Ugh. This is a doughy, unsatisfying mess of a story. Sexist, stupid about the north, and packed with mystical drivel. Go listen to Trustee From The Toolroom instead.
The writing is cheesy, but there is something charming about this story. The mystery involves old-timey computers; it's amusingly antique, but never much of a puzzle. The black dragon himself is a great invention, and his zen master/love interest (who has a surprising cousinship with Mrs Pollifax and other middle-aged ladies of American popular novels) has good bones. But the narrator is so bad that this is a hard listen. If nostalgic, maybe better to find the ebook or an old paperback copy and just read it for yourself.
Some of Nevil Shute's best work, including A Town Like Alice, Pied Piper and even Requiem for a Wren, opens our eyes to life in wartime in a quiet, devastating, and remarkably balanced way. But this book, written in the early years of WWII (finished in 1942 but censored until 1945), lacks the balance of hindsight and falls into overheated—literally, since it deals with the development and use of flamethrower guns—semi-propaganda. The narrative device of introducing each officer's backstory in turn is simplistic and unsatisfying, and their suffering, however sad, never seems to equate, for modern listeners, to the glee they take in raining acid death down on every German they can. Nuance is abandoned, not just by a weirdly bloodthirsty French priest, but even by the supposedly-objective narrator. Gruesome and flat, not recommended unless you want a cartoon look at how the English viewed the Germans in 1942.
Or maybe it's just me—I found the relentless human, financial and emotional stupidity of the main character depressing; I'll skip to the end to see what machinations get him out of his entitled, parasitical aristo troubles, but only to settle my mind.
Sadly, these Julia Probyn mysteries are rife with gentle, endemic racism and steeped in very conservative sun-never-sets-on-the-empire political thinking. It's too bad, because they're pretty charming in their own way. Julia is a glorious sleepy blonde who looks too stupid to be of any account, but has a fine, curious mind. She is helpful in a volunteer capacity to British intelligence, in between various small romances. They're mildly funny, in an unexacting way, and tidy travelogues as well—but if you are sensitive to racist characterizations or find the unthinking superiority of the upper classes irritating, these books are not for you.
I've liked the Peter Bowen Montana mysteries for a long time, but these new recordings by Jim Meskimen outdo the old ones by a long long mile. Meskimen 's reading is head and shoulders better than the earlier versions—he allows us to see how good the writing is in these plain prairie tales, complicated by mystical interruptions from the venerable Benetsee. Bowen's humour comes shining through here, and so does the genuine clean air of that Montana landscape. Very highly recommended.
There's always a certain weird charm about Michael Innes's mysteries—they're interior, as well as intellectual. This one is almost entirely interior, but the person we inhabit is a two-bit actor, down on his luck, venal and weak. It's a long time to spend being so closely inside his head. Well read, but for a much more delightful run at this kind of plot (lost heirs, mistaken identities, clergymen with a taste for the occult) try Sweet Danger, by Margery Allingham, a fabulous and often very funny rural-Ruritania romp. (And listen to other Inneses first, the brilliant Appleby ones, like Hamlet, Revenge or Silence Observed.)
This fantasy cycle, which concludes with The Darkest Road (not yet available on Audible, so brace yourself for a wait), is the very best of the genre. The epic battle brewing between Light and Dark is made more bitter by the addition of the Arthurian story, worked out once again here in the first of all the worlds, Fionavar. A magnificent series. But WHERE IS PART THREE!??
The Fionavar trilogy outstrips Lord of the Rings in its own field. This is the most fully-imagined, fully-realized epic in the whole of the genre, and a must-listen for anyone who loves intelligent, spell-binding fantasy. The narration is a bit stiff off the top but soon warms. But WHERE IS PART THREE??? We are hanging on by our fingertips waiting for it.
This is just lovely, a good plain classic mystery beautifully read by Diana Bishop. Let's hope the other twenty or so Miss Silver mysteries follow quickly.
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