Audiobooks round-up November 2010
'The Sounds of Crime' is not, alas, a comprehensive sound-effects facility (Eeeek! Aaaargh! Crunch! Plop!) but a collection of short stories produced by some of the world's foremost crime writers, exclusively for audio (Whole Story Audio, 2hrs 45mins unabridged, £14.99; download from www.audible.co.uk for £4.99).
The form seems to have encouraged both first-person narration and a more playful mode, from Val McDermid's ITV3-style detective puzzler ('If we don't find the killer, the next victim's going to be a dead Santa!') to a rare short story by Peter James, with the winning title 'Meet Me at the Crematorium'. Should our narrator trust lover Hans, who quotes 'Lust' by Aparna Chatterjee but looks like a 'young Jack Nicholson', or husband Trevor, with the nipple clamps and the Def Leppard CDs? Mark Billingham's dualistic insight into capital punishment is the most interesting take on the genre, while Laurence Block wins out for creepiness. Three million people in America are thought to be compulsory hoarders. What, he imagines, could be lying buried under all that stuff?
If you, like us, find being disconcerted a far more interesting psychological state than being scared, we recommend Miranda July's cult hit 'No One Belongs Here More Than You' (Canongate, 5hrs unabridged, £18.99), which will also keep you amused and sporadically in awe. A performance artist as well as a short-story writer, July strikes a tone rather like a blank-eyed, blood-drained Claire Danes for these stories of imperfect connection and parched eroticism, in which, for instance, a middle-aged woman dreams of Prince William lifting her dowdy skirt and nuzzling her buttocks, and carries the dream around with her 'like a full glass of water'. It's universally accepted that other people's dreams are dull. Not here.
As for outright distressing listens, two famous fictional accounts of World War I have just been given brilliant new readings. James Wilby, who has previously played the poet on film, voices 'Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man' (CSA Word, 5hrs abridged, £16.99) the first in Siegfried Sassoon's semi-autobiographical trilogy, while Punchdrunk's Tom Lawrence takes on Erich Maria Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front' (Hachette, 7hrs unabridged, £17.99; download from www.audible.co.uk for £11.99). Those who saw 'Mask of the Red Death' might not believe it, but his reading is as sensitive to the poetry of downtime as the horror of action (I love the scene where the wind plays with the soldiers' hair, words and thoughts as they sit crapping together in the open air - a must for the Daniel Radcliffe film remake). Just make sure, iPod users, that you're not queuing at the supermarket checkout when the horses start screaming.