Review: audiobooks by Anthony Horowitz, Gerard Felix Warburg and Lucy Cruickshanks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 September, 2015, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 September, 2015, 9:03pm

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz (read by David Oyelowo)

Orion (audiobook)

Is Trigger Mortis the worst title in literary history? And how many more times will James Bond be resurrected before he outdoes Dracula? This new sequel is based upon an unmade Ian Fleming television script that throws 007 together with Pussy Galore shortly after the conclusion of Goldfinger. Anthony Horowitz (who has also revisited Sherlock Holmes) attempts to smooth some of Bond’s rougher edges. This is achieved partly by exploring Galore’s backstory (uncertain sexuality, abuse, smarts) but also by brushing up Bond’s Shakespeare (or at least his George Bernard Shaw), and making him pause before shooting a baddie (that titular stiff little finger). The plot is pretty thin. Bond vs Smersh, embodied by a Korean whose name Jai Seung Sin, is almost as ludicrous as Horowitz’s title. Interestingly, given the recent fuss over whether Idris Elba could be Bond, the narrator is the excellent David Oyelowo, whose voice is maybe too sonorous and mellow for such hard-bitten action.

The Mandarin Club by Gerald Felix Warburg (read by Bill Burrows)

Bancroft Press (audiobook)

First published in 2006 but new to audiobook downloading, The Mandarin Club spans four decades of Sino-American relations. Beginning in the Jimmy Carter presidency, a self-appointed “Gang of Five” convene a boozy meeting of minds. The cocksure quintet consist of Stanford’s smartest and most ambitious, and their shared fascination with China guides their lives into the 21st century. As tensions rise between Beijing, Taiwan and Washington, the five are at the centre of the escalating interactions. Mixing business and politics, espionage and cutting-edge technology, this terse, slick entertainment is elevated by two outsiders – a respected lobbyist and boyfriend of one of the five, and Li Jianjun, who observes the group’s uneasy negotiations with his homeland while he attempts to work out his own relationship with it. Bill Burrows reads a little like the news anchor he once was. The author is an academic and policymaker with vast experience working in China.

The Road to Rangoon by Lucy Cruickshanks (read by Leighton Pugh)

Heron Books (audiobook)

Lucy Cruickshanks writes satisfying historical novels set, so far at least, in Asia. Her debut, The Trader of Saigon, set after the Vietnam War, was about a former US soldier who buys and sells young girls. The Road to Rangoon is set in a comparably exotic but dangerous location: 1980s Burma, a nation riven by civil war, corruption and outside intervention. Cruickshanks favours slippery protagonists, caught between opposing sides, peoples and moral codes. In the prologue, set a decade before the main action, we meet Thuza, who will navigate the fine line. A ruby smuggler, she endures all manner of threats and violence. When she encounters the kidnapped son of the British ambassador, she sees a chance to escape her brittle existence, which is determined by whichever political faction holds sway. Blocking her way is the devious opportunist Than, a military officer who will exploit any situation for advancement. It’s an enjoyable and well-written second novel.