If I hadn't already listened to all the previous Vicky Bliss mysteries -- all narrated by the incomparable Barbara Rosenblat -- maybe I wouldn't be grumping over the change of narrators for this one. However, with all apologies and respect due to Grace Conlin, she doesn't have Barbara Rosenblat's acting skill. I agree with the previous reviewer who said that Audible should be offering the Recorded Books version of "Night Train to Memphis," with Barbara Rosenblat narrating, in order to maintain continuity in the series and do justice to Elizabeth Peters' superb writing. To offer just one example of how Ms Rosenblat's version would have surpassed Ms Conlin's version: Ms Rosenblat would have 𝒔𝒖𝙣𝙜 the snatches of country songs quoted in "Night Train to Memphis," rather than merely speaking the lyrics, as Ms Conlin does. "Night Train to Memphis" marks an important turning point in the Vicky Bliss series, in that it moves into Elizabeth Peters' true area of expertise and passion: Egyptology. It also commences a subtle merging of Peters' Vicky Bliss series with her Amelia Peabody series. Vicky even mentions "Amelia Emerson" in this novel. In the following (and final?) novel in this series, "The Laughter of Dead Kings," Peters, herself, makes an appearance, à la Clive Cussler, as the researcher who is unearthing Amelia's journals from Sir John's family manse. (Oops ... I should have shouted, "Spoiler Alert!" before I said that, shouldn't I?) Long story short, "Night Train to Memphis," 𝒆𝒔𝙥𝒆𝙘𝙞𝙖𝙡𝙡𝙮 deserves Barbara Rosenblat's touch. Despite all my grumping about the narrator, however, I still recommend this audiobook to Vicky Bliss fans, assuming that you have listened to all the previous entries in the series, first. You will need to have listened to "Night Train to Memphis" before proceeding to "The Laughter of Dead Kings," the funnest episode of all.
First, I think that I should tell you why you might 𝙣o𝙩 want to purchase "The Skorpion Directive," as this novel will not suit everyone. Don't buy this audiobook if you have not yet listened its Micah Dalton series predecessors -- starting with "The Echelon Vendetta" (2007) -- because you will miss out on the continuity and some of the allusions. Secondly, don't buy this audiobook if you object to right-wing proselytizing. Yes, David Stone has a right-of-center political stance ... but, then, so do Tom Clancy, Patrick Robinson, Stephen Hunter, and most of the other Military Thriller writers. I consider myself to have pretty liberal sensibilities -- and I am sticking to them! -- but I would regret missing out on these writers who, despite their right-wing stances, offer us some pretty exciting stories. Stone, in particular, is not only a good story-teller, but also a surprisingly good writer. Some of his descriptions qualify as poetry ... but he does proselytize:
"Here, at the end of my life, I've come to realize that the only reliable law is the law of unintended consequences. This new administration [referring to the Obama administration], for the most part, is neither stupid nor blindly partisan ... although some of the younger staffers at the White House seem to think it clever to act like junkyard dogs, as if political combat were the same as actual combat. But, then, when the young Turks in any new government aren't prating to their elders, they're preening in their shaving mirrors. They all share the same delusions of adequacy. The previous administration persuaded itself that it had the power to impose a kind of Junior-League Republicanism on murderous tribal theocracies. The new one imagines that it can impose the asinine Marcusian sophistries of Norm Chompsky and the Harvard faculty of humanities on the people of America; as if Socialism had not already been tried many times before, only to collapse in ruins -- frequently very bloody ruins. And God only knows what sort of grotesque ideological calliope the next army of enthusiasts will ride in on, horns blatting and banners ablaze. My consolation is that I'll probably not be around when the wheels fall off again."
In his Micah Dalton series, Stone consistently pursues an agenda: The C.I.A. should be allowed to do its job, unencumbered with liberal fetters. He makes a pretty good case for this agenda, showing through Micah Dalton's tribulations how the C.I.A. agents are hampered by government restrictions. In his Micah Dalton series, Stone has Dalton endure some hair-raising, terrifyingly realistic adventures. Don't buy 𝙖𝙣𝙮 of Stone's Micah Dalton audiobooks if graphic descriptions of violence make you queazy.
