I can’t remember how I came upon The Death of Mrs. Westaway but I picked it up on Audible and it sat in my library for a few months before I actually listened to it… and then couldn’t stop listening to it. I think I’ve listened to it three times now.
The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a classic mystery with plenty of plot and psychological twists and turns that centres around an old inheritance, and murder from long ago, names and identities, and just plain greed. Hal, Harriet Westaway, is the main character in the story. A tarot reader who is barely getting by, Hal tells herself she doesn’t believe in the cards she turns for others, but she does, in some way, believe in them for herself. She is alone in the world. One day she receives a letter about an inheritance and everything changes, but instead of being showered with money, she is thrown into the intrigue of a story that played out decades earlier.
Narrator Imogen Church has a haunting, understated voice that works wonderfully for Hal and all of the characters, both male and female.
I really love this book and it’s now in my collection of books to go back to when I need something to listen to and don’t want any new surprises. That list is very exclusive. It’s also one I recommend to my library patrons all the time.
(14 hours and 14 minutes) Simon and Schuster Audio, 2018)
In true Brontë style, The Thirteenth Tale is not a story of the external ghosts that haunt buildings or graveyards. Rather, it tells of the internal ghosts that haunt us all. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart. Jane Eyre, a recurring theme in the book, is referenced often and I have the urge to listen to it again so the mood this book has put me in doesn’t escape me. Setterfield manages to create a landscape for her book that is on the one hand bleak and on the other splashed with colours of passion and madness. There is A LOT of madness in this book.
The story is told from the point of view of a biographer, Margaret Lea, who has been commanded to listen to and record the story of a famous and reclusive writer, Vida Winter, who is dying. In the process, Lea uncovers the truth about Winters’ past, and at the same time acknowledges her own tragic story.
“All children mythologize their birth…” is how the story begins and through the pages we encounter a string of characters who not only mythologize their births, but grip the story of their births to point where they are almost unable to see anything else.
Setterfield has done a masterful job of maintaining the voices of these two women who are reliving their pasts while the present is crashing down around them. It’s hard to believe how well she captured the feel of Jane Eyre while telling a completely new story. The twists and turns of the plot were natural, and yet always unexpected. I found myself driving to work saying things like, “But what about…..”, or “Ah, so that’s it….,” out loud. I’m glad nobody was watching.
At first I thought it was a bit distracting having two readers, one for Margaret (Bianca Amato) and one for Vida (Jill Tanner). The two voices at first don’t have the same kind of contrast I’d come to expect from audiobooks that utilize multiple readers. As the story progressed, however, I saw how subtly and skillfully each embraced her part. By the end I couldn’t imagine only one reader bringing justice to the book.
I haven’t heard either Amato or Tanner read before and both were exquisite. It would be interesting to hear both of them read a book that was more upbeat – I wonder what that would sound like.
I listened to this on CD and it was well worth the irritation I felt changing discs all the time. There is a blank track at the end of each disc which I’m assuming was there to indicate that it was time to change discs. I haven’t encountered that before. It’s less irritating than a strange voice telling me what to do. I see it’s now available on Audible which would be much easier to listen to.
Apparently there is also an abridged version of this book on audio. I don’t do abridgements (EVER!) so I can’t really comment on it. It has different readers as well.
(15 hrs and 38 mins), Simon and Schuster Audio, 2006
The Final Flight by James Blatch, narrated by Matt Addis, was an unexpected thrill ride for me. I was expecting a decent military story about the RAF. What I was not expecting was a first-class thriller that had me scrambling for every five minutes of listening I could find. Blatch has placed compelling characters, authentic research, and a believable storyline in an era that is underrepresented in the thriller genre. Set in 1966, the story is so vivid you can feel the heat of a summer’s afternoon, see the military row houses and period vehicles driving by, and feel the vibration of jet planes taking off and landing. Blatch expertly ratchets up the suspense with sequences of twists and turns that I did not see coming.
As an avid audio listener, I’m very picky about the voices I listen to and Matt Addis has been added to the list of readers I will search for more books by. He has an easy-going style that is similar to Simon Vance. His character voices are consistent, and each character has a unique voice that adds to their personality. My only criticism is how he does women’s voices. They sound less clearly defined than the men’s voices, but not to the point where it’s annoying.
Overall, I found this to be an astonishingly good thriller that I would highly recommend.
After many years away from reviewing audiobooks I’ve decided to start up again. You can find my old reviews on my old Audiobookfreak blog.
Today I’m diving into four books I recently listened to that all take place in Bombay, India, in the 1920’s and 40’s. It’s a time and place I really know nothing about and I loved every minute of my time in these books.
I loved this fictional story of Persis Wadia, the first female police detective in India. Caught in a time of cultural and political revolution, she is strong, hardworking, incredibly smart, and the wrong gender to gain any respect. The story is a great detective story that relies on observation and intelligence rather than force or intimidation. The chief support she has behind her as she pursues the case of a murdered British diplomat is a Caucasian criminalist from Scotland Yard, Archie, who is the right gender to gain respect but can see a glimpse of what her struggle is.
