Reviews: e-book and audiobook fiction: J. D. Robb, Kate Atkinson

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 February, 2015, 10:49pm

Obsession in Death
by J.D. Robb
Piatkus
(e-book)

Whether she is writing romance as Nora Roberts or her ever-extending "In Death" crime series as J.D. Robb, Roberts is one of the world's bestselling authors. She is also prolific enough to have had a new Roberts title out on Valentine's Day, while Obsession in Death is Eve Dallas' 40th futuristic crime caper for the New York City Police and Security Department. You don't need to be Eve or her hunky billionaire husband, Roarke, to guess there's a body "of a woman who'd once been a stunner". Sadly, her meticulous sense of style was not enough to save her from a nasty end. Gruesomely, her tongue is in a glass dish at some distance from her actual mouth. What emerges rapidly is that the killer is presenting these corpses as a grisly gift to the lieutenant. Helped by her usual gang - Roarke, Delia Peabody, Ian McNab and Charlotte Mira - Eve sets out to stop her admiring adversary before he stops her. It's really rather good fun. Robb can do scary, but isn't a slouch with her kitchen-sink combination of crime, science fiction and romance.

Human Croquet
by Kate Atkinson
(read by Susan Jameson)
Random House
(audiobook)

First published in 1997, but new to audiobook download, Kate Atkinson's second novel confirmed what her prize-winning debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, boldly announced: she's a major literary talent. Our narrator is Isobel Fairfax, who sounds like a Bronte heroine and speaks like one too: "Francis Fairfax, lately ennobled by the Queen, was in receipt, from the Queen's own hand, of a great swathe of land north of the village, on the edge of what remained of the forest." Isobel's parents have vanished, she tells us without vouchsafing what happened. In this way, her narration creates a strange sense of mystery that she doesn't quite notice. This continues as she describes life with her brother, Charles, and their unpleasant grandmother in Arden. Set on Isobel's 16th birthday, April Fool's Day 1960, there is unrequited love, otherworldly philosophising and a nice dose of horror. Susan Jameson reads with intelligence this visionary tale that time-shifts woozily. Her tones are cool and crisp. This is a terrific book that is beautifully read.

Kokoro
by Natsume Soseki
(read by Matt Shea)
Gateway Editions
(audiobook)

Kokoro is a classic novel by one of Japan's most revered 20th-century writers. First serialised over several months in 1914 by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun, it follows the relationship between an unnamed university student and his sensei, a wise, reclusive teacher. Their intertwining stories fill the three sections. This is both a personal and national coming-of-age story, tracing a young man coming to terms with his identity and his family: his major action in part two is to sit beside his dying father. Familial peace is disrupted by the sensei's letters which recount his own fraught background, in which he was cheated out of his fortune by a conniving uncle before responding with spiritual study. His withdrawal has allegorical power, narrating feudal Japan's journey towards modernity: "Loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves." The story doesn't end happily. Matt Shea reads attentively, evoking the slightly hallucinatory mood of the novel. A fascinating, atmospheric listen.