The narrator of "The Skorpion Directive," Jason Culp, has a slightly odd voice, but very good acting skills. He has many voices and accents at his command to distinguish all the characters from one another. I would recommend "The Skorpion Directive" to anyone who enjoys the Military Thriller genre, with the above-mentioned caveats.
"Set the Night on Fire" will have special meaning to anyone who came of age in 1960s America. For me, it brought back some fond memories, some embarrassment, and some pride. Ms Hellmann has accurately captured the spirit and idealism of those times. With perfect hindsight, we can now see the rightness of our anti-war activism, and the wrongness of some of our methods. Against the backdrop of this activism, "Set the Night on Fire" (the title refers to the Doors' famous song) tells the story of what some of these 1960s youngsters did to voice their opposition to the Vietnam war, and the repercussions of their actions some forty years later. The text refers frequently to the Celtic Knot, which illustrates the interconnectedness of all things in time and space. What we did back then has a lot to do with what is happening now; and what I do now will have unforeseen consequences for someone that I may not even know. In "Set the Night on Fire," the decisions of '60s activists has unintended consequences for their adult children, one of whom must piece together long-buried evidence to save her own life. Ms Hellmann has skillfully crafted an intricate knot, in which many strands come together to solve the mystery, yielding a satisfying denouement. The narrator, Diane Pirone Gelman, has a lovely voice, and does an adequate job of reading this audiobook, but lacks the repertoire of voices and accents to warrant five stars. I recommend "Set the Night on Fire" to all mystery-lovers, especially those who lived through the amazing 1960s. I will certainly be listening to more of Ms Hellmann's audiobooks.
As with all of Daniel Silva's novels, "The Fallen Angel" tells a fascinating story skillfully. However, this twelfth entry in the Gabriel Allon series differs a bit from its predecessors in a few ways. For one thing, Allon -- now in his 60's, although still fit -- has officially retired from his job as assassin for Israel's Mossad. This time, he serves the story more as a detective than a killer, unearthing a sinister connection between Italy's Mafia and Iran's Hezbollah. Secondly, this episode does not arise from -- nor revolve around -- works of art, as do most of the other Gabriel Allon stories. Rather, it generates two intriguing sub-plots: a deadly financial alliance and an archeological secret. Rest assured, Allon is still working as an art restorer -- which he considers his true occupation -- but this time, when he is called away from his current project to dispatch the bad guys, he does so less with bullets than with brain-power. (I think that you will enjoy his cleverly-orchestrated, perfectly-executed plot to kidnap the Iranian ambassador to Germany.) The title of this novel -- "The Fallen Angel" -- has a dual meaning, referring both to the murder-by-falling that initiates Allon's investigation, and to Allon himself -- named after an arch-angel, but reduced to taking out the trash (of the human variety).
I particularly enjoy Gabriel Allon's perhaps unlikely, but still heart-warming relationship with the Catholic pope in many of Silva's novels, including "The Fallen Angel." Daniel Silva, having converted from Catholicism to Judaism, knows whereof he speaks. He writes with great compassion for both religions, demonstrating his deep knowledge of the history and geo-politics of both worlds. In previous novels he has even shown surprising compassion for the Palestinians, and fair-minded understanding of the Palestine/Israel dilemma. In "The Fallen Angel," the bad guys are definitely the Iranian terrorists, aided and abetted by the Mafia.
Female listeners may notice that, with "The Fallen Angel," Silva's previously semi-mysogynist portrayal of his female characters has begun to evolve toward a more feminist awareness. Yes, he is still calling women "girls," but, in fairness, he frequently calls young men "boys," so I guess that kind of balances the scales, right? With each successive novel, now, Silva's female characters are growing more likable and more admirable. Yay!
George Guidall, as always, does a very good job narrating "The Fallen Angel." He has an engaging, mature voice that he modulates with the skill of a good actor. Despite the fact that he is beginning to develop a slightly choppy style of phrasing, I think that he still deserves five stars. I would recommend "The Fallen Angel" to most thriller-lovers, with the proviso that you should first read its predecessors in sequence, for the greatest enjoyment of this audiobook.
