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The Eastern Ukraine Question cover art

A spoof?

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
2 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-05-19

What an odd and, to me, unsatisfactory book.

I have to assume it is meant to be a spoof spy novel. If I am right, it is simply not funny enough and John Mordred not interesting enough. There is an attempt to make him quirky but he just comes across as a fish out of water and an innocent abroad in the world. He is ineffectual, prone to falling in love with every woman he sees and buffeted about by the events surrounding him. He Is supposedly much valued by his spy masters but it is impossible to see why on this showing, apart from his facility for languages. Perhaps that is a sign that this is a spoof, an extended dig at the expense of the spy world?

It started off promisingly as though it were going to be a decent if unremarkable thriller, with Mordred being sent for a mission which goes wrong. In the second half it degenerates into a series of odd alliances with people changing sides and allegiance. There is a seemingly interminable football match whose progress is described ad nauseam. The heavies are pantomime villains. The dialogue is strained. The action stops occasionally for a recap by the characters about the political background. Quite early on I lost interest in who was on which side. Suddenly there was a set piece showdown which fizzled out and we were back to John Mordred and his irritating sisters.

If it is not spoof then it is just an uninteresting spy novel.

If I want wry intelligent humour about the world of intelligence, I will stick with Len Deighton. If I want a more modern hard-edged humour I will stick with the peerless Mick Herron.

A word on the reader. Unfortunately, all his men sounded the same (apart from the Scot) and there was no attempt to make the women sound like women. That made the dialogue very difficult to follow.




1 of 1 people found this review helpful

The Infirmary: A DCI Ryan Mystery (Multicast Drama) cover art

Not really a dramatisation

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 17-02-19

I was tempted by the idea of this being a dramatisation but sadly for me it does not work. What you get is a very fine narration shared by Hermione Norris and Bertie Carvel who do a superb job creating a mood which is then broken by other actors speaking dialogue. The cast is excellent and had it been turned into a play or a proper dramatisation they would have been perfectly cast and I am sure would have delivered different performances. As it was it seems inevitable that they sound as though they are doing a read-through because they are dipping in and out of the story that is being carried by the two narrators.

Unfortunately, this is a half way house and so did not work for me. Had any of the cast taken on the whole reading I would have enjoyed it more.

Having said that, I did listen through in one sitting and I was keen to know who the murderer was and did not guess. I doubt I will listen to it again though.

Unfinished Portrait cover art

Unexpectedly moving

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-08-18

This is not a crime novel, although written by Agatha Christie. The opening is very arresting when the narrator stops a woman from committing suicide. The rest of the book is made up of the events that led her to this point, going right back to her childhood.

The early parts could have been tiresome being from her point of view as a child but Agatha Christie's writing is so engaging that it worked.

I have read Laura Wilson's biography of Christie and was sceptical at her technique of treating the books of Mary Westmacott as though they give facts about Christie's life. I still am sceptical but the story line here is so close to some of what is known about her that I can see that this is Christie working through events in her life and trying to make sense of them. I am still not sure I would treat the plot as proven facts but I can see the connection. It was that which made the story so interesting.

I enjoyed it very much.

Close Your Eyes cover art

Contrived soap disguised as a thriller

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-06-18

I found this book very tiresome and not in the least tense.

There is no real effort at showing an investigation just an aimless wander through some conversations the sole purpose of which is to put someone we are meant to care about in danger.

The non-police investigator is brought in for tenuous reasons, doesn’t do very much but somehow finds the answer; the cardboard cut-out police don’t do very much except dismiss Joe's clues; the ex-police officer who helps Joe also doesn’t do very much except to leave the scene when he should have been protecting someone just so they can for plot purposes be put in danger.Joe breaks alibis by the simple expedient of asking questions and people suddenly tell the truth, rather than the story they told the police. Amazing. We also have chapters narrated by the unknown killer as we go along, which is tiring.

Joe not only takes his daughter to the scene of the crime, he also lets her look at evidence and she, of course, spots the vital clue, which the police of course dismiss and Joe lets her investigate further...

I have come to the conclusion that this is a soap opera disguised, and not very well disguised, as a crime thriller. It's a vehicle for getting Joe or a member of his family into danger and the investigation, clumsily carried out, is just a means of getting to that point. Judging by the details that emerge from earlier books, this has happened before and yet Joe does it again!

It was, thankfully, not very long but still too long for the actual plot.

It is also littered with words and expressions that an English person would not use. Also the way people relate to each other feels wrong. I suppose that is because the author is not British but, really, if you are going to make use of a British setting, at least take the trouble to get the language and people right. It is not enough it pepper the pages with references to the geographical location.

Sean Barrett is a superb narrator and he gives it his usual faultless performance. Unfortunately, the book is not worthy of his talents.

The Woman in White cover art

Wonderful long, long, book

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-07-17

Walter Hartwright has a strange meeting with a woman dressed all in white and helps her in her escape from an asylum. There begins a complex, superbly plotted and characterised story of Victorian skulduggery. It is told (like The Moonstone by the same author) by narratives given by the numerous protagonists. The author gives each a distinct tone to suit the character of the narrator and they all slot together beautifully.

