Gladys Mitchell's books are always tempting—the synopsis sounds promising, Patience Tomlinson is a lovely narrator—but always a baffling disappointment. Mitchell's heroine, Mrs Bradley, is an unsatisfying detective whose methods are opaque and whose psychology is suspect, as well as extremely outdated. I've fallen for three of these books now and come out of every one irritated. The convoluted mystery plot unravels at a lame snail's pace, the cast is overlarge and undifferentiated, the main characters are dolts, and the entire proceedings are remarkably humorless. Never again, Mitchell, never again.
Good golly, this book is boring. Clancy and Blackwood churn up adventure and take f o r e v e r to tell it. Every t is crossed, every i is double-dotted, events telegraphed and texted and carbon copy sent by carrier pigeon to make sure you get it. Lou Diamond Phillips is a fine narrator, but even he can't do anything with this sloggy mush.
This begins as an interesting inversion of the western formula, with a strong spinster rancher carting four madwomen home to the east. She co-opts a rascally claim-jumper, after saving his life, and the crew sets off. So far, excellent. But Swarthout betrays this promise by abandoning the strong woman (after first negating his own creation by making her turn weak and silly) and switching point of view to the claim-jumper. The four madwomen, whose backstories are painstakingly detailed, are slammed into a box and never speak or act with volition again; they're no longer characters but just Woman 1, 2, 3, 4. I won't do a spoiler, but Swarthout cripples his own book by killing off a vital character in a ridiculous denial of everything the character is about, and then lets the story dwindle off for ages in a diminishing, eternal, and very disappointing denouement. This is not a book for women listeners, especially any who might identify either with a strong self-sufficient woman or a woman who's gone insane after dealing with fate, winter, and idiots.
A charming book from Eva Ibbotson, from her frothier side. "Journey to the River Sea" remains my favourite book of hers, but this is a tranquil, discursive, always interesting look at fashionable life in pre-war Vienna. Especially if you are interesting in fashion, Madensky Square is enjoyable and undemanding, and delightfully stylish.
Give this one a pass. The story is marred by too torture-y a villain, made almost laughable because the narrator Jonathan McClain made the serious error of using a voice exactly like the Austin Powers' villain Dr Evil. The girl is more than usually bland, her character mainly delineated by her extreme thinness, and the romance is anemic. Child must have been tired when he got to this one, and in many passages he simply repeats sentences—at one big reveal, Reacher actually has someone repeat a piece of news (which we've seen coming for about an hour) four times. Four times. Skip to the next, this one was a dud.
These connected stories are amusing, elegantly-written, and engrossing. Michael Gilbert is one of the very best of the Brits, not nearly well enough known. His books encompass every kind of mystery and thriller: these are legal conundrums, far more interesting puzzles than Rumpole ever constructed, and told with cool detachment but no lack of suspense. As story follows story, Jonas Pickett's new life unfolds and complicates and resolves. High recommended—and great re-listening, too.
Michael Gilbert is a brilliant mystery writer, perhaps less known than he ought to be because he did not have a series detective, just a fantastic series of one-off books. The Final Throw is one of his best, starring the rascally Welshman David Morgan and his highly-intelligent beloved in a twisting story of greed and corruption. The reader here, Andrew Timothy, is strangely well-chosen—his is not a dry professional read, but an exuberant impatient attack, complete with page-turning sounds and odd, forgetful pauses; he sometimes even seems half-drunk. But it's a great voice for David Morgan, and for the whole raffish, down-and-out, drink-addled tone of this thriller. Highly recommended, as are all Michael Gilbert's audiobooks.
A decent country-house mystery, written by the poet Cecil Day-Lewis under his Blake pseudonym, but sadly almost ruined by the reader. Dyer's accents are heavy-handed, but it's the Shatner-like inappropriate breath-breaks that really make this a tough listen.
It's not the best of the Nicholas Blake books and you'll solve the mystery early on—but that's not so bad, makes a person feel clever to know the truth before the sleuths do. I hope the publisher continues to produce Blakes, but with a new reader please.
This is far from Crispin's best. Nicely narrated by Philip Bird, who cannot save it from its top-heavy academic preciousness and a case of systemic sexism which I don't remember from Crispin's other books. Every woman is a girl, every girl has a shapely body and an empty head, and even the clever, independent, professional ones secretly long to have someone "make an honest woman" of them. Crispin does not play fair with the clues (the murderer's motive stems from an unrevealed, unguessable foreign life), and Gervase Fen, who in later books like The Moving Toyshop is funny and clever, here suffers from advanced insufferability, and maunders on about how he knows who did it for half the book in a very annoying way. Skip this one (unless you think women are irretrievably venal and silly, in which case you'll be confirmed in your opinion) and listen to the other Gervase Fen books which are much more entertaining.
This is a series of non-fiction vignettes on Chinese life—if you are researching western attitudes to China in the late 19th, early 20th century, perhaps you'll find it useful. But the clichés of thought and action are too embedded and stale to make this book worth listening to. Find Maugham's fiction for a glimpse into his subtle mind and imagination, rather than getting depressed by the lack of understanding here.
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