In case you have not yet familiarized yourself with Daniel Silva's amazing oeuvre, you should know this going in: Silva is an author with a mission and a message. In "The English Assassin," he explores the appalling -- and little-known -- role that supposedly-neutral Switzerland played during WWII, aiding and abetting Nazi Germany. Our hero, Gabriel Allon, moves with mastery in both the art world -- as a world-renowned restorer of Old Masters -- and in the espionage world -- as a master assassin. Sound kind of unlikely? Well, yes; but Daniel Silva writes so well that he makes it work: We can suspend disbelief, because we are enjoying the story so much. Most of the episodes in Silva's Gabriel Allon series utilize both of Allon's skills to mutual advantage. In "The English Assassin," Allon uncovers a dirty little secret that "the Swiss financial oligarchy" tries to keep under wraps: the extent to which Switzerland helped Nazi Germany steal and sequester art works from their Jewish owners. (Probably, Swiss listeners should bypass this audiobook.) The general tone and message of "The English Assassin" is well summarized in the following quote from a character known as "The guilty conscience of Switzerland:"
"When you're dealing with Switzerland, Mr. Allon, it's best to keep one thing in mind: Switzerland is not a real country -- it's a business, and it is run like a business. It is a business that is constantly in a defensive posture. It has been that way for 700 years. ... There are people in Switzerland who stand to lose a great deal if the sins of the past are exposed, and the sewers of the Bahnhofstrasse are given the thorough flushing they so desperately need. These people are an invisible government, and are not to be taken lightly. ... If you choose to pursue this matter, I suggest you watch your back: Beware the gnomes of Zurich."
In "The English Assassin," the invisible government referred to in the above quote calls itself The Council of Rütli, and dedicates itself to guarding the illicitly-garnered treasures stolen from doomed Jews during WWII, and hidden in Swiss banks ever since. Gabriel Allon -- Israeli-born son of Holocaust survivors, master art-restorer, and Mossad assassin -- reluctantly gets himself involved in this nest of vipers, nearly to his own demise. One of the previous reviewers understandably wondered about the title of this audiobook -- "The English Assassin" -- since our hero is Israeli, not English, and the eponymous English assassin, Christopher Keller, appears only intermittently as a secondary character in the book. The answer comes eleven years later, in Gabriel Allon's 13th adventure, "The English Girl," where Keller shows up again, this time teaming up with Allon, rather than opposing him. Apparently, Sliva liked the Keller character enough to dust him off for another outing!
I reluctantly docked a star from my rating of narrator John Lee. While he undeniably has one of the most gorgeous voices in all of audiobookdom, and he enunciates beautifully, he doesn't distinguish the characters from one another very well. To me, the ability to individualize the characters with different voices matters a lot in an audiobook, and signifies a good actor, even if that actor doesn't have such a beautiful voice as John Lee's. However, "The English Assassin" otherwise works well as an audiobook thriller, with an albeit dark, serious agenda. I wouldn't recommend to to anybody searching for light listening, nor to Swiss nationals!
Meet Gabriel Allon, reluctant assassin. "The Kill Artist," published in 2000, introduces us to Daniel Silva's popular Gabriel Allon series. Yes, the series gets better as it progresses: "The Kill Artist" is not its best entry. In fact, I think that each entry gets better than the last one, reflecting the growing skill of the author. None-the-less, I still recommend that anyone wishing to listen to the subsequent Gabriel Allon novels should start here, with "The Kill Artist," and then listen to the novels in sequence. The Gabriel Allon character has a lot of complexity, as do the plots of all his adventures. Although Daniel Silva does a good job summarizing all that you need to know for each successive episode, you will still miss out on the richness of this series if you pick it up in the middle. (In fact, I did just that, not knowing any better at the time. Now, I am enjoying going back and listening to the series in the proper order ... and getting so much more out of it than I did the first time 'round.)
