A good, solid story. As usual, Marsh here excels at defining her characters. An interesting variation of the snowbound-with-a-murderer scenario. However, be warned: do NOT listen to this book before reading/listening to "Overture to Death". In the author's world, "Death and the Dancing Footman" takes place a few years later than "Overture to Death" and characters make references to events in the earlier case that could spoil your enjoyment.
Let me start by saying that when purchased a couple of years ago, my oldest daughter was just a little younger than Sadie (the female protagonist). A voracious reader, she'd never been interested in trying the Percy books (because "only the boys" read those). I picked up "The Red Pyramid" thinking I'd listen to it myself, if nothing else, but both my daughters were hooked on this series within five minutes of the audiobook starting.
If you have daughters, or both daughters and sons, I would go so far as to recommend making this your first Rick Riordan book. My daughters were able to relate to Sadie, and enjoy Carter, in a way they haven't been able to relate to Percy. (My younger daughter even insisted on dressing like Bast for a costume party.)
I've since gone back and listened to the Percy Jackson series, and in my opinion the Kane Chronicles books show just how much Rick Riordan has honed his craft over the years. The Kane Chronicles are funnier than the original Percy Jackson series, for one thing, and the Egyptian mythological characters come off as being a good deal more likable than the Greek. (To be fair, this is partly due to cultural differences--- Riordan portrays both Greek and Egyptian mythology in terms that are pretty consistent with the tales that have been passed down through history.)
The readers of this series truly add to the work. While it is slightly confusing for the first two or three chapters to hear different voices for the same characters, after that the performances really gel in one's mind. Because the story's structure alternates between Sadie's and Carter's points of view (and the tales are supposedly transcripts of audiotapes!), I believe the use of two readers was the right solution here. Kevin Free and Katherine Kellgren are a joy to listen to!
Apparently this book was also published under the title "Wicked Uncle" and shows up under Audible's Miss Silver series list under that title (as "unavailable"). The series list should be corrected to reflect that.
In terms of the audiobook itself, Diana Bishop does her usual competent job of narration. I do get a little bored with her lack of variety for minor characters at times. After listening to most of the titles, I keep hearing the same four or five voices trotted out, but this is a minor complaint.
The author has done a particularly good job of creating characters you love to hate in this book. In fact, I almost stopped listening after the first 30 minutes because I was so irritated by the characters and scenario! However, I gritted my teeth and by the end of the first hour we were into the mystery proper and I was hooked. I must say I've never been quite so happy to see the victim offed.
In my personal opinion, Patricia Wentworth is not as strong a novelist as the first-rank Birtish mystery writers of the early-middle 20th century, but she's quite competent. In fact, given that she was a full generation older than some of those contemporaries (Wentworth was born in the 1870s), she has a surprisingly modern style.
This is an early and possibly the most poorly written of all Agatha Christie's works. Poirot lacks much of his later polish, and the dialogue of the primarily French cast of characters is uniformly dreadful. The plot setup and resolution feel weak. Overall, my impression of the work was that Dame Christie wrote the book simply in order to write Captain Hastings out of her Poirot novels (though she brings him back some years later). Hugh Fraser does a competent reading of substandard material.
It's best to explain what this book (really 3 short stories/novellas) is -not-, before discussing what it is. As my review title states, don't buy this if what you really want is a Clive Cussler-style space-diving, treasure-hunting adventure. You won't be satisfied at all. The story wasn't a bit what I expected either, but I ended up liking it for the character study it is.
The book's title is somewhat allegorical. The ultimate "Wreck" you end up diving into is actually the protagonist herself, who is revealed slowly (sometimes maddeningly slowly) through the forced first-person perspective. It's a bit claustrophobic at times (I too ended up wanting to be viewing the action from outside Boss's head, knowing I was missing something by being limited to her knowledge, her perspective)--- but that's also what wreck diving is: an exploration of the unknown and potentially dangerous within extremely cramped quarters.
It took me about 15 minutes to warm up to the narrator, but afterwards her cadences actually seemed to be a good match for the words themselves.
I'd prefer to give this a 3.5, but I'll round up to a 4 because, after listening to the entire book, I'm intrigued enough to look out for the next book in the series. I felt almost as if this entire book was mere backstory for the "real" adventures to come, and I'll enjoy learning if this impression is correct.
I am a big Marsh fan, and ordinarily I'd recommend beginning with the first book in any series. This book, however, is an exception. If you have never read any Ngaio Marsh, I beg that you NOT start with "A Man Lay Dead"--- unless you are a devotee of the E. Phipps Oppenheim school of writing. This book is all too clearly a first novel. Begin with "Death in a White Tie" instead, then return to this book when you have a better feel for the author's detective and can enjoy it purely for its role in the filling in of some early details of Miss Marsh's characters.
The narrator is excellent, but there is only so much a narrator can do to overcome the limitations of the material.
Flo Gibson has a gravelly voice that might be just the ticket for the aged woman-of-the-world of "Moll Flanders", but does not suit "Persuasion" at all. Recorded Books can usually be relied upon to match the right narrator to a book; this was a rare serious blunder. The novel is wonderful, just try a different version.
It's not awful. I'd like it much better with Prunella Scales narrating; Norma West's rendering of Mapp's voice, in particular, seemed to me completely unlike E.F. Benson's descriptions of the character and her voice in earlier books.
Certain plot points seem as if Tom Holt might have been channeling Mr. Benson's ghost, others seem slightly less authentic, but a solid effort at that most difficult task, writing in another author's voice. I don't regret the purchase.
I can't think of a better tale to listen to while standing in long post office or shipping company lines, being bogged down in holiday traffic, or just generally feeling a bit Grinchy. Wickedly funny, unexpectedly moving in a few spots, always thought-provoking and never sickly sweet, "Hogfather" is a post-Thanksgiving must-read for me. You don't even have to keep Christmas to enjoy it.
I happen to enjoy the series very much, but it certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea. I will say that if you've ever read the print versions, the timbre and cadence of Patrick Tull's voice will seem the perfect choice. He captures the essence of Maturin in particular.
If you've never read any of the books, asking yourself the following question may be helpful in choosing whether or not to purchase this audiobook. (And by all means, use the "Hear Sample" feature to check out the narrator's voice!)
"Do I enjoy the following authors/series: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, C. S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower), Sharpe's Rifles series, William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Johan Wyss, Jules Verne?"
If you can answer "Yes" to at least two, O'Brian could be right up your alley.
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