The bulk of the story is carried by the magnificent Marion Halcombe, a resourceful and brave woman. This is a compelling story but at the same time the book also demonstrates how women were rendered powerless not just by having too little money but also by having too much. It is as much a social conscience novel as any by Dickens but in my view more subtle and above all more entertaining. The characterisation is well done. There is also a strong sense of menace in the central passages of the book.

I chose this reading as Gabriel Woolf is a voice I know from BBC drama and he has a lovely speaking voice. That is all in place but the recording itself is an old one and the production values let it down just a little. It is more of a reading than a performance with only subtle changes of voice and accent. The little corrections to the reading are not edited out and the rustle of pages is audible in the background. It was not enough to spoil my enjoyment but other listeners may find it distracting, I fear. It is nonetheless one I would happily listen to again, all twenty four hours of it. My attention was held throughout and the changes in narrators as they each shed new light on the story constantly refreshed it. A great listen!

The Black Tower cover art

Bleak and unsettling

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 15-05-17

This is an unusual one. The book opens with Dalgliesh finding out that, contrary to an earlier diagnosis, he does not after all have a life-threatening disease and leaves hospital sure that he is going to leave the police force and do something else with his life.

An elderly priest has invited him to stay with him as he wants to consult him about something unspecified. Dalgliesh goes to see him to spend some of his recuperation time with him but when he arrives, the priest has been dead for nearly two weeks. Despite himself, he finds he cannot stop being a policeman and starts asking questions. He finds plenty of suspicious behaviour but somehow does not follow through with any of it as he is not there officially and of course does not have his usual team with him. He is under-par as the result of his illness, and because he is no longer sure he wants to be a policeman.

The investigation is unfocused and to this reader at least confusing. James' supporting characters are usually very vividly drawn and easily distinguished but in this book some are rather hazily drawn even when they come to play an important role in the story.

The persistent feeling of menace is very strongly conveyed but none of the characters have any redeeeming features. I missed the presence of the decent older woman who features in later books to give a humane core to the story. I felt I had lived through a nightmare with Dalgliesh as he found his way through the mire of his weakness from his illness and his indecision about his future and I cannot imagine wanting to go through it again.

Daniel Weyman is a marvellous reader and gave his usual fine, flawless performance.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

The Man in the Brown Suit cover art

Great story, shame about the narration

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-01-17

This is a lovely, light-hearted adventure story. It is often very funny. The heroine is resourceful and fun, there are lots of twists and turns and Agatha Christie shows her mastery of plot. There are plenty of knowing nods to tales of square-jawed types who with one bound are free from the villains.

I was very pleasantly surprised to come across Colonel Race as a young man who was very dashing and not a little romantic. I am now looking out for the other books in which he appears, I was very taken.

The only reason it might not go immediately on to my list for multiple listens is the narration. Some female narrators can do men's voices convincingly but sadly Emilia Fox is not one. She did a very good job of capturing the bright, feisty heroine but her men were all gruff and unconvincing.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

Survivors cover art

Almost ruined by the Americanisation of the text

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 10-07-16

Would you listen to Survivors again? Why?

Probably not. I mainly wanted to hear it because I remember the original TV series clearly. It does a good job of telling the story. It is quite dark in places, which suits the post-apocalyptic story. The narrator was, I think, one of the leads in that so I like the idea of her reading it but her narration sometimes lacks the performance element that can bring the text alive.

Any additional comments?

Why on earth has the text either been written, or edited, for American English? This story is based on a BBC series set in London and rural England and is I think a very English-style story. It therefore jars really badly when the text is littered with references to windshields, sidewalks and worst of all panty hose and "toward" when we would say "towards" , both especially grating. That means for me that it loses 2 stars.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

The Aftermath cover art

Did not live up to my expectations

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-10-15

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I had very mixed feelings about this. The premise is an interesting one and I was hoping for greater insights into the work that went on in Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war. The time spent with the main character as he was working on the rebuilding of Germany was very sketchy and half-hearted and the main emphasis of the book was on his and more especially his wife's love life. As she was not party to his work, the book was domestic in tone and the major themes were barely touched upon. The stories of orphaned children trying to find a way to be in the aftermath of the war were, however, very affecting and they are what lifts the book to three stars.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The struggles facing children living alone was very affecting. The temptations to infidelity facing the main character and his wife were trivial in comparison and devalued the whole book.

What does Leighton Pugh bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

He read it very well and the accents were clear without being overdone. He did not have much to work with in terms of bringing out emotional depths in the story but what there was he did well.

Was The Aftermath worth the listening time?

Only just. I cannot imagine listening to it again.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

The Blue Demon cover art

Worth persevering

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 18-06-15

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Not sure. I found it hard to get into it as the opening makes it seem as though it is going to a bit mystical. It does take a long time to settle down into what it is, which is a crime novel with a bit of terrorism and a lot of Italian politics. The unfamiliar political background makes it hard going at times but it is worth persevering.

My main criticism is that the main policeman, the Nic Costa of the headline, is a bit lacklustre and the others in the team are not very vivid either. This may be because this is one of a series and the character development has been done in earlier books but it is a fault as the book should probably be able to stand in its own.

I do not feel drawn enough to the characters or the setting to rush to buy others in the series.

Have you listened to any of Saul Reichlin’s other performances? How does this one compare?

I haven't heard him before but would be happy to listen to him again.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?


Not a moment so much as a character. The man the police are after is very vividly drawn and I found his story moving despite the horrific nature of his actions.