Author Daniel Silva is a pretty complex character, himself. Raised in a devoutly Catholic family, he converted to Judaism in adulthood, as a result of his marriage. Now he writes compelling novels about an Israeli Mossad assassin (although, curiously, the Mossad is never mentioned in any of his Gabriel Allon novels -- it is just called "the Office"), in which we learn more than we may have ever wanted to know about the Holocaust, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, international politics, and recent world history. Whether or not these novels suit one's taste in fiction, one cannot deny the deep, penetrating intelligence and profound, cynical knowledge of world events and human nature that emanates from all of Daniel Silva's novels. As some previous reviewers have noted, "The Kill Artist" has some pretty dark aspects to it -- don't buy it for light escape fiction -- but it does offer some intriguing, disturbing, and surprisingly fair-minded insights into current headlines and the human psychology behind them.
George Guidall, as always, does an excellent job narrating "The Kill Artist." He has a lovely, warm, mature voice, that he can adapt into many different characters, including female characters. Although he draws some of his accents from his "generic" bag, he uses a pretty credible French accent for this audiobook.
"The Marching Season" picks up where "The Mark of the Assassin" -- Silva's previous novel -- left off, continuing the story with all the same characters. (I think of them as basically one novel.) So, if you haven't yet listened to "The Mark of the Assassin," I would suggest that you do that first, before beginning "The Marching Season." Although here the ostensible peril shifts from Islamic terrorists to Irish terrorists, we know from the previous novel that the real culprits are to be found in the Society for International Development and Cooperation. This maybe-not-so-fictional league of powerful, wealthy, influential people is secretly pulling the strings, manipulating world events from behind the scenes, "in order to make money and protect their own interests." These movers-and-shakers have discovered that peace does not serve their financial interests as well as conflict. Accordingly, in "The Mark of the Assassin," the Society arranged an Islamic terrorist attack on the United States in order to generate spending for its arms-manufacturing, arms-merchant, mercenary members (sound familiar?). In "The Marching Season," the Society aims to thwart the Good Friday Peace Accord in Northern Ireland, so that the Catholic Republicans and the Protestant Loyalists will continue their centuries-long conflict.
Fans of Silva's subsequent Gabriel Allon series will notice a curious phenomenon in these two earlier novels: Ari Sharon -- director of Israel's Mossad, and secondary hero of the Gabriel Allon series -- is a member of the Society ... and, therefore, one of the bad guys. (The Society, and Sharon's membership in it, is never mentioned again in the Gabriel Allon series; nor is Michael Osborne, hero of both "The Mark of the Assassin" and "The Marching Season," although several of the other characters carry on into the Gabriel Allon series.)
I noticed that some of the previous reviewers of "The Marching Season" objected to Frank Muller's voice and narration. Muller -- who tragically died in 2008 -- did have a unique voice -- not to everyone's taste -- but, if you pay attention, you will begin to appreciate his superlative acting skill. In particular, I truly admire his ability to change voices instantly -- as when one character interrupts another in dialogue. I have never heard another actor accomplish that feat so well. I say, give Muller a chance. We sadly won't be hearing any more from him.
"The Mark of the Assassin," published back in 1998, spookily augured a real event that occurred three years 𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙧: on 09/11/01. Here, Daniel Silva -- in only his second novel -- is already hitting his stride, showing his potential for excellent writing, plotting, and insight. Fans of his popular Gabriel Allon series will see in "The Mark of the Assassin" the emergence of the future Gabriel Allon character -- in the person of Jean-Paul Delaroche, international assassin and accomplished artist -- as well as several other characters that will appear in the Gabriel Allon series: most notably Ari Shamron (director of Israel's Mosad), Adrian Carter (director of the C.I.A.'s Counter-Terrorism Task Force), and Graham Seymour (England's MI6 spymaster). Fans of the 9/11 conspiracy theory will appreciate Silva's Society for International Development and Cooperation -- consisting of "rogue intelligence officers, politicians, arms merchants, mercenaries, drug lords, international crime organizations, and powerful business moguls" -- who secretly engineer a deadly terrorist attack on American soil to enrich their own agendas. Sound familiar? I don't doubt that such an organization may, in fact, exist on this planet, secretly manipulating events that profoundly affect all of us little people to its own ends. (Bilderberg Group, anyone?)
