"Worthy sequel to Wolf Hall"
Mantel has produced another masterpiece. I didn't find it quite as satisfactory as Wolf Hall but even so I cannot give it less than 5 stars.
Her command of the period and the ability to make the reader feel they are in the room and know the characters are in my view matchless. This book is more tightly written than Wolf Hall, it is less shadowy and more focused on plot. I must admit I rather missed the dream-like quality and the flights of fancy from Wolf Hall but it is nevertheless a great listen.
One small thing rather bothered me though. Mantel, perhaps stung by some of the criticism of Wolf Hall from readers who didn't know which "he" was being referred to has peppered this book with "He, Cromwell..." etc. I found it a little intrusive, perhaps because I didn't find the references in Wolf Hall caused me any problems.
Simon Vance is an excellent reader but his characterisation was not, for me, quite as sure as Simon Slater's superb voicing of Wolf Hall. I found myself missing Slater's Cromwell a lot.
Despite all of this, I still rate this reading highly.
"A Ship of War"
This the third outing for Charles Hayden and my least favourite so far.
He was such a promising character, a bright, talented and ambitious naval officer who has no influential friends and therefore does not get on as well as he should. Unfortunately, the Hayden of the book is losing his way rather and becoming dare I say it a bit dull. The author has made Hayden more fallible, which is a good thing because no-one could be right all the time. However, he spends most of this book pining for his love Henrietta and the adventures at sea have to share the space with events on shore. There are no encounters with senior officers, friendly to him or otherwise and even Mr Stephens of the Admiralty makes no appearance. There is, however, a lot of time with Henrietta and her family and Hayden's possible rival in love while Hayden himself is away at sea. The consequences of the confusion left at the end of book 2 are played out in detail.
I listen to these novels for the adventure side of things and the will-they-won't they was pitched just right in the two earlier novels. I am not that interested in Henrietta, who became less not more interesting as the novel went on.
Nick Boulton's reading was as good as ever and his characterisation is excellent. Sadly, I felt this book did not give him enough to work with, unlike the first two.
"Not fundamentally a faithful adaptation"
I cannot fault the acting and the production values which are up to high BBC standards. The actors capture their characters well and, disregarding the first three and the last two minutes, it is faithful to the book and captures the small town atmosphere well. The coming of age of Anna Tellwright is very well done. This is a detailed story where small things mean a lot and they are all there. However, I think the adaptation itself is fundamentally flawed because of those first three and last two minutes.
The opening minutes set the scene and, crucially, the characters all find out something tragic that Arnold Bennett deliberately kept from the characters in his book. In his last line, he delivers a piece of information about one of the main characters, William Price, and has the reader imagine the life of Anna comforted by thoughts of something that we know is not true. In this adaptation, they all find out about this news in the opening three minutes and the rest of the story (which does remain faithful) leads up to this point. I don't mind a little bit of dramatic licence but this changes the whole tone of the piece and is just wrong.
There are enough tragic events that alter the lives of the characters but the book at least leaves us with some small glimmer of light and this adaptation sweeps it away at the stroke of a pen and gives a completely different outcome in a way that I cannot forgive and which spoils my enjoyment of the drama.
If you know the book, prepare for the shock of the opening scene, after which it gets back on track until the closing two minutes.
I find it hard to judge the book itself because I am sorry to say I really disliked some of the choices made by the narrator for the voices and accents. He has a lovely, warm voice which suited Matthew Shardlake to perfection and was a pleasure to listen to in the narrative passages.
Sadly, some of the other characters were given harsh voices (not just those who were described as having harsh voices in the text). Most grating of all was the voice given to Hugh Curtis, an 18 year old boy whose wardship Shardlake is investigating. There was also something odd going with the accents - English characters were given indeterminate foreign accents that reminded me of Bond villains. Guy, being Spanish, was correctly given a Spanish accent but I sometimes found it difficult to make out what he was saying, which is very unfortunate.
All of this meant I was disappointed with this reading, especially because I had been looking for an unabridged reading of a Matthew Shardlake book for a while.
I have enjoyed the books and was looking forward to hearing one read but I found the narration too distracting to be completely enjoyable.
The story takes place mostly outside London, against the background of a French invasion. There are two investigations, one of which comes Matthew Shardlake's way from the Queen. There is less of the politics than in some of his other cases but his old enemy Sir Richard Rich puts in an appearance along the way and the story bowls along nicely.
"Classic ghost story"
I finally got around to listening to the unabridged reading having first heard the radio dramatisation and then seen the stage play and now feel that is not the best order. Having been scared out of my wits by the stage version, I found the book much less frightening as the play heightens the shocks in the story.
