Reviews - e-book and audiobook fiction: Mark Dawson, Mark Billingham and Sebastian Fitzek
Time of Death
by Mark Billingham
For writers to read their own work can be dangerous. Some (Eimear McBride, for example) are superb; others (and I will name no names) are not, sometimes because they can't do the police in different voices, to quote T.S. Eliot quoting Charles Dickens. Mark Billingham should belong to the former category: before he became a bestselling crime writer, he was an actor and comedian. His Tom Thorne series, set in a dark and stormy London, is one of the better crime procedurals around. Now in its 13th instalment, Thorne has recovered from demotion and an almost literal cliff-hanger to investigate two crimes outside the capital. In Time of Death, he is paired with Helen Weeks, his other half and heroine of Good as Dead. A romantic weekend in the country is curtailed when Weeks' childhood friend Stephen Bates is arrested for kidnapping two teenage girls. The plot is well-crafted, as is the depiction of overheated justice in an English town. Billingham reads well, though a little tremulously at times. One or two accents do go astray, but Thorne is fantastic.
by Mark Dawson
(read by David Thorpe)
Audible clearly thinks Mark Dawson is the next big thing, releasing all of his John Milton books on ready-to-download audiobook. That's not John Milton the poet who wrote Paradise Lost and spoke out against censorship in his Areopagitica tract in 1644. Dawson's Milton is an assassin who works for a shady government-funded organisation known as Group Twelve. But as so often happens, he is struck by a fit of conscience. Think Grosse Pointe Blank remade by Disney. Milton's Cinderella is Sharon Warrener, the suicidal mother of Elijah, whose troubled lives are the perfect vehicle for a spot of bad-lad redemption. Set during the London riots, it already feels a little dated, or at least like a historical novel, while Milton will have you reaching for Jack Reacher comparisons. David Thorpe's voice sounds a little light and fluting for such violent and sombre fare. He reads well but doesn't have the grit that Dawson's prose demands. Nor does he have the range of voices that distinguish the top audiobook narrators. The sound quality didn't help, either.
by Sebastian Fitzek
(read by Various)
Sebastian Fitzek is one of the bigger novelists in Germany, thanks to a series of short, sharp thrillers that have earned high-profile English-language audio dramatisation on Audible. First came The Child, starring Andy Serkis. Now prepare to run Amok with another high-profile cast headed by Natascha McElhone, Rafe Spall and Adrian Lester. What makes it slightly odd is that the novel, Amok Spiel, has yet to be published in translation. The story was inspired by Fitzek's former job as a radio producer in Berlin. A terrorist gains access to a studio and terrorises the nation live on air. The solution is Ira Samin, a suicidal psychologist who is well played by McElhone. Her life is effectively saved when the psychopathic bad guy threatens to kill a hostage unless his phone calls are answered according to his specific demands. While the acting itself is first rate (Spall and Lester are excellent), the narration is intrusive and overblown, with some heavyweight quotations. Good but flawed.
Extras: preview the first three chapters for free at Audible.