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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

November 2008

by Jonathan Lowe

John le Carre is known for his spy thrillers, often intricate character studies more focused on motives and inner conflicts than on bombs and chase scenes. In his new novel A MOST WANTED MAN, the paranoia of the post 9/11 world comes into play in a story about a boxer named Melik Oktay who takes in a Russian man claiming to be a Muslim medical student. Melik and his mother, who are Turkish Muslims living in Germany, are unaware that Issa is a wanted terrorist whose mysterious father hides a secret portfolio at a Hamburg bank. When a representative of Issa attempts to claim this portfolio, Tommy Brue enters the picture as an investigator on behalf of a failing British bank. He and an idealistic civil rights lawyer named Annabelle, together with Issa himself, get involved in a love triangle, while the spies of various agencies look to score another bravery medal in the war on terror. This largely cosy mystery is narrated by the author, who can't be faulted for his accent, or anything else, in a believable and understated performance. While readers of many American thrillers may be bored to tears by the lack of intense action sequences (a la Ludlum), this is a more realistic and human approach to the genre. Incidentally, British humor isn't as focused on bathroom and bedroom activities as American humor, either. (Simon & Schuster Audio; 6 hours abridged)
Recall the rash of burglaries perpetrated on Las Vegas casinos circa 2000? Former Miami Herald columnist John Huddy spills open the money bags taken from the armored car heists in detailing how much was taken (and how spent) in STORMING LAS VEGAS. What is most surprising about this true story is the audacity of the robbers, who once planned an assault by stealing a fleet of rental cars in broad daylight, pretending to be a company carrier exchanging models between lots. The heists themselves were often carried out in daylight too, on busy streets with carefully timed and choreographed maneuvers. Las Vegas was just advertising itself as a family-friendly vacation destination when Jose Vigoa arrived in town as a Cuban-born veteran of the Soviet Army. Vigoa and his crew then hit the MGM, The Desert Inn, Mandalay Bay, and even the Bellagio, although it was not as glamorous as Oceans 11 (or 12). Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, who could probably be a gun wielding criminal mastermind himself, the audiobook delves deeply into Vigoa's background as a village raiding commando in the Soviet's Afghan war. (Blackstone Audio; 13 hours unabridged)
Author Philip K. Dick was an imaginative seer who enjoyed playing with alternate realities and perceptions. In his SF novel THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH he explores the subjective nature of reality. In this future age the Earth is hot, but escape to the colonies is not a pleasant alternative, although you could be drafted to go there against your will, in which case you may want to hire someone to help you fool the required psych exam (including, for one enterprising resister, the acquisition of epilepsy). As in another of Dick's stories, made into the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report," pre-cogs exist who can see the future, or at least the possible derivations. However, here most are not cops, but "pre-fash" cogs, meaning they can anticipate what will become fashionable. Enter Palmer Eldritch, who has returned from deep space with a new designer drug that he claims can open one's eyes to the ultimate mysteries, if not immortality itself. Except then we learn that Eldritch is dead. Or is he? Everything is not spelled out here, even in Dick's typically muscular prose, all of which gives the reader a disconcerting yet oddly satisfying sense of the miraculous. Remember the director's cut ending of "Blade Runner," (based on another Dick story), where Harrison Ford's eyes seem to glow in the dark for a second, causing speculation among viewers as to whether he too was an artificial human? Sometimes it's good to leave a few question marks lying around. This new recording of "The Three Stigmata" is by actor and voiceover talent Tom Weiner, whose delivery embraces the ethereal nature of the text while evincing yet another sign (or rather stigmata) that Dick still lives in the imaginations of readers.(Blackstone Audio; 7 1/2 hours unabridged)
Dog lovers, your attention please. Here's a new first novel that Oprah calls a masterpiece. Whether it is or not, one thing is certain: it's definitely worth reading, or listening to. Especially since, on audio, it is narrated by actor Richard Poe, whose appropriateness for the telling is as evident as it was in Poe's rendition of the masterpiece "Independence Day" by Richard Ford, or in Will Patton's reading of "Swan Peak" by James Lee Burke. THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE is set in the backwoods of Wisconsin, where Edgar's family breeds and trains dogs. Edgar, mute from birth, can communicate with the unique breed of intuitive dogs, and in particular one named Almondine. When the menacing Uncle Claude shows up, and Edgar's father dies, Edgar suspects murder, and goes on the run. What happens next is fateful, original, yet not unlike the story this is being compared to: Hamlet. Dogs are actual characters in this novel, on par with the people who inhabit the story, and in moral aspects they are clearly superior. Obviously the same cannot be said of cats, who would probably lick their paws and look around for the dinner bowl right after you've been burned alive in the kind of fire that culminates this epic, by newcomer David Wroblewski. (Recorded Books; 21 hours unabridged)
Highbridge Audio has a deal with Penguin to remaster and repackage some of Stephen King's novels on CD for the first time, including Four Past Midnight (narrated by James Woods, Willem Dafoe, Tim Sample, and Ken Howard), Gerald's Game (narrated by Lindsay Crouse), Delores Claiborne (narrated by Frances Sternhagen), Insomnia (narrated by Eli Wallach), and Needful Things (narrated by King himself). Of these performances, I like Ken Howard's best. As you may recall, THE LIBRARY POLICEMAN was one of the four tales included on Four Past Midnight, one of those stories whose plot at first seems ridiculous, but of course King loves to take a nonsensical idea and turn it into terror, as he did in the story about the "Chattering Teeth." Here the plot involves a middle aged businessman named Sam Peebles, who finds himself holder of some overdue books, and must face a malevolent monster of a librarian. Ken Howard evokes a kind of breathy and subdued creepiness for the policeman, which contrasts nicely with the familiar businessman character represented by Sam. Sam has a memory that will save him, and the story, from an otherwise inevitable designation as camp. As in campfire. (Highbridge Audio; 9 hours unabridged)

2008 Past Columns

David Baldacci / Mar Reviews

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