Oh, well done indeed.
This is a highly compelling and insightfully crafted study of the 1860 murder of three-year-old Savile Kent, the highly publicized investigation led by Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector Whicher, and the subsequent resolution(s) of the case, which all but destroyed the detective while ultimately leaving the (allegedly) guilty party to live a long and productive life. This work is steeped, as it should be, in the intellectual history and cultural mores of the time. I especially applaud Summerscale for the thorough and thought-provoking way she ties the figure of Whicher to the emerging literary character of the detective, as seen in the works of Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others.
I found this to be thoroughly satisfying. The narration is excellent, and I couldn't stop listening. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Victorian era, the history of crime detection, and/or the real-life models behind the great literary detectives.
As a young reader, I read and thoroughly enjoyed some of Avi's novels. I fully expected to love this one.
There's a lot to recommend it: a genuinely baffling mystery with the fate of a young boy and his sister hanging in the balance, plenty of atmospheric settings in one of my very favorite cities (Providence), and a clever tribute to Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, the first great literary detective.
There's even an extended sequence that takes place in St. John's Churchyard and the home of Sarah Helen Whitman. A terrific use of real locations!
What I found disturbing was Avi's portrayal of Poe. I realize Poe was a troubled man - and an opinionated one who was unsparing of others' feelings when, for example, wearing his critic's hat, and at times a petty one, too - but this hopelessly drunken and self-obsessed Poe lacks any trace of the deep well of humanity evident in his fiction. He is thoroughly unlikeable and at times genuinely cruel to the young protagonist Edmund, with whose destitute and lonely plight Poe should have identified and sympathized. He is brilliant when behaving as Dupin, but he lacks even the intellectual engagement to take some delight in his remarkable acts of ratiocination.
In short, if this had been my first introduction to Poe as a young reader, I might have avoided his fiction simply due to his unrelentingly unpleasant portrayal here. Every time the author set up a moment of genuine pathos regarding Poe - which should have been easy, given that Poe appears to be half-mad - he pulled back. This Poe isn't pitiable or wrecked: he's a despicable waste and quite nearly a villain.
The four stories in this collection are competent pastiches of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes works. They lack the extra spark of the best Holmes and Watson interactions, but they are decent enough mysteries. Only one has stayed with me since I listened to the work. Considering the stories alone, I'd call the collection decent at best. There are far better pastiches and Holmesian collections available on Audible.
What makes it worthy listening is the terrific narration by Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock. The voices and accents he uses breathe added life and interest into mediocre stories. (His various British accents are masterful; his brief American accent is unintentionally hilarious.) I therefore recommend this to those who are fans of Mr. Cumberbatch's talents, or who enjoy well-narrated audiobooks, but I wouldn't recommend it on the strength of the prose alone.
I own this story in many forms - included in collections, and as a gorgeous stand-alone illustrated chapbook, and in this format, narrated by Neil Gaiman himself - and it never fails to put a smile on my face. If, first and foremost, you're very much at home among H.P. Lovecraft's stories, and, secondly, you're at least passingly familiar with the comedy of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, this work is an absolute gem. Gaiman offers clever and loving jokes and references to Lovecraft's works (and the occasional nod to Douglas Adams, as well) and weaves them together to create a delightful tale of a clueless Texan, an ill-considered Walking Tour of the British Coastline, and the cheerful hospitality of the local acolytes of Cthulhu. Fantastic. A terrific narration, as well.
As for the preview of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I've pre-ordered the forthcoming full version. That says it all!
Simon Winchester recounts the tale of a collaboration that helped bring life to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): that of the Scottish Professor James Murray, editor of the OED, and one of his most prolific and invaluable volunteer contributors, former U.S. Army surgeon W.C. Minor, who was committed to Broadmoor Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane, after committing murder in London.
Murray, Minor, and their relationship are fascinating subjects, but in telling their story Winchester also detours onto a variety of other compelling topics, as well, from the unique plight of the Irish soldiers who fought for the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War to the evolution of scientific thinking about and treatment for schizophrenia. All paths in this book eventually lead back to the daunting task of creating the first edition of the OED, and Winchester makes his case for why this achievement is worthy of attention and no little awe.
Solidly narrated, this audiobook is both brief and admirably wide-ranging, a treat for lovers of intellectual history.
The Black Country is an able sequel to The Yard. It picks up several months after the events in The Yard and follows London's own Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith as they travel to an isolated mining village in the English Midlands for a brief (and, they hope, routine) investigation of a missing family feared to be the victims of murder.
