The Middleman

Olen Steinhauer’s 11th novel is set in present-day America complete with Trump as president, agencies headed by corporate bigwigs and a rabble-rousing TV commentator “kicking up the dirt of his audience’s fears.” Steinhauer once again demonstrates his mastery in creating suspense and devising scenarios in which things are not at all what they seem — especially when it comes to the machinations of rogue elements in the nation’s intelligence and security organizations. A missile launcher is discovered in the possession of the Massive Brigade, a purportedly nonviolent anti-corporate movement. FBI agent Rachel Proulx is put in charge of the case, her authority constantly undermined by a highhanded, male associate with an alternate agenda. The shooting of four members of Congress by Brigade members and the discovery by the FBI of one of their safe houses ends in a bloodbath. Public outcry, a mendacious official report, and the unraveling of a nefarious plot follow. Ari Fliakos calmly narrates while capturing colorfully the array of characters in this multilayered book. (Macmillan Audio. Unabridged, 9¾ hours)

The Shakespeare Requirement

We first met Jason Fitger as the hapless author of the letters of recommendation and high umbrage that make up Julie Schumacher’s 2014 novel “Dear Committee Members.” This second installment moves from an epistolary approach to a full-on narrative one and is, if possible, even funnier than its predecessor. Schumacher reads the book herself and in her voice, impassive and fatalistic, we hear a lived sense of academic desolation and departmental rue. Fitger is now in the unwanted position of head of English, a department famous for “discord and dysfunction.” Matters have achieved a new level of turbulence with the necessity of coming up with a “Statement of Vision.” The first one proposed made no mention of requiring the study of Shakespeare, an intolerable deficiency in the view of the resident Shakespearean. All hell breaks loose. The imbroglio is a gift to Roland Gladwell, head of economics who hopes to capitalize on it to whittle English down to a nonentity — not that it isn’t pretty much one anyway. In fact, Gladwell’s imperial ambitions have reached into English’s physical territory to annex its conference room. What ensues is a tale worthy of Thucydides — assuming he had a sense of humor — with English as Athens and Economics as Sparta. (Random House Audio. Unabridged, 9 hours)

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

An air of menace pervades Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s thoroughly absorbing, terrifying and ultimately moving novel set chiefly in Bogota, Colombia, during the 1990s. These are the Pablo Escobar years, a period of kidnappings, bombings, massacres and assassinations perpetrated by narcos, paramilitary groups, revolutionary factions and the government itself. The story is told from the points of view of two girls: Chula, 7 years old at the start, is the younger of two daughters of a family living in a gated neighborhood. Thirteen-year-old Petrona is the family’s maid, now living in a shantytown; the family’s original home was burned by paramilitaries, and her father and older brothers have “disappeared.” Chula’s perfectly conjured world is shaped by snippets of overheard conversation, headlines, broadcasts and her older sister’s erroneous views. Chula’s sections are narrated by Marisol Ramirez, and Petrona’s by Almarie Guerra. Both beautifully capture the girls’ young voices and convey their uncertainty, shifting loyalties and sense of foreboding. Both are gifted bilingual narrators and deliver the many Spanish phrases with musical grace. (Random House Audio. Unabridged, 12½ hours.)

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

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