“The Spy and the Traitor” lives up to its subtitle, not least because Ben Macintyre has no equal in portraying the real-life, chimerical world of double agents. He has found gold in Oleg Gordievsky, a high-ranking KBG officer who passed Soviet secrets to Britain’s MI6 for more than a decade. Sickened by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Gordievsky resolved to undermine the oppressive regime and began to relay high-grade information to the British, some of which may, in Macintyre’s telling, have prevented a third world war. Exposure came when the CIA, miffed that MI6 would not share the spy’s identity, began its own investigations, with the result that Gordievsky, just appointed KGB Bureau Chief in London, was outed as a possible spy by CIA functionary and Soviet mole Aldrich Ames. Called back to Moscow and interrogated, Gordievsky knew he would be arrested, tortured and executed. Thus began his escape, a white-knuckle affair that is almost unbearably suspenseful. John Lee, whose voice and dramatic pacing are particularly suited to tales of derring-do, narrates the book with his usual panache. (Random House Audio, Unabridged, 13¼ hours)
The earliest work by V.S. Naipaul, who died in August, is finally available as an audiobook. “Miguel Street” is a collection of linked stories set on a street in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, during the 1940s. Told from the point of view of a young neighborhood boy, the stories are a gossipy, increasingly poignant chronicle of the daily doings, small dramas and misfortunes of several recurring, highly idiosyncratic characters. Among them are Bogart, a man who has adopted the mien of that popular actor; Eddoes, rarely seen without a fashionable toothbrush in his mouth; Laura, proud of having eight children by seven fathers; Morgan, who aspires to make millions selling fireworks to “the King of England and the King of America”; B. Wordsworth, a poet whose pleasure it is to watch bees; and Popo, the carpenter who builds nothing. The dialogue comes in the patois of the Caribbean street, its cadence and beat beautifully rendered by Bahamian-born American actor Ron Butler, who captures its humor and Naipaul’s nostalgic affection toward the people of his Trinidadian youth. (Blackstone Audio, Unabridged, 5¾ hours)
Women played vital roles in the “Iliad,” notably in that it was Helen’s abduction that caused the Trojan war and Briseis’s appropriation by Agamemnon that sent Achilles into his fatal sulk. Missing from the poem, however, is a sense of the women’s point of view, and that is just what is supplied in all its desolation and heartbreak by Pat Barker in “The Silence of the Girls.” Literary master of the trauma of battle, Barker re-creates the story from the fall of the Trojan city Lyrnessus to shortly after the death of Achilles. The greater part is told by Briseis, a young woman who has watched as her menfolk were slaughtered. She is awarded to Achilles as his “prize of honor,” and her account is narrated by Kristin Atherton in a clear, soft voice that conveys both the resignation to fate and the determination to maintain personhood of a woman reduced from royalty to slavery. In time, Briseis’s version alternates with that of Achilles, passages narrated by Michael Fox, who lends them the proper moods of pride, umbrage and devastating grief over the death of his dear friend Patroclus. (Random House Audio, Unabridged, 10¾ hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.