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By Jonathan Lowe

March 2012

by Jonathan Lowe

You begin to wonder just how bad the situation is in Afghanistan with the Taliban after hearing the well researched fictional suspense thriller THE SHADOW PATROL by Alex Berenson. Is the U.S. military somehow connected to a drug trafficking operation there? Is the CIA really as ineffective as it seems? Berenson's character John Wells is sent to investigate the situation after a trusted Jordanian doctor turns out to be a double agent and blows himself up, along with some of the station's senior officers. The culpability of an American falls under scrutiny in this novel (one of over 800) narrated by veteran reader George Guidall. As usual, Guidall is superb in guiding the narrative forward, keeping the listener engaged, and disappearing behind the story with a low key but effective tone.

In BOND GIRL by Erin Duffy a female Wall Street bond trader goes to work at Cromwell Pierce, with a dreaded boss similar to the one in The Devil Wears Prada. The theme of this chick-lit novel is 'men are jerks,' or 'can't live with'em, can't live without'em.' The theme is softened a bit, later on, but despite the author's claim that she wanted to portray the industry as something other than one populated by greedy pricks, she sets off by establishing that from the beginning. There is much humor here, though, and it's filled with quirky characters, most of whom are one-and-a-half dimensional. Narrator Robin Gwyne gives an exuberant performance, sounding much like a twenty-ish college student with juicy gossip to share. The first person confessional tone to it rings true, just remember to bring your bubble gum while listening on your shopping trip to Macy's.

Joanna Catherine Scott penned a post Civil War historical novel titled CHILD OF THE SOUTH that is a sequel to "The Road from Chapel Hill." The book centers on Eugenia May Spotswood, who returns home to North Carolina to search of her birth mother, and to pick up the pieces of her life. Tension between freed slaves and those who oppose reconstruction, together with Eugenia's relationship with her senator/benefactor, supply the backdrop for this portrait of the South, when education and medical attention were needed as much as carpentry and bricklaying skills. There are racial and social devisions to be set aside if any progress can be made, and romance also enters the story, which is narrated with theatrical effect by Karen White. While it could have been easier to simply read the book with a straightforward, low key narration, White has chosen to dazzle us with a fully sustained interpretation of character voices, making it seem almost as though listening to a radio drama. Even the point of view character never steps out of character in her breathy summation of events, making this more of an audio movie than a dry recitation of the narrative. Effective and different.

What do you get when you add a rich man's bet over a lake monster to a fake cruise ship doctor's attempt to evade murderous mobsters and a deranged lady paleontologist? WILD THING by Josh Bazell is narrated by Robert Petkoff, who lends to the satirical and street wise text an air of cynical bravura. This is an offbeat, (sometimes goofy, sometime dense) novel that attempts to be both fiction and non-fiction, interposing a wide variety of topics while balancing itself across a tightrope of plot conventions. The balancing act of obscenity-heavy situation comedy versus science-versus-religion argument is successfully maintained by Petkoff until the end, where an political appendix is added, narrated by Stephanie Wolfe. At this point I imagine most conservative Republicans will be running for the exit and holding their ears.

Finally, in DISTRUST THAT PARTICULAR FLAVOR science fiction author William Gibson weaves techno-poetry into concise analyses of pop cultural transformations to plumb the zeitgeist of the early 21st Century. These essays, taken from various sources, offer surprises of reasoning and prediction for the future of media, society, and technology. Narrator Robertson Dean is likewise precise and engaging in rendering a suitably appropriate tone to the discussions.

2012 Past Columns