Audiobook and e-book fiction reviews: Celia Imrie, Ngaio Marsh, Clare Morrall
Morrall’s When the Floods Came is a memorable meditation on survival in a post-pandemic England, Philip Franks lends charm and wit to vintage crime fiction, and actress Imrie reads her own novel
by Clare Morrall
Hodder and Stoughton (e-book)
Clare Morrall made headlines when her debut novel Astonishing Splashes of Colour was shortlisted for the Booker in 2003. It was published by the tiny but astute Tindal Street when Morrall was almost 50. When the Floods Came is set in a strange if recognisable future, it whirls around the Polanski family who live in necessary isolation in a tower block in the English city of Birmingham. A pandemic has wiped out most of the population, which makes the Polanskis fairly remarkable. While the father, Popi, sculpts, his children Boris and Roza work for a Chinese tech company. In a world devoid of children, these young men and women are the only hope for the survival of the species. It also makes them potential targets for potential foes abroad in the country. These are personified by Aashay, a charismatic young man who arrives out of the blue to unsettle and charm in equal measure. Is he a force for good, bringing out the best of the reserved Polanskis, or a devil in disguise? The story is dreamlike but also thrilling, a meditation on myth-making, survival, society and nature. Whether you read it as a warning or a hymn to human goodness, When the Floods Came is memorable indeed.
by Ngaio Marsh (read by Philip Franks)
Hachette Audio (audiobook)
New Zealand crime writer Ngaio Marsh is perhaps not remembered with the same awe as peers such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. This is rather unfair if Black as He’s Painted is anything to go by. The title hints, a little unsubtly, at the plot and themes. The president of Ng’Ombwanan is on a state visit to England, his country’s former colonial ruler. Having received death threats, he calls on Roderick Allen, not only his former schoolmate (the president was nicknamed “The Boomer”) but Marsh’s long-running sleuth. The threats are numerous: bitter colonials and businessmen displaced from Ng’Ombwanan are just the tip of a racist iceberg. The drama centres on a reception for the president which will be attended, a little conveniently, by most of Marsh’s cast: Mr Whipplestone, Colonel Monfort, and Alleyn’s painter wife Troy. There’s murder, but not as expected. If the blind alleys are classic Marsh, the pointed political commentary is less familiar, if not unwelcome for a novel written in 1974. Philip Franks smooths things out with charm and wit. His cut-glass tones sound Golden Age to their tonsils, and he can raise an eyebrow, narrate a bewildering set piece and convince as a very smart cat called Lucy Locket.
by Celia Imrie (read by Celia Imrie)
One way to guarantee a really good audiobook narrator, one who starred in a Star Wars film no less, is for a really good audiobook narrator who starred in a Star Wars film to write a novel. Celia Imrie is a versatile actress whose credits range from comedy to, well, The Phantom Menace. Not Quite Nice fits the former: her propensity for playing tartly prim middle-class types alongside British comedian Victoria Wood. The title is a pun: that’s “Nice”, pronounced “neice”, as in the French holiday destination. When we first meet Theresa Simmons, our weary 59-year-old heroine, she is fed up with just about everything: her indulged grandchildren, unctuous daughter and her job which gives her the “heave-ho” within a couple of pages. She sells up and heads for Bellevue-Sur-Mer, which has distinctly literary connotations: everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Stendhal passed through. There is something of the gilded age in the mild eccentrics that Theresa meets: poets, wealthy American expats, actors. These seduce both Theresa and the reader until her past starts to invade. Imrie’s crisp, cultured tones are perfect for her crisp, cultured prose: “Recipes could certainly be taken in small doses, there was no story to follow ...” But she can catch her unpleasant grandchildren or the boozy Zoe with equal ease.