Audiobook reviews: new fiction by Sylvia Day, Catherine Lowell and Camilla Lackberg
The latest chapter in the Crossfire erotica series, a debut novel inspired by Jane Eyre and a psychological crime thriller are this week’s selections
One with You
by Sylvia Day (read by Jill Redfield and Jeremy York)
Brilliant Audio (audiobook)
It’s been a little while since I’ve dipped into Sylvia Day, though plunge and thrust is more Ms Day’s speed. For people new to Day, she raised her bestselling head at roughly the same time that E.L. James bashed the hell out of poor Anastasia Steele. In fact, Day had been writing erotica for some time before Christian Grey mixed spanking monkey business with pleasure. One with You is her 17th novel: previous title, Pride and Pleasure, would surely have Jane Austen doing something besides turning in her grave. This new Day is the fifth part of her Crossfire series, in which for mysterious reasons Eva Tramell (hints of Basic Instinct) is again drawn to handsome billionaire Gideon Cross. The couple, sometimes called Gideva, share tormented childhoods and torrid, if heavily branded presents which have now lasted longer than beauty-beast Gideon in full throttle. The fun is hearing Jill Redfield read lines like “A low sound of hunger left me. I yearned for and craved him, shivering with delight that he was once again pressed against me” without sniggering. Yearned for and craved? And did you hear tummy rumbles with that ‘low sound of hunger’? Still, it’s all good, dirty fun, and you can’t say that about E.L. James these days.
The Madwoman Upstairs
by Catherine Lowell (read by Caitlin Thorburn)
A week or so back, I noted that literary anniversaries are all the rage. One newish side-effect is, to put it uncharitably, the cash-in novel. Debutant Catherine Lowell has marked 2016’s Charlotte Bronte bi-centenary with The Madwoman in Upstairs, inspired non-too-subtly by Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. This is absolutely fine by, though if you are going to create your own Bronte-rivalling heroine, naming her Samantha Whipple seems too close to high camp for comfort. In any case, our Samantha is the last surviving member of the famous Bronte clan – her father, like Bertha, died in a fire. She falls for James Timothy Orville III, a brooding, handsome, Byronic hero whose passion and barely contained emotional violence are devastating in all manner of ways. This is a bit like a descendent of Bram Stoker stopping at a storm-shrouded castle in the middle of Transylvania, but anyway. What elevates the novel is Lowell’s evident smarts – a witty style and jaunty tour through the Bronte’s greatest hits. She knows her own book is derivative and has fun with the knowledge. Caitlin Thorburn reads with just the right light tone to suggest Samantha’s intelligence and sense of humour. This keeps you going when the slightly contrived quest plot peters out.
The Ice Child
by Camilla Lackberg (read by Robin Bowerman)
Now that the initial intensity has been removed from the Nordic Noir heatwave, only the best writers continue to hit the heights of global bestseller charts. Camilla Lackberg has been doing this for over a decade, since The Ice Princess introduced detective Patrick Hedström and writer Erica Falck to a-then unsuspecting world. If book number nine suggests that Lackberg hasn’t advanced much where titles are concerned, then something similar might be said about the story. Now (fairly) happily married, Hedström and Falck investigate a case which starts like Twin Peaks re-located to Sweden: Twin Peakstrom, perhaps? A young girl, naked and disoriented, is found wandering near snow-bound Fjällbacka. Her peculiar, black eyes hint at the brutality that she has experienced. Collaborating as smoothly as ever, Hedström and Falck quickly realise that she was kidnapped from a riding stable a few months previously. They also suspect she is neither the first nor the last to have been taken by the unknown monster. The set-up is very well done, but frustratingly the initial intensity doesn’t quite survive to the vital final third. Robin Bowerman reads well, with vigorous pace and a flair for dialogue. My only mild beef was that his rather friendly tones were a touch too warm for Lackberg’s frosty portrait of the inhuman condition.