See You in Paradise
by J. Robert Lennon
J. Robert Lennon is an American writer who has had one work of fiction turned into a TV series (Unforgettable) and another (Happyland) rejected by his publisher, allegedly because it satirised a real-life entrepreneur. The latter sounds like the sort of story that fills this excellent new collection, his second. Lennon specialises in tales that seem realistic, but which delight in entering weird, possibly metaphorical realms. More than a few begin with lines whose cheerfully down-to-earth tone belies the oddness to follow: "It's been a few years since we last used the magic portal in our back garden, and it has fallen into disrepair." Even an opening as unassuming as "Brant Call was a pretty nice guy" ( See You in Paradise) quickly descends into a personal inferno that is two parts Stephen King to one part Evelyn Waugh. As stories such as The Wraith and Zombie Dan prove, Lennon's writing is an engaging mixture of humour, absurdity and horror. See You in Paradise is quirky, unsettling and great fun.
The Abyss Beyond Dreams
by Peter Hamilton (read by John Lee)
Random House Audio
For science fiction addicts, Peter Hamilton is a big deal. His works, such as the "Commonwealth Saga" and "Void Trilogy", are as grandiose as they sound. Cue The Abyss Beyond Dreams which may sound like a pretentious 1970s prog rock concept album, but is perfect for Hamilton's chosen genre of space opera. This means enormous casts, epic plots and a preposterous array of galaxies, back-stories and conspiracies. It might come as a shock to find a hero called Nigel (Nigel?!) Sheldon who is tearing through the year 3326. Nigel is an alumnus from previous books. His mission is proffered by the Raiel race that guards the aforementioned Void, which is as destructive as it sounds. Nigel's journey into the heart of the Void is to find humans and the nasty Fallers who are said to have vanished into its dark centre only to manifest as bad dreams and visions. John Lee's basso profundo is not only appropriate but necessary for such high-flying visionary storytelling. Fans and the uninitiated will thrill alike.
by C.J. Sansom (read by Steven Crossley)
C.J. Sansom has earned a fine reputation thanks to five mysteries set in Tudor England and starring his sensitive investigator, a hunchbacked, middle-aged lawyer named Matthew Shardlake. The question for fans of the series is: as Henry VIII lies dying, what happens to our sprightly, if unlikely, hero? Shardlake is approached by the still Lady - but soon-to-be queen - Elizabeth. Yet to begin with, it is the queen, Catherine Parr, who initiates the plot.
She has written a book, The Lamentations of a Sinner, whose doctrinal heresies threaten not only her future but that of the nation. As factions jockey for position in the Tudor endgame, the book goes missing, save for a single page which is grasped by a decidedly dead publisher. Audiobook stalwart Steven Crossley reads with grave authority which suits both the thoughtful Shardlake and Sansom's mood of fear and paranoia. For those who found Wolf Hall a little too grave, Lamentation (despite its title) is a fun alternative.