It is a good ghost story and is well narrated. It has the classic style of the narrator reliving the events long afterwards around the fire on a dark winter night. The climax is very chilling and the theme of grief and loss pervades the whole story with the narrator forever haunted by his experiences.
It's a good listen.
This is a deeply unsettling book. The main protagonist has a superhuman sense of smell but gives off no scent himself. He is a feared outsider from his birth. He becomes increasingly obsessed with capturing the scent of beautiful girls and women.
The language is extraordinary and conjures up scenes but most particularly scents in a very vivid way. There is a very long passage describing the distillation of scent from flowers which is magical and beautiful. That same beautiful and vivid language is used to show the inside of a depraved mind and that is why I found it unsettling.
I can't say I enjoyed it but I did appreciate its power.
"The reader does a good job"
I found this book very disappointing. It sounds so promising - Tom was in Russia in 1919 in the thick of the revolution and is involved in spying of a sort and only just escapes with his life. The story then moves to the French Riviera in 1935 when his days as a spy come back to haunt and threaten him.
One major problem for me was in the characterisation (the book, not the reading). Tom is the handsome, square-jawed hero. His god daughter is of course beautiful and clever and clearly destined to fall in love with Tom despite the age difference. After only a few appearances of her character I am afraid I found her intensely annoying as she was too confident. The other characters are barely drawn at all. The wife of Tom's old colleague from Russia is poisonous to everyone with no real explanation as to why.
There was little tension and the plot twists came along routinely with first one person then another suspected by Tom until they are eliminated from his suspicions sometimes too readily. It's hard to believe he ever worked in intelligence as he is so readily satisfied. There are dark hints of the things he has done while working but they are only hints and he doesn't show any ruthless clear thinking as he is working his way through his dilemmas.
There was little feeling of time. 1935 was quite an interesting time after all but the political background barely gets a look in. Tom himself is an expatriate English man whose circle of friends seem to be other expatriates and there is not enough to place then in the riviera - they could really be anywhere in the world for the story to work.
The reader does his best to bring it to life by trying to inject some tension into it and the various action scenes are well done. The voices are clear and well chosen.
Harry Hole is the classic brilliant detective with a troubled private life and is a fine creation. He is not at odds with his superiors all the time which is refreshing and, although tough and uncompromising in his work he is quite gentle in his private life.
This story has plenty of red herrings to keep you guessing along the way. It's fast-paced and keeps the pressure going throughout and is a compelling listen. It has to be said that it is quite graphic in parts with some strong language and violence. Sean Barrett is a masterly reader of this type of book.
I did find some difficulty in always knowing where we were in the story as the breaks you get on the page were not so obviously marked by pauses and the fact that the names are mostly unfamiliar to an English listener makes it hard to know sometimes which character is being discussed but it becomes clear after only a few seconds and didn't affect my enjoyment.
There are quite a few very chilling passages where the words and the reader ratchet up the tension brilliantly.
I don't personally think comparisons with Stieg Larson's books are helpful except in the sense that they are both Scandinavian. Larson has the investigation being done by an investigative journalist and a lone hacker. The Snowman is firmly in the police procedural camp.
Timothy West reads this extremely well, as I would have expected. The various voices are well-characterised and clear.
It's a very long novel but Trollope's writing is so entertaining that it doesn't drag. It could have done because he was, to my mind, spinning it out just a bit but my interest never flagged. Trollope does tend to deal in this book with one story line for long stretches and then retrace his steps to go back to what was happening a few weeks before to other characters so he has to do a bit of a recap every now and then.
It's very witty in places and West brings out Trollope's wry humour at the expense of some of his characters well. Very few escape his wit.
There are some splendidly vile characters here notably Melmotte (who only just stays the right side of pantomime villain) and Sir Felix Carbury who is a hopeless case. There only seem to be three really good people amongst the main characters, Hetta Carbury, Roger Carbury and Marie Melmotte and I must admit Marie is for me the real heroine of the piece. I was cheering for her from quite early on. I also have a soft spot for Mrs Hurtle who is a rather modern American lady with a surprising moral code.
It's a good listen.
This is unlike most of Georgette Heyer's sparkling comedies being about the escape from England of King Charles II after a losing battle. Her historical search shines through but it has the light touch I would expect from her writing.
There are occasional comic moments, usually involving one of his loyal companions who thinks changing his coat is enough to disguise his appearance and is put out when he is recognised immediately. There is the odd moment of flirtation between the king and two of the women who help him along the way and more than usually frank references to his free and easy manner with women.
Heyer plays it very straight and keeps the action bowling along nicely.
The narrator has a pleasant reading voice and uses different accents and tones well to indicate the different characters. It's a good listen though I don't imagine listening to it again as I do with Heyer's other books.
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