The Best Audio Books of 2009
By Hilary Mantel
Read by Simon Slater
(23 hours, Macmillan Audio, 18 CDs, $49.99; Audible.com download, $36.74)
The 2009 Man Booker Prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's fixer and counselor, has been brilliantly served by English actor (and composer) Simon Slater. He gives an ironic, Machiavellian edge to his voice as general narrator and renders the myriad characters with exceptional virtuosity. This performance is the best of the year: an absolute triumph, further enhancing an already magnificent novel.
DOMBEY AND SON
By Charles Dickens
Read by David Timson
(39 hours, Naxos, www.naxosaudiobooks.com, 31 CDs, $133.98; Naxos download, $92)
Dickens's minor characters are often the stars of his novels, and British actor David Timson gives each his or her idiosyncratic due in this wonderful, richly peopled production. Among them is a model Captain Cuttle, salty, bluff, ever constant to young "Wal'r"; a kindly, befuddled Mr. Toots; and Toots's belligerent associate, the Game Chicken. The work is expensive, but Timson's storytelling charisma assures that it will be returned to again and again.