Review: e-books and audiobooks by Louise Penny, Bill Clegg and Jill Ciment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 4:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 4:47pm

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (read by Adam Sims)

Hachette Audio (audiobook)

Louise Penny has quietly become one of the biggest and best crime writers working today, drawing readers with the intelligent, intimate tone of her mysteries, the clever, decent hero Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and a recurring cast of flawed people who populate the charming Quebec village Three Pines. The Nature of the Beast shakes up the myth of the boy who cried wolf. Laurent Lapage claims to have seen everything from dinosaurs to aliens stalking the forest surrounding Three Pines. But when Laurent vanishes, Gamache and Three Pines must ask some hard questions. What is the mysterious object Laurent found in the midst of his games? And who else was looking for it? With his gravelly voice, Adam Sims adds the sort of gravitas he usually reserves for movie trailers. This works best in the urgent opening, but lacks a little charm in the zingy dialogue. Ruth Zardo sounds more sinister than sharp-witted; Myrna sounds positively spacey. But little can weigh Penny down and her skill wins the day.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Jonathan Cape (audiobook)

With the Man Booker shortlist to be announced on Tuesday, this is a last chance to indulge innocently in the longlist of 13. Bill Clegg's emotive and inventive Did You Ever Have a Family might just make the grade. The night before a family wedding, the house at which the main players are sleeping burns to the ground, killing everyone save for June, the mother of the bride-to-be. June, who flees the small town in rural America to escape her grief, is only one of several voices narrating the aftermath. Others include a drifting teenager named Silas, who wants to evade memories of that night for slightly different reasons. Then there is Lydia, born on the less glamorous side of town, whose unsatisfying life had finally been looking up when her son, Luke, fell in love with June. Clegg explores class, money, the past, regret and restoration. Most of all, this is a novel "attempting to make sense of the world by re-creating it, refracting and complicating its pieces in order to make meaning". Fabulous.

Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment

Pushkin Press (e-book)

Heroic Measures was made into a film under the title of 5 Flights Up (and as Ruth & Alex in the UK). Played on screen by Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman, this ageing couple live in surprising (to them) splendour in New York. When they find out the apartment they have owned for 45 years is worth at least US$999,999, they decide the proximity to US$1 million is simply too good to turn down and begin to imagine a new life. But as Ruth ponders: "She didn't want to leave the city. They never cared about money before. Where would they go? She and Alex … would be lost anywhere but New York." But as Alex and Ruth prepare to face the future, their real estate agent, Lily, and a host of odd apartment hunters, the city decides to go slightly mad. A petrol tanker blocking Midtown causes a panic. Rumours of a terrorist attack prompt motorists to abandon their cars. While Ruth and Alex come to terms with growing older, their ageing dog, Dorothy, confronts death in more direct but no less moving fashion. A quiet, beautifully written novel.