Reviews: audiobooks by Marlon James, Laila Lalami and Kathy Reichs
A pulsating, multi-faceted crime narrative woven around a bid to assassinate Bob Marley, a Moroccan slave in early America, and more forensic anthropology with Temperance Brennan constitute this week's mixed bag
Just longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, A Brief History of Seven Killings puts author Marlon James into the same ballpark, not to mention the same elevated league, as James Ellroy and David Peace. James takes a real life event - in his case, the attempted assassination of legendary reggae singer Bob Marley in Jamaica in the mid-1970s - and spins two decades of pulsating grand narratives before the reader: politics, race, art, sex and almost inevitably American imperialism. It is a challenging listen. Many of James' cast tell their parts in this multifaceted story. The audiobook wisely hires its own array of narrators - a single reader would surely sink exhausted to their knees to convey CIA director Richard Lansing, all manner of Jamaican drug dealers, prisoners on Rikers Island, Manhattan high society and student nurses. The voices switch restlessly from drawled patois to Alex Pearce's hardboiled American. It is mind-bending, brilliant and utterly compelling.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (read by various) Whole Story (audiobook)
The second novel this week from the impressively international Man Booker longlist is the third novel by Pulitzer Prize nominee Laila Lalami. Set in the early 16th century, it follows Estebanico, a Moroccan slave. Part of Conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez's expedition to America, he becomes the first black human to land on the continent. While an official record promotes the voyage as a political and financial act of heroism, Estebanico's version offers a quite different perspective. Sailing to modern-day Florida, de Narvaez has colonialism and money on his mind. Beset by almost biblical plagues, they move on to Mexico, where Estebanico is forced to confront his own place in the adventure. This is a novel concerned with greed and storytelling. Neil Shah reads Estebanico's mixture of wonder and dawning wisdom with a quiet authority. His voice is matter-of-fact and capable of poetry: "It was ... the 30th year of my life and the fifth year of my bondage, and I was at the edge of the known world."
The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami (read by Neil Shah) Audible Studios (audiobook)
This is Temperance Brennan's 18th instalment of adventures in forensic anthropology. Having conquered crime fiction on page and screen (Brennan is the inspiration for the blockbusting TV series Bones), one wonders what she has left to prove. Plenty, it would seem. Not only does she have a marriage proposal (from handsome colleague Andrew Ryan) hanging over her head, there is also a host of rivals for her crown. Online amateur detectives believe they can outdo real life. Enter Hazel Strike, who believes Brennan has the skeleton (those "Speaking Bones") of a murder victim in her laboratory. The body belonged to Cora Teague, an 18-year-old missing person who Strike argues was tortured to death three years before. Our interest is held by the tentative relationship between our heroine and Strike, not to mention Brennan's amorous and financial dilemmas. Even though Katherine Browitz is not, perhaps, the most expressive reader, Reichs' fans know she is still one of the best out there.
Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs (read by Katherine Browitz) Random House (audiobook)