Alex Grecian's strengths are creating a tangible sense of place and atmosphere - what he accomplished for post-Ripper London in The Yard he manages equally well here for the village of Blackhampton - and attending to characterization in the midst of action. The recurring characters genuinely grow, and the new characters, both primary and secondary, are three-dimensional and compelling. The crime at the heart of the mystery itself is wrenching in the best possible sense, and as in The Yard, there's a dark undercurrent of bleakness and helplessness that strikes just the right chord. Unlike in its predecessor novel, not every loose end is tied in a bow by the story's end, and I found this more authentic ending worked quite well.
What I appreciate most about this novel is how Grecian portrays the clash between the methodical rationality of emerging forensic science and modern investigative technique and legal procedure, represented by Day, Hammersmith, and Dr. Bernard Kingsley, and the evolved blend of superstition, custom, and folkways represented by the villagers of Blankhampton. The reader feels especially for those such as the schoolteacher who are caught in the middle, both educated and reasonable and yet firmly entrenched in "how things have always been done here." Once again, Grecian captures a unique moment in time regarding law enforcement, scientific thought, and emerging modern practice/process quite well.
Unexpected references to the U.S. Civil War and outstanding characterizations of children (in the best Gothic mode, nothing is more shiver-inducing and creepy than a well-portrayed child) make this novel a particular delight.
The narration is masterful.
Huxley's Brave New World stands with Zamyatin's We, Rand's Anthem, Boye's Kallocain, and Orwell's 1984 as one of the great dystopian novels of the early twentieth century. This satirical answer to the utopian works of H.G. Wells and others rewards multiple readings/listenings and continues to be chillingly timely for a contemporary audience.
Set in London in 2540 C.E. (or 632 A.F. – that is, "After Ford," after the enshrinement of mass production), the novel draws a portrait of a society in which people are created, engineered, conditioned, and perpetually drugged to serve the goals of "Community, Identity, Stability." John the Savage, who has lived beyond the bounds of civilization, and the Resident World Controller of Western Europe, His Fordship Mustapha Mond, know the forbidden pleasures of Shakespeare and science, respectively; they are the symbols of what must be sacrificed - individualism, beauty, curiousity, even conscience - for this "perfect" world to survive.
Not only is Brave New World a brutally thoughtful answer to the naivete of the "Age of Utopias," but with Huxley's clever use of names and references (from Marx to Lenin, Freud to Ford, Malthus to Newman), the novel also serves as a cultural literacy test and survey of Western thought.
I highly recommend listening to this moving story (and its contemporaries) every few years. If anything, its message grows more relevant with time.
Michael York's narration is absolutely masterful. It simply couldn't be better.
This is a one-of-a-kind gem I can't recommend highly enough. Surely it's one of dystopian science fiction's best-kept secrets. Imagine an isolated island preserved from world plague by its remote location. Now imagine the inhabitants creating a community based on Plato's REPUBLIC.
What does it mean to be alive? To be an individual? To be a member of a community? To be responsible? Whatever you expect this book will be, it will surprise you. I've listened to this more than once, and yet the twist ending never fails to take my breath away.
Don't be fooled if you see this referred to as a "young adult" novel; it's a perfect listen for thoughtful adults, as well.
We really need more of such books: competent, thorough, readable distillations of the latest scholarship, able historical overviews. I read this as a memory-jogger, and while I encountered nothing new, I was most pleased by how much information was presented, well told and well organized. This provides an excellent introduction (or reminder) of the history of the Shawnees and their unique position as the travelers, bridge-builders, and resisters they were as they negotiated the ever-shifting no man's land between Native America, England, and the colonies/United States. This also provides good insights into how the Shawnees of today became established in their current settings and incarnations. Highly recommended.
The narration makes it clear when direct quotes appear, and I really appreciate that. My main complain against the narration is that George Wilson changes his pronunciation of some of the proper names as he goes along, and this can be jarring/confusing.
This is how it should be done.
Lyndsay Faye spins a tale that immerses the reader in New York City of 1845. The details are rich, well researched, and never superfluous; everything serves the interest of the story, in this case the formation of New York City's first police force. When one of those pioneering "copper stars" accepts the burden of investigating a truly horrific series of murders, he takes a personal and professional journey that shows him the many faces of religious and racial conflict, political corruption, and poverty and vice in his city -- as well as poignant glimpses of true heroism, of the modest kind as well as the mighty.
This story has it all: three-dimensional and compelling characters (of various ages and backgrounds and both genders) with complex relationships, a deep sense of time and place, and an intricate plot that keeps the reader guessing until the end. The conclusion manages to be intensely satisfying while avoiding excessive neatness.
I'll refrain from giving details, because this novel is a gift that should be unwrapped as the author intended. If you're interested in a well-drawn historical novel or a thoughtful mystery or a love letter to a city in the act of growing into itself, warts and all, you should treat yourself to this book.
Steven Boyer's narration is pitch perfect.
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