Disaster of a Century
By Wyn Craig Wade
Unabridged, Tantor, 12½ hours, 12 CDs, $39.99; downloads: audible.com, $27.99; iTunes, $23.95
The number of books about the Titanic is legion, but of those I’ve read (plenty), this one, first published in 1979 and now revised, is the best. I recommend fast-forwarding through the introductory matter, but after that the book excels in material detail, historical circumstances and troubling repercussions. It is read by Robertson Dean, whose resonant baritone voice might have come from the deep-blue sea itself. As the catastrophe unfolds slowly, to the incredulity of most passengers and crew members, Dean’s grave delivery is both moving and horrifying. The whole tale is an exercise in irony, from the vainglorious claims of its owners to the identification of John Jacob Astor’s body by his huge diamond ring and the $4,000 in his water-logged pocket.
AN AMERICAN SPY
By Olen Steinhauer
Unabridged, Macmillan Audio, approx. 12 hours, 11 CDs, $39.99; downloads: audible.com, 27.95; iTunes, $23.95,
Milo Weaver, part of the CIA’s most secret and ruthless operating group, the Tourists, shows up here for a third outing in Olen Steinhauer’s terrific thriller. Like the two novels that precede it, this one is richly populated with characters of shifting loyalties from many lands, an assembly that demands a range of accents and voices: German, Eastern European, African, Chinese and American of both sexes. David Pittu executes them all with only one fumble: a peculiar rendering of a Yorkshire accent becomes a raucous cockney one. Still, he transfers his voice from person to person in the book’s many conversations (and interrogations) with dexterity, leaving the listener in no doubt as to who’s speaking. As for the plot: It creates almost unbearable suspense as its characters, surrounded by every species of treachery, find themselves fatally “caught in the folds of foreign policy.”
By Marcel Proust
Unabridged, Naxos, 21½ hours, 17 CDs, $98.98; Naxos download, www.naxosaudiobooks.com, $64
This is the first volume of Naxos’s projected production of the entire seven volumes of Proust’s great work, “Remembrance of Things Past,” translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. It comes 10 years after the same narrator, Neville Jason, produced an abridged version and, when approached to read the whole thing, exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s going to take the rest of my life!” A multitude of ordinary, educated readers have muttered the same thing and moved on with their lives, though with a sense of cultural failure. Here is salvation, at least for those who commute or are otherwise chained to some mindless activity that allows for listening. Jason’s rendition is mesmerizing, elegant and supple. He unwinds the long sentences gracefully and with impeccable phrasing. He shades the voices of the many speakers to match their characters, and his pronunciation of French names and places is adept. There are, of course, new, less reticent translations, but Jason’s reading of this celebrated version is itself a masterpiece.
DEATH OF KINGS
By Bernard Cornwell
Unabridged, HarperAudio, 10¼ hours, download only: audible.com, $23.61; iTunes, $21.95
The warrior Uhtred lays out the plot of this most recent addition to Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories: “It was Yule, 898, and someone was trying to kill me. I would kill them instead.” Narrator Stephen Perring takes on the book’s many battles in tones that are urgent without being shouty. He has a voice built for old-fashioned adventure, of which this story is chock full, though often accompanied by truly horrible violence. This is most assuredly not a book for vegans. Perring is also wonderful in his rendition of Danes with short fuses, fussy monks, acid-tongued priests and a very scary witch. He has conferred a Dublin accent on a 9th-century Irishman and a cockney one on a traveling magician, but who can say how people really sounded in days of yore?
Powers is a writer in Boston.