“American Spy,” by Lauren Wilkinson.
(Random House Audio, unabridged, 10 ¾ hours.)
Lauren Wilkinson’s debut is a moving family story and a first-class thriller set in the context of lethal American meddling in the politics of another nation. Marie Mitchell, whose father is a cop from Queens and whose mother hails from Martinique, joined the FBI out of college in the 1980s. A black woman amid a throng of white men, she is going nowhere until she is sent by the CIA for an undercover assignment to Burkina Faso.
What happens there doesn’t stay there, and a few years later Marie, now the mother of twin 4-year-old boys, finds a man with a gun in her bedroom. His mistake. Her attacker dispatched, Marie and sons vamoose to Martinique, where she writes a long, explanatory letter — this novel — to her boys. Bahni Turpin delivers the general narrative in a warm, confident voice and is, in dialogue, a virtuoso of accents and manner. Both novel and performance are outstanding.
“Remembering Roth,” by James Atlas.
(Audible Studios, unabridged, 1 1/3 hours.)
James Atlas’ heartfelt memoir of his vexed friendship with Philip Roth is available exclusively in audiobook form. Atlas reads the work himself, and his voice — that of the bookman, rather than professional narrator — is saturated with feeling.
The Atlas-Roth relationship began in the early 1970s when Roth sent Atlas a congratulatory letter about a biography Atlas had written of poet Delmore Schwartz. Atlas conveys the awe and admiration he felt for Roth, “the most charismatic person I’ve ever known, the largest presence, the funniest, the most brilliant, the most profound.” We can also hear his dismay as he describes the more unfortunate aspects of the pair’s on-again/off-again friendship.
A prickly and sometimes downright impossible customer, Roth was especially exasperating as Atlas worked on a biography of Saul Bellow, a work Roth had encouraged him to take on, but which severed their friendship for a time. The memoir is an affecting meditation on the life of a writer, on aging, friendship — and the disappointments that always seem to overshadow successes even for a “giant of American letters” such as Philip Roth.
“The Suspect,” by Fiona Barton.
(Penguin Audio, unabridged. 11 ½ hours.)
The plot of Fiona Barton’s third novel has a chilly surprise around every bend, confounding our expectations in the most satisfying way. It begins with the disappearance in Thailand of two 18-year-old English women, soon discovered dead in sordid circumstances. It is also a tale of parental anguish and ruthless media coverage.
Rich in character and suspense, the book is delivered by four superb narrators: Katharine McEwan, Fiona Hardingham, Nicholas Guy Smith and Susan Duerden, each covering sections devoted to the perspectives of four characters. There is Alex, one of the dead girls, who had traveled with the other victim, a thoroughly bad egg interested only in drinking, drugs and hookups. There is Lesley, Alex’s frantic mother, and two regulars from Barton’s previous novels: Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes and reporter Kate Waters, who happens to be the mother of the prime suspect (who is also missing). This is a fine performance of a highly sophisticated crime novel.
A Minnesota native, Katherine A. Powers reviews books for the Wall Street Journal, the Star Tribune and elsewhere. She writes this column for the Washington Post.