I have just finished listening to Silva's entire oeuvre in chronological order -- from "The Unlikely Spy" to "The English Girl" -- with great enjoyment, appreciating his evolution as an author along the way. In particular, I admire his growing encyclopedic knowledge of international affairs and behind-the-scenes political machinations. Also -- of interest to female listeners -- I have witnessed a subtle, but noticeable, evolution in Silva's feminist awareness. Whereas in Silva's early works -- including "The Mark of the Assassin" -- you will see the female characters portrayed as unlikeable, irritable, shrill, dependent, possessive harridans, in later novels the female characters begin developing into more admirable women. I also appreciate the fact that, although Silva necessarily includes the obligatory sex scenes in his novels, he makes them mercifully brief and un-explicit, more so with each novel.
Regarding the narrator, Christopher Lane, I subtracted a star from his rating, only because of an odd, overly nonchalant inflection that he adopted for the "bad guys" in this audiobook. Otherwise, I liked his reading of "The Mark of the Assassin." He has a nice voice, and distinguishes the characters from one another pretty well.
In summary, I highly recommend "The Mark of the Assassin" to most thriller lovers; although I admit that it may not suit everybody's tastes. In general, if you like your thrillers with intelligent, complex plots, with a bit of gratuitous cynicism, then I think that you will enjoy all of Daniel Silva's novels. By the way: "The Marching Season" -- the novel which immediately follows "The Mark of the Assassin" -- picks up where its predecessor left off, effectively continuing the story. So, if you end up enjoying "The Mark of the Assassin," I would suggest purchasing "The Marching Season" next, in order to hear the rest of the story.
... and I am using the word "terrific" in all of its meanings: "big," "excellent," and "terror-inducing." I would not recommend this book to everybody. However, if you have an intellectual bent, an interest in history, and a fondness for the mystery genre, then you will love "Dissolution." I noticed that some earlier reviewers did not like this audiobook, because it moved too slowly for them. "Dissolution" does, indeed, unfold slowly; so if you are looking for a thriller, you can bypass this one. However, if you have the patience to appreciate a beautifully-crafted, intricate, intriguing mystery, then get ready to clean house, do all your ironing, mending, and laundry, and wash the car -- just so you can keep listening to "Dissolution." In fact, some aspects of this novel -- the history part, the dirt part, the cruelty part, and the dark part -- run completely contrary to my own normal tastes in audiobooks. I generally like thrillers packed with action and humor. Yet still, I could not stop listening to "Dissolution": That shows you how well it is written (all the subsequent novels in the Matthew Shardlake series, as well, by the way). Listening to C. J. Sansom's novels feels like watching a gripping movie that engages all the senses -- including smell, touch, and taste. You will learn more about Tudor England than you probably ever wanted to know, and not regret having done so. The title, "Dissolution," has a dual meaning here, referring both to King Henry VIII's dissolution of the Catholic church in England, and the protagonist's gradual disillusionment with his formerly enthusiastic reformist convictions.
I respond emotionally to all of the Matthew Shardlake novels: I keep wondering, "How could people have behaved so cruelly? How could people have borne all that filth? Are humans today still that awful? Am I a totally innocent naïf? Why do we keep getting ourselves into these terrible situations?" Yes, C. J. Sansom's novels make you think. I don't know if he meant to conjure this parallel, but throughout my listening to the Matthew Shardlake series, the similarity between Henry VIII's reign over England and Joseph Stalin's rule over Soviet Russia keeps occurring to me, particularly in the careless destruction of art. In "Dissolution," Henry VIII has commanded destruction all religious artifacts, regardless of their artistic merit. All religious gold was melted down for Henry's coffers, and all religious architecture was destroyed. We are given the picture of a totally, spoiled, self-absorbed, self-indulgent monarch imposing his will on his helpless subjects.
Steven Crossley, the narrator of "Dissolution" and all the subsequent Matthew Shardlake series, does an excellent job. He has a beautiful voice, very good command of accents, and he usually clearly distinguishes the characters from each other. "Dissolution" marks the beginning of the Matthew Shardlake series, so start here. You will want to listen to the subsequent entries in this series.
