Reviews of audiobook fiction: Moby-Dick, Avenue of Mysteries, In the Cold Dark Ground

James Kidd

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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 January, 2016, 1:02am

Moby-Dick

by Herman Melville

(read by Anthony Heald)

Blackstone Audio (audiobook)

With the whaling epic In the Heart of the Sea surfacing in cinemas, it’s a good time to revisit the classic novel that partly inspired it: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. There are no end of audiobook versions from full-length versions by Alan Munro and William Hootkins, to starry dramatised versions with F. Murray Abraham and a short three-hour edit read by George Kennedy. I went for Anthony Heald whose marvellous turn as the oily Frederick Chilton in The Silence of the Lambs will ensure his immortality. He is the “old friend” whom Hannibal Lecter is “having” for dinner. His expressive voice is ideal for Melville’s prose, soaked at once in nature and the Bible, madness and meditation. Heald gives the priceless sense that he is not only reading but understanding sentences as winding as: “Take almost any path you please, and 10 to 1 it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it … Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor.” You may have to rewind now and again, but that only doubles the pleasure.

Avenue of Mysteries

by John Irving

(read by Armando Duran)

Random House Audio (audiobook)

The hero of John Irving’s 14th novel should be a gift for an audiobook narrator. Juan Diego is a famous novelist straight out of Mexico, possibly via Iowa. His advancing years are suggested by high blood pressure, a fixation with his unstable if magical childhood (his mother was a prostitute, his unknown father one of her many clients, his sister a clairvoyant) and a career retrospective in Lithuania. Juan’s earthier concerns are signified by, well, women: not least the mind-bogglingly willing mother and daughter pair he meets on a flight to Hong Kong. It is a strange novel, at once frantic and static, as an ageing but still virile Lothario finds himself remembering things past: the religious, political and personal traumas that made him the artist he is today. This strangely mixed pace is reflected by Armando Duran who reads with an easy-going sway that I suspect Diego would like to have, but worries deep down that he has lost. His voice, though, is so attractive, so capable of evoking a bird in flight or two women in sexual ecstasy that I would listen to him read a box of cereal.

In the Cold Dark Ground

by Stuart MacBride

(read by Steve Worsley)

HarperCollins (audiobook)

Stuart MacBride is a fine crime novelist: his 10 novels starring Logan McCrae could be run-of-the-mill a la Ian Rankin (gritty hero, nasty bursts of violence, Scottish politics and culture), but his pulsating prose and way with a plot distinguish him from his peers. In the Cold Dark Ground starts with a murder, or at least a victim: a dead body, tied and gagged, is found in local woods. Elsewhere, the times they are a changin’. The fantastically unpleasant Aberdeen crime lord, the gloriously scary Wee Hamish Mowat, seems about to be superseded by his equally scary henchman Reuben. Just when Logan thought his boss Superintendent Steele couldn’t get any worse, a new superintendent comes to town. Good as he is, McBride has already exhausted his share of audiobook narrators, including comedian John Session and himself. Steve Worsley is perhaps his most regular reader and I can see why. He can do ominous for the darkest parts of the story, humour for the sardonic interplay between Logan and his colleagues, and drama as the plots weave towards the ending. Whether he is evoking death or politics, Worsley is terrific. I truly hope he reads Logan’s 11th, 12th and 20th episodes.