Hilary Mantel’s final volume of her trilogy based on the life of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right-hand man, begins with Anne Boleyn’s decapitated body and a courtier slipping away to tell the impatient king he is now free to marry Jane Seymour. Cromwell, who managed the entire business, is at the zenith of his power, but, history, ever the spoiler, tells us that only four years remain before he, himself, loses his nimble noggin. Our sense of doom mounts as, after Jane’s death, Cromwell arranges Henry’s disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves, thus galvanizing the unfortunate fixer’s enemies to arrange his downfall. Although the previous two volumes have already been handled by different narrators, Ben Miles — Group Captain Peter Townsend in “The Crown” — has, in addition to narrating this final volume, taken on the massive task of delivering “Wolf Hall” and “Bring up the Bodies,” as well. He also played Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Wolf Hall Parts One & Two,” and captures again the man’s voice, its taint of baseness, its ups and downs and quiet ruthlessness. (Macmillan, Unabridged, 38¼ hours)
Translated from the Swedish by Agnes Broomé, Patrik Svensson’s first book combines scientific and cultural history with a memoir of his father, a road paver, who died at 60 from cancer caused by decades of exposure to the fumes of hot asphalt. Svensson has, quite stunningly, discovered in the natural and human history of the European eel a metaphor for his father’s life and a way to explore questions of knowledge, belief and faith. A most peculiar character, the eel goes through four distinct phases of being, the last of which involves replacing its digestive system with reproductive organs. Thus equipped, it heads off for the Sargasso Sea whence it came and where it will breed — or is thought to breed, as no mating eels have ever been discovered. Alas, like so many creatures, the eel is endangered, most likely because of environmental mayhem. Alex Wyndham narrates this revelatory, amusing, often poignant amalgam of science and family history in a dark, undulant baritone, a voice that could be that of a big, kindly eel. (HarperAudio, Unabridged, 6½ hours)
Katherine Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.