By Tana French (Penguin Audio. Unabridged, 16 hours.)
Of Tana French’s six superb Dublin crime novels, “Faithful Place,” newly rereleased as an audiobook, is the standout, thanks to narrator Tim Gerard Reynolds’ terrific command of accents and nimble juggling of voices. The story begins with the discovery of a suitcase in a house in a working-class section of Dublin. The suitcase is — or was — the property of Rosie Daly, believed to have run off to England two decades ago, leaving behind the boyfriend she was meant to elope with. That is Frank Mackey, now a cop, who is warned off the case by the officer in charge, his old rival, “Scorcher” Kennedy, who “wore his swagger like it was part of his El Snazzo suit.” The discovery of Rosie’s body puts the book into whodunit territory, and family and social tensions give it heft, but French’s genius for lyrical riffs of dialogue and the cut and thrust of insult and gibe at which Dubliners are such masters achieves brilliance in the audio version. The Irish-born Reynolds renders this gritty backchat with perfection.
Jackie, Janet & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill
By J. Randy Taraborrelli. (Macmillan Audio. Unabridged, 20 hours, 15 minutes)
Veteran celebrity biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli returns to Kennedy-Bouvier territory in high-tattle mode to plow another furrow in its rich loam of gossip, scandal and tragedy. Narrator Ann Marie Lee’s flexible voice moves from gushing tell-all rapture over salaciousness (Jackie in sexual congress in an elevator!), histrionics (sporadic face-slapping) and curious customs (Lee’s maid rushing in to toss a gardenia into the toilet after every use), down several keys to teary dolefulness over the many deaths. Her over-the-top performance perfectly suits this story of ruthless campaigns for money and power. The story’s most sympathetic character is Lee, constantly competing with her sister and unable to stay the course in the many projects she mounted. The book may not reveal much that is new, but knowing that Aristotle Onassis was Lee’s paramour before Jackie snagged him or that Gore Vidal described Hugh Auchincloss as “a magnum of chloroform” does not lessen the guilty pleasure of hearing it conveyed with such infectious enthusiasm.
The Widows of Malabar Hill
By Sujata Massey. (Recorded Books. Unabridged, 14 hours, 30 minutes)
Sujata Massey, author of the popular Rei Shimura mysteries, now launches a marvelously plotted, richly detailed series set in India in the 1920s. Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s first female solicitor, works for her father in his law office. Among his clients is the family of the recently deceased Omar Farid, a man with three wives living in purdah on Malabar Hill. The family’s agent, Faisal Mukri, has sent a request, ostensibly from Farid’s widows, asking that their inheritance be given to a charitable organization. Something is fishy here, and Perveen is put on the case. She learns that Mukri is a very bad egg and that the women have their own dicey secrets. When a member of the household is murdered, Perveen is drawn further into the insalubrious doings on Malabar Hill. The plot barrels along, picking up cultural complexity and flashbacks to Perveen’s past. Soneela Nankani delivers the general narration in a warm American voice and gives a trim, restrained Indian accent to the dialogue, modulating register to distinguish the characters. This is a first-rate performance inaugurating a most promising series.
Minnesota native Katherine A. Powers reviews for Newsday, the Star Tribune and elsewhere. She writes this column monthly for the Washington Post.