'The Singapore Grip'
More than 40 years after its print publication, “The Singapore Grip,” the mordantly comic final volume of J.G. Farrell’s Empire Trilogy, is finally available. (The novel, by the Booker Prize-winning Farrell, is also being made into an ITV drama series.) Set on the eve of the Japanese invasion of the British colony of Singapore in 1942, the book centers on Walter Blackett, a rubber plantation owner who is intent on celebrating his firm’s jubilee even as all hell is breaking loose in Southeast Asia. A ruthless businessman, Blackett takes the stringencies of making a profit as natural law and is astounded as his workforce abandons him. Narrator Mike Grady conveys the novel’s devastating irony and ghoulish surreality with dry perfection. He gives Blackett the blunt Midlands accent of the hard-nosed capitalist and provides subtly appropriate voices for the novel’s many other characters. Among them are Blackett’s feckless, dissolute son, Monty, who is scheming to avoid military service; his daughter, Joan, a human viper; and the Human Condition, an elderly, mangy spaniel with his own preoccupations. In this production we have the union of a great narrator and a superb novel. (Random House Audio, Unabridged, 25 1 /3 hours)
Linwood Barclay takes one of the most frustrating aspects of modern city life — waiting for the elevator in a high-rise building — and turns it into horror and white-knuckle suspense. Suddenly the elevators in Manhattan seem to have minds of their own, whizzing up and down heedless of exasperated would-be riders, stalling between floors, plummeting in free fall through the shaft, and killing people in a most gruesome way. It’s a big headache for Mayor Richard (“don’t call me Dick”) Headley. Should he order the shutdown of this vertical city’s 60,000-plus elevators? A fingerless, mangled-face corpse becomes a piece in the puzzle. A taxi explodes. An alt-right group may be implicated — or is it a matter of cherchez le Russe? Journalist Barbara Matheson begins her own investigations, as do police officers Jerry Bourque and Lois Delgado. Tense mother-daughter and father-son drama bubbles up. Johnathan McClain narrates the novel — which is as witty as it is exciting — in a hard-edge, big-city voice deftly adjusted to capture men and women, New Yorkers and out-of-towners. The novel’s slightly improbable denouement may reassure us that this couldn’t actually happen. Probably. (HarperAudio, Unabridged, 13 hours)
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.