Unless you missed out on the Humor Gene, you will love every entry in Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter series -- each one more than the last. If you have not yet listened to an Andy Carpenter novel, and are thinking of purchasing "Unleashed," I would suggest that you first listen to its predecessors, starting with "Open and Shut." Although Rosenfelt does a good job filling in needed backstory with each novel in the Andy Carpenter series, you will miss out on some of the fun if you jump into the middle of the series -- and Andy Carpenter 𝙙𝒆𝙛𝙞𝙣𝒆𝙨 the word "fun." This series loosely falls into the "legal thriller" genre, since Andy Carpenter -- despite all of his hilarious shenanigans -- is, in fact, a brilliant defense attorney; and these novels do feature action heroes, scary predicaments, and bad guys galore. They also feature brilliant courtroom scenes that will both entertain and impress you.
If you love dogs, then Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter series is required reading for you. In fact, 𝙖𝙡𝙡 of Rosenfelt's novels will fall into that category -- particularly his stand-alone novels, in case you lack the Humor Gene, because they have more serious plots, still featuring dogs. Yes, Rosenfelt loves dogs unconditionally, inordinately, and obsessively, including them prominently in all of his novels. In fact, it speaks profoundly to his writing skill that I -- not a dog lover -- love his novels, dogs and all (until he says something bad about cats, that is, which he never does).
If you are a sports-loving couch potato, then Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter series is required reading for you; because brilliant legal genius Andy Carpenter is also a sports-loving couch potato. I hope that no future character in this series forces Andy to choose between football and dogs, because that would put Andy into an untenable situation. (I think that he would choose dogs.) Again, Rosenfelt's excellent writing and plotting skills even overcome 𝙢𝙮 complete ignorance, apathy, and distaste for all spectator sports. I couldn't tell a football from a baseball bat, wouldn't know a sports star if he rode up on a bicycle, and have never owned a television; yet still I love Rosenfelt's novels: That shows how well he writes.
Get it? You can't go wrong with "Unleashed."
Thank goodness for Libby Fischer Hellmann. She loves the study of history so much that she can even enthrall a historiphobe like me. Fans of the historical fiction genre will love "Havana Lost," because of its pitch-perfect depictions of the historical time (spanning the Cuban revolution to the present day); and historiphobes will love "Havana Lost," because of how painlessly -- even, at times, pleasurably -- it teaches us about a significant period of recent history. Even though I, myself, lived through this time period -- as an adult, mind you -- I had little interest in the profound changes that were taking place in Cuba. I learned a lot from listening to "Havana Lost!"
Throughout this novel runs a theme of 𝘳𝒆𝘴o𝘭𝘷𝘦𝘳, a Spanish word meaning something like: "Doing whatever it takes to stay alive." Hellmann does not spare us merciless depictions of the poverty that the Cuban people have been enduring for the past half-century, thanks to a glorious revolution that was supposed to "free" them. As I listened to "Havana Lost," I kept remembering the wonderful 1999 film, "Buena Vista Social Club," in which jazz guitarist Ry Cooder documented the amazing musicians who have emerged from this Cuban crucible. If you have not yet seen this movie, and you are thinking of purchasing "Havana Lost," I recommend that you rent, buy, or borrow "Buena Vista Social Club" -- not only because it will provide you with visual references to the Havana locales depicted in "Havana Lost," but also because it illustrates the truly profound meaning of Cuban 𝘳𝒆𝘴o𝘭𝘷𝘦𝘳. These remarkable musicians have -- against all odds -- pursued their art throughout incredibly difficult lives, despite politics, repression, and poverty. "Havana Lost" does not deal with Cuban music; but it demonstrates the same spirit of perseverance through hard times: 𝘳𝒆𝘴o𝘭𝘷𝘦𝘳.
The narrators of "Havana Lost" do an adequate -- if not stellar -- job of reading "Havana Lost." Although the story lends itself to narration by two actors -- on male and one female -- I think that this book deserved better actors. The male actor -- James C. Lewis -- sounds too old for most the parts that he narrates; and the female actor -- Diane Perone-Gelman -- sounds too young for most of her characters. Neither actor does an outstanding job of distinguishing the characters from one another through voice and accent changes. However, the quality of writing and story-telling overshadow any slight shortcomings in the narration. I recommend "Havana Lost" pretty much unconditionally.
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