Audiobook and e-book reviews: fiction from Lewis Carroll, Hideo Yokoyama and Anthony Gardner

Scarlett Johansson reads Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 12:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 9:00pm

Six Four

by Hideo Yokoyama

Quercus (e-book)

Judging by recent weeks, Japano-Noir may soon wrest control from Scandi-Nordic (choose your poison) crime writing. First, Keigo Higashino’s superb The Midsummer Equation frazzled our minds. Now, hard on that book’s heels comes Hideo Yokoyama’s stupendous Six Four, his first novel to be translated into English. On its publication in Japan in 2012, it sold over a million copies within a week. The winding, hard-hitting and political aspects of the novel will doubtless earn comparisons with James Ellroy, not to mention the infamous Lindbergh case. Our hero is Yoshinobu Mikami, an ex-detective relegated to the ranks of Media Officer. Forced to deal with the more sensational aspects of police work, he examines an unsolved kidnap case from 14 years before. It strikes a chord, first because Mikami’s own daughter has gone missing, and second because he spots a major flaw in the investigation. Following where this breadcrumb leads dominates the action – although for “action” read patient and perseverant research. Nevertheless, the parallel cases provide increasing emotional intensity (both for Mikami’s wife, Minako, and the police hierarchy), and the stunning twist promised by the blurb really is one of the more memorable of recent years. Be warned: you will have to pay close attention. But what else is reading for?

Fox

by Anthony Gardner

Ardleevan Press (e-book)

The second novel by British writer Anthony Gardner offers an intriguing blend of satire, dystopia, lighter comedy and romance. The story is infectious, almost literally so thanks to a near-pandemic of fox flu spreading across Britain. The outbreak leads to a deeper conspiracy. With the nation in uproar (but glued to fox killing on TV), the British prime minister grasps an opportunity to subject his citizens to the most intimate form of surveillance imaginable. Thanks to nanotechnology created in China by a somewhat one-dimensional government, CCTV can now be injected like an inoculation. Do you see where this is going? The answer is both yes and no. While the prose is clear, the plot is much wilder, veering between London, mainland China and Hong Kong, between the dastardly Zhou and a strange group of Christian missionaries, the Brothers of Light, whose standard bearer, Chistophe Hardy, is the hero in Gardner’s diverse cast. The prose, light and fleet of foot, reminded me of Evelyn Waugh, and in truth Gardner is on firmer ground in England than China: Christophe’s nostalgia for China’s past may not always be shared by readers in China itself. Yet the sharp portrait of governments prioritising “security” over freedom will ring bells everywhere.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll (read by Scarlett Johansson)

Audible Studios (audiobook)

The world went mad as hatters at the end of last year for various Alice incarnations, both original and adapted, but when Scarlett Johansson – yes, Scarlett Johansson – reads Lewis Carroll’s absurdist masterpiece, well, what choice do we have? For a second my heart sank during the rather strident introduction – near-percussive strings and a male voice more attuned to advertising insurance boomed out. Then, that voice: breathy, deep but confident. In other words, perfect for Alice, her American drawl notwithstanding. I suspect some purists might press stop now. In truth, Johansson does sound a little stiff. Enunciating clearly, she stops at the end of a sentence. Then begins again at the next. Some of the odder exchanges – when Alice talks to her vanishing feet – challenge her rhythm. But you can almost hear her relax. She makes a fabulous Caterpillar, at once dreamy and severe, and her Alice holds her own in their riddling exchanges. She keeps the Mad Hatter’s tea party going with a swing, and I enjoyed her dumbed-down Hatter and her March Hare who sounded like they were plucked from The Wizard of Oz. The to-and-fro of the playing cards could be The Three Stooges; her Queen of Hearts makes you sit up straight in your chair. A curiosity, but also very good.