The 10 best audiobooks of 2022

The right narrator can bring a good story to vivid life. Just listen to Rosie Perez read Ronnie Spector.

(Illustration by Adam Simpson for The Washington Post)

This year’s best audiobooks, a festival of voice, appeal to a diversity of tastes, ranging the globe from Wisconsin to Pakistan, Brooklyn to East Africa, New England to London, and taking in subjects as different as regicide and wedding planning. Among the superb narrators are Patrick Radden Keefe reading his own work, Rosie Perez channeling Ronnie Spector, and Fiona Shaw delivering the latest report from the Thursday Murder Club.

‘Act of Oblivion,’ by Robert Harris

This enthralling novel takes its title from the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660. Charles II’s proclamation, designed to bring peace, pardoned anti-royalists with exceptions, notably the 59 men who had signed Charles I’s death warrant. If seized, the men were to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Ned Whalley and William Goffe, both historical figures, are pursued from England to America by a fictional nemesis. Tim McInnerny delivers a masterly narration, finely tuned to the personality and convictions of each character. (HarperAudio, Unabridged, 15¾ hours)

‘Afterlives,’ by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Nobel laureate Gurnah sets his 10th novel in what is now Tanzania, beginning in the early 20th century, when it was part of German East Africa. Painful though the story of the four central characters is at times, the fine detail of their daily lives provides the listener with real joy — as does Damian Lynch’s superb narration. The British actor handles German and Swahili easily, conveying the speakers’ personalities and palpably inhabiting this quietly brilliant book. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 10¼ hours)

‘Be My Baby,’ by Ronnie Spector

Ronnie Spector’s memoir — written with Vince Waldron and completed just before Spector’s death in January — has the perfect narrator in Rosie Perez. A teenage Ronnie, her sister and their cousin danced their way into the Peppermint Lounge and, eventually, emerged under Phil Spector’s wing as the girl group the Ronnettes. He became a controlling monster — and Ronnie’s husband. This part of the book is as strange and horrifying as its beginning is vivacious and triumphant. (Macmillan, Unabridged, 10¾ hours)

‘The Bullet That Missed,’ by Richard Osman

This is the third installment of the adventures of Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, a small posse of residents at a retirement village in Kent, England. The plot involves a murdered journalist, a former KGB goon, a Swedish money launderer, kidnapping, death by knitting needle and a personable dog. The narrator is Fiona Shaw, a talented comic actor who maintains the wry spirit of the series and captures the characters’ personalities with empathy and flair, though her “Swedish” accent is downright peculiar. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 11¼ hours)

‘The Family Chao,’ by Lan Samantha Chang

William, Ming and James are the American-born sons of a tyrannical Chinese-born Wisconsin restaurant owner who causes his wife to retreat to a Buddhist nunnery in Chang’s brilliant novel, a psychological exploration of the emotions and sense of identity of children of immigrants. The complex plot spawns revelatory side stories. Narrator Brian Nishii carries the book beautifully in a clear, usually calm voice that becomes heated in moments of conflict, absorbing and conveying feelings that grow ever more intense. (Recorded Books, Unabridged, 11 hours)

‘Olga Dies Dreaming,’ by Xochitl Gonzalez

Gonzalez’s debut novel tells the story of Olga Acevedo, a successful wedding planner, and her brother, Prieto, a popular Brooklyn congressman. Developers are blackmailing Prieto, and Olga is conducting a demoralizing affair — until she meets Matteo. The siblings’ mother, Blanca, abandoned them as children to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence. Almarie Guerra delivers Blanca’s letters to Olga in a voice that conveys urgency and self-forgiveness; Inés del Castillo narrates fast-talking Olga’s sections; and Armando Riesco takes on the soul-tortured Prieto. (Macmillan Audio, Unabridged, 11⅓ hours)

‘Retail Gangster,’ by Gary Weiss

Weiss’s irresistible account of the life of Eddie Antar, a small-time huckster who became a wealthy merchant, securities fraudster, fugitive and convict, is also a tale of the rise of consumer electronics in America and a fond portrait of the sleazy, disintegrating city that was New York in the 1970s. Narrator Richard Ferrone, whose gravelly, big-city voice is wonderfully suited to stories of criminal enterprise, does the book full justice. (Hachette, Unabridged, 13 hours)

‘The Return of Faraz Ali’ by Aamina Ahmad

Ahmad’s accomplished first novel revolves around Faraz Ali, born to a prostitute in Mohalla, the red-light district in Lahore, Pakistan. Faraz’s powerful father has the boy taken from his mother and raised by a poor but respectable family. By 1968, he is a police officer, and as Pakistan erupts into unrest, Faraz’s father asks him to return to Mohalla to cover up a girl’s death. The large cast of believable characters is given voice beautifully by Homer Todiwala and Nina Wadia. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 12¼ hours)

‘Rogues,’ by Patrick Radden Keefe

Keefe narrates his own collection of 12 essays in a strong voice that conveys the dauntlessness of his sleuthing. Among the subjects of these pieces (originally published in the New Yorker) are a disgruntled professor who turned a gun on her colleagues; the impresario whose rehabilitation of Donald Trump helped lead to his presidency; a respected physician turned inside trader; the drug lord El Chapo; and Anthony Bourdain. Keefe’s storytelling is so limber that the essays have the grip of thrillers. (Random House, Unabridged, 15½ hours)

‘Shrines of Gaiety,’ by Kate Atkinson

Set in a London of Bright Young Things and disenchanted war veterans in the 1920s, Atkinson’s 12th novel is a cat’s cradle of wittily contrived coincidences. Nightclub owner (and undoting mother of six) Nellie Coker finds her empire under threat from a corrupt policeman, a bad apple from Malta and Detective Chief Inspector John Frobisher. Gwendolen Kelling, who has come from York to find two runaway teenagers, assists Frobisher, who would like to bring Nellie down. Funny, suspenseful and occasionally poignant, the story is served magnificently by Jason Watkins’s narration. (Random House, Unabridged, 17 hours)

Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.

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