Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - Wilbur Smith, Macbeth, and a stunning debut
Sean Barrett reads Smith with enviable intensity, The Black Country reads like a David Lynch version of Gone Girl, and James Marsters and Joanne Whaley take on the Bard's Scottish play the LA way
Golden Lion by Wilbur Smith and Giles Kristian (read by Sean Barrett) Harper Collins (audiobook)
It takes a strong man to narrate Wilbur Smith. His novels, whether set in war, Africa, Egypt or on the high seas, are full of strong men fighting other strong men, and often powerful women. Sean Barrett knows a thing or two about strong men. His audiobook credits include Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series, Michael Robotham's thrillers, Angus Watson's Iron Age trilogy and the mother of all battles, Anthony Beevor's The Second World War. In Golden Lion, one of Smith's rampaging historical novels starring Hal Courtney, Barrett has to take on a disfigured baddie (who sent Hal's father to his death), shipwrecks off Zanzibar, violent maharajas with an axe to grind against Christians, and a heroic female Ethiopian leader who saved the Holy Grail. It is about as subtle as a kick to the groin, which in Golden Lion is getting off lightly. Barrett reads with an enviable intensity and can flit between African, English and many other accents. This passion is slightly more than this plodding novel deserves.
The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce Salt Publishing (e-book)
Every so often a novel lands from out of nowhere and grabs you by the eyeballs. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl was one such, but at least Flynn had some previous form. Kerry Hadley-Pryce's haunting and unnerving The Black Country is a debut of gothic ambition. The cover hints at David Lynch, and this twisted portrait of a marriage in continual breakdown, of distrust, paranoia and love turned to contempt is a little as though Gone Girl had been reimagined by Lynch. Maddie and Harry are the unhappy couple who hit and run a man they meet at a university reunion. Returning to the scene of the crime, they find the body is missing. Instead of relief, the pair turn inward and confront years of barely concealed hatred. What is genuinely striking is Hadley-Pryce's narration. A third person lurks in the marriage, and seems to know our pair better than they do themselves. The twist revealing how this came about is nightmarish, and could be read as classic horror or a meditation on an artist's obsessive need to control dark materials.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (read by various) LA Theatre Works (audiobook)
William Shakespeare is rarely off the stage, screen or page, thanks to a reputation as one of the planet's greatest artists and a place on school curriculums the world over, whether schoolchildren like it or not. There are countless audiobook versions, from Alan Cumming starring in a "novelised" version by David Hewson to classic performances by Alec Guinness, Ken Stott and Anthony Quale. I have gone, however, for a very LA version directed by Martin Jarvis and starring James Marsters, best known for portraying the wonderful Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His gravity and rhythmic control carry the soliloquies. Joanne Whaley is a breathless, intense Lady Macbeth, and reads with real venom when needed. Oddly, it is Kristoffer Tabori as Duncan who steals the show, to my ears, sympathetic and impressive. The hint of reverb and a rumbling soundtrack added gloomy atmospherics to this enjoyable and genuinely convincing production.