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Listen Up!
(August 2002)
By David Pitt

For all you mystery fans, here's a buncha new audiobooks by big names:

Grave Secrets (Simon & Schuster Audio, 5 hrs.) is the new Temperance Brennan thriller from Kathy Reichs, the forensic anthropologist who struck it rich writing novels about a forensic anthropologist. As usual, Reichs mixes adequate storytelling with superior plotting; this time around, our hero is in Guatemala working on a two-decade-old mass grave - until some rather more contemporary crimes capture her attention. Is there a serial killer at work, or is something even more sinister going on? Katherine Borowitz's performance breathes life into the novel's many flat spots - Reichs isn't what you might call a narrative stylist - and the abridgement cuts out some of the novel's unnecessary meanderings.

If you're a big Agatha Christie fan, you'll probably be happy to know that Macmillan Audio Books is releasing several of her novels. Two of them, both with running times of three hours, are Death on the Nile (performed by David Timson) and the lesser-known The Secret of Chimneys (performed by Nigel Anthony). Listening to a Christie novel isn't quite the same as reading one - unlike Reich, Dame Agatha really knew how to turn a phrase - and these genteel, subtle stories come off a little, well, clumsy. But you really can't hurt a Christie story, and if you're a fan I think you'll want to check these tapes out.

Macmillan has also adapted some of the splendid Inspector Morse novels by Colin Dexter, also at three hours. The Wench is Dead and The Daughters of Cain are both narrated by Kevin Whately, who (you fans already know this) plays Sergeant Lewis in the Morse television series. It's purely delightful to hear him playing his own character, as well as the learned Inspector's - one voice, two people, two wonderful audiobooks.

Hard Eight (Audio Renaissance, 3 hrs.) is the latest Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich. The bounty hunter is hot on the trail of a mother and daughter who've vanished; but are they fugitives, or victims of a hideous plot? Performed by Lorelei King, the story moves along smartly, if a little heavy-handedly in places. I'd recommend this one mainly to fans of Evanovich's tough, plain-speaking novels.

Another popular series hero, Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux, returns in James Lee Burke's Jolie Blon's Bounce (Simon & Schuster Audio, 6.5 hrs.). A young girl's been murdered; there is a pretty obvious prime suspect, but ol' Dave suspects things aren't what they seem. Then there's a second victim, and the prime suspect still seems the most likely candidate. Battling a fierce painkiller addiction, Robicheaux struggles to sort out fact from fiction before somebody else winds up dead. Will Patton, who often plays villains and other not-nice people in films and on television (at least it's his baddies who stand out in my mind), performs the story exactly the way it should be performed. Burke's fans oughta love this one.

I wasn't particularly fond of D.W. Buffa's first novel, The Defence, and I'm still not particularly happy with his novels. But the six-hour audio adaptation of The Legacy (Time Warner AudioBooks) is kinda good. When a U.S. senator is gunned down in his own car, and a black man pre-med student is arrested, attorney Joseph Antonelli comes to the accused's defence. Can Antonelli find out who's trying to frame his client in time to keep him out of jail? This is a pretty standard legal thriller - very by-the-numbers - but Mark Feuerstein's excellent performance gives it an air of freshness.

If you re not a big fan of mysteries, well, we ve got a couple of audiobooks for you, too:

Sin Killer (Simon & Schuster Audio, 8 hrs.), by Larry McMurtry, is the first of a new series featuring the Berrybenders, an English family who emigrate to the States in 1830 in search of adventure, wide-open spaces, and prosperity. Instead, they find a country that was not at all what they expected. Like the best of McMurtry's Westerns (he wrote Lonesome Dove, and a hatful of others), Sin Killer is a mixture of comedy and drama featuring an assortment of lively, slightly larger-than-life characters, a story that makes you alternately laugh and gasp. The performance by Alfred Molina (I'm a big fan) is sterling, well worth the price of admission. Combine it with McMurtry's captivating words - the audiobook is unabridged - and you've got a surefire winner.

The House on the Cliff (Listening Library, 3.5 hrs.), by Franklin W. Dixon, is the second Hardy Boys novel, a thrilling adventure in which our heroes investigate the disappearance of their father, who was mixed up with an unoccupied house that some folk say is haunted. Bill Irwin performs the story (it's unabridged, by the way) with gusto; there's none of that wink-wink-nudge-nudge stuff here, no making fun of the story. The audiobook is just as fun, the story just as exciting, as the novel was when we were kids.
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