I find the delicacy of how Persis threads her way along the edges of acceptable societal and cultural permissions fascinating. It’s that grey area, between old traditions and the early signs of feminism where she has the most to lose in her quest for the truth that is so compelling. Persis is the type of character who doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, so picturing her in a world completely filled with men and knowing the depth and complexity of her thoughts as she quietly ignores her detractors is really interesting. Given that just a few decades earlier she wouldn’t have been allowed out without a chaperone really drives that point home.
Maya Saroya is a fantastic narrator who really captures Persis’s frustration, intelligence, and struggles and is a genuine pleasure to listen to.
This was a splendid book and I highly recommend it if you like a good cozy mystery and want to explore a culture that I personally have had very little exposure to.
Author Vaseem Khan just released the second book in the series, The Dying Day. I was part way through the first book when I realized I had already listened to another one of his books, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, the first in the Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation series, which I also loved and I now see there are many more books in that series so I’ll be listening to those as well.
Next are the first three books in the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey
This series follows Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer in the early 1920s. We see her struggles as a woman who cannot do many things in her profession because of her gender, but is also the only person possible who can take on certain tasks because of her gender.
In this book Perveen investigates irregularities in a will for her clients, three Muslim widows living in full purdah, where they are isolated behind a garden wall in and the women’s half of the house, with no direct contact with men who aren’t their relatives. Because she is a woman, Perveen is the only one who can get behind the curtain of the lives of the widows and actually see them face to face.
The culture of her world and the delicate dances Perveen needs to make as she achieves her goals while not crossing the boundaries of social and gender permissions is frustrating and fascinating at the same time. Perveen’s own painful history is revealed as the story progresses, which feels like knowing a train wreck is about to happen and not being able to stop it. This backstory was heart wrenching to get through and there were times I wanted to scream in frustration at how women were controlled in these situations and what little recourse they had. Through all of it, the legal rights (or lack of rights) of women in India at the time are at the forefront of Perveen’s mind and inspire her actions.
Soneela Nankani narrated the first book of this series and was excellent. She has a gentle accent that is warm and she does a good job of handling the variety of voices in the story.
I really loved this book and I couldn’t wait to dive into the second book.
The Satapur Moonstoon (book 2 in the Perveen Mistry series)
This second book in the Perveen Mistry series was even more gripping than the first as the author has introduced a potential love interest for Perveen – a love interest who is wrong in so many ways. He is not only not Parsi, as her family is, he is British and white. In the story Perveen is sent to a princeley state in the distant Sahadyari mountains where two widows, the mother and the wife of the prince who has died, are living with the children in purdah (isolation) and are battling with each other in a power play to determine the education, and possibly safety, of the young prince and heir to the throne. It’s a vicious duel of old world and new world thinking. In this story the stakes are higher for Perveen, the physical danger is greater and the emotional and cultural danger is escalated by a forbidden friendship. Perveen and the British agent for the prince’s stately concerns are drawn together, which makes every step she makes look like she’s about to walk on a landmine. Oh, and there is a curse. Curses are always fun!
This book welcomed a new narrator, Sneha Mathan, who has a smooth voice that is extremely pleasing to listen to. She covers a variety of voices exceptionally well and it was hard to remember it wasn’t a cast of actors reading a script but one woman creating distinct and easily identifiable, authentic sounding characters.
The Bombay Prince (book 3 in the Perveen Mistry series)
As crowds in Bombay riot over colonial rule and the visit from Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, Perveen is driven to uncover the circumstances behind the death of a young female student who she had briefly met with a week earlier. In this book, the teetering edge of colonial rule and the uprising that turned violent in the streets form the backdrop to the story that still leans heavily on gender roles and power.
In this book, the author, Sujata Massey, continues to allow Perveen to push her own boundaries and experience the effect of the resistance to her growing independence. Colin, the British agent she met in the second book, is in Bombay for the prince’s visit and their friendship and the romantic tension between them grows. The stakes become higher and the danger Perveen faces reaches the point when her survival is seriously in question.
Each of these books also explores the different subcultures that exist in India which I found really fascinating. I found the differences in Parsi, Hindu, and Muslim cultures in India really interesting to the point where I had to research how a Parsi woman would wrap her sari verses how a Hindu woman would wear hers. In my shallow understanding of these worlds, I thought they were all the same. I like it when I learn little details about worlds I know nothing about.
Sneha Mathan continues as narrator for this book and again, I completely forgot that she was reading, and giving depth and character to all the male and female roles. She is an excellent narrator.
And now I wait for a fourth book, which is always frustrating. I discovered that Sujata Massey also wrote the Rei Shimura Mysteries so I will start on those to tide me over.