. As true literature usually does. (Audio Renaissance; 22 hours unabridged)

Finally, C. J. Box has penned an unusual mystery in FREE FIRE, about a lawyer who kills four environmental activists in Yellowstone National Park, then walks away on a technicality involving a slice of land where the murders occurred--a "free fire zone" of overlapping jurisdictions, where a jury cannot be found since no one lives there. When public outcry begins to burn his ears, the governor hires former game warden Joe Pickett to investigate, and the solution to the how and why of the crime involves investigating Yellowstone itself. Narrator here is actor David Chandler, whose straightforward approach rings true as a documentary-like unfolding of the story. At times you feel like John Wayne is narrating, without the accent. Luckily, the tale is not unbefitting for John Wayne, so a reader the likes of mystery specialist Richard Ferrone isn't required. (Recorded Books; 10 3/4 hours unabridged) AMAZON

2007 Past Columns


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