‘The Coming Storm’
By Michael Lewis. (Audible, unabridged, 2½ hours)
In the hands — and voice — of Michael Lewis, weather forecasting becomes a rich subject with a fascinating set of heroes and villains. The audio-only book follows the strange career of former U.S. chief data scientist D.J. Patil, a prankster turned mathematician and computer scientist who hacked into federal government computers to harvest previously unused data on weather, leading to an understanding of government-collected data as predictive tool.
But the really big — and bad — news here involves Barry Lee Myers, chief executive of AccuWeather, President Donald Trump’s choice to head the NOAA, under whose aegis the National Weather Service operates. It has been Myers’ mission since the 1990s to make it illegal for the National Weather Service to issue forecasts except in emergencies, to make forecasts a paid service and to suppress the data from which they are drawn.
By Dan Fesperman. (Dreamscape, unabridged, 13½ hours)
After handing the job of reading his previous six audiobooks to others, Dan Fesperman has taken on “Safe Houses” himself, and turned out an outstanding performance. His voice has a background crackle, but a force and limberness one does not normally find in authors reading their own work.
Here he shepherds us back and forth from the murder of a man and his wife on a Maryland chicken farm in 2014 to Berlin in 1979, where the motive is slowly uncovered. There we find the dead woman, Helen, at 23, aspiring to be a CIA agent, but relegated to looking after safe houses in Berlin.
When she becomes accidental witness to the brutal rape of a female asset by her handler, Kevin Gilley, she reports the incident to her superiors — but it is she who pays the price. With the aid of a couple of like-minded women, Helen slips undercover to expose Gilley and finds herself hunted by killers. Meanwhile, in 2014, her daughter, Anna, is determined to get to the bottom of her mother’s killing — and finds herself marked for destruction. The novel is clever, character-rich and suspenseful.
‘The Secrets Between Us’
By Thrity Umrigar. (Harper Audio, unabridged, 12 hours)
It has taken a dozen years, but Thrity Umrigar has finally provided a sequel to “The Space Between Us,” the story of the domestic-servant Bhima and her granddaughter, Maya, who live together in the slums of Mumbai. “The Secrets Between Us” brings solace for those who felt dismayed by its predecessor’s ending, but it also provides enough back story to stand on its own.
The story moves outward to take in Parvati, an ancient, destitute woman whose father sold her into prostitution in her youth. Afflicted with a hideous tumor on her neck, she has a nihilistic outlook and a caustic tongue. She and Bhima forge a prickly, mutually advantageous relationship, while Maya blossoms in a return to university.
Events unfold amid the cruel dynamics of the new India as market forces crush the country’s poor, gobbling up public spaces to create fortresses of privilege.
Narrator Sneha Mathan has a low, pleasant voice and reads in calm, English-accented tones, giving a range of unobtrusive, Indian-inflected diction to the story’s many characters. The plot is wonderfully rich in details of material life and, though filled with misfortune and cruelty, is, in the end, a heartwarming tale of friendship and courage, making it escape listening of a very high order.
Katherine A. Powers, a Minnesota native, reviews books for Barnes & Noble, Newsday, the Star Tribune and elsewhere. She writes this column for the Washington Post.