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(No, I have not missed a book -- got my numbering wrong last month, with two numbered 69, and have now corrected.)

Abridged on 2 CDs and read by Anthony Head. This has a slightly complicated pedigree -- it's the abridged audiobook of one of a series of novels about amateur sleuth and crime novelist Paul Temple, which themselves are novelisations of a long-running series of radio plays. The book was published in 1971, but the radio play was first broadcast in 1948-9, and the book has a strong period feel. Great fun.

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Abridged on 3 CDs and read by Philip Franks. Albert Campion makes the casual acquaintance of an American judge on board a trans-Atlantic liner, by waffling his way into saving the judge from an unfortunate accident. It's only the latest of a string of attempts on the judge's life, and Campion is recruited to help the judge in his quest to stay alive long enough to identify the mastermind behind a ruthless and effective criminal gang. Campion parks Judge Lobbett at a country house, but even that isn't sufficiently remote to keep the judge safe.

It's an entertaining enough listen, but the who is so clearly telegraphed that I thought it was a red herring. At the same time, the how is obscured to the point of being irritating. It's really more of a suspense novel than a mystery. Nevertheless, there are some nice set pieces in this novel, and the final confrontation between Campion and the villain is very atmospheric.

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Abridged on three CDs, and read by Nigel Anthony. A famous Poirot story, but one I'd never read before. Beautifully pulled off, although I suspect it suffers a little from the abridgement. Even with the abridgement issues, I loved this. And that's all I'm going to say about it.

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Three of Christie's short stories, adapted into half hour radio plays and updated to a modern (at the time of broadcast in 2002) setting. I found this volume rather disappointing, and thought that the adaptation of "Philomel Cottage" was very poor. I wasn't familiar with the stories, and wasn't sure what was supposed to have happened at the end of Philomel Cottage. Having looked up the story online, I found that my impression of what happened was quite different to the original text story. Having re-listened to the last few minutes, in case I'd simply misunderstood -- no, it still gave the impression of the ending having been re-written.

Magnolia Blossom has been updated, but I think has not been greatly changed, going by the plot summaries I've found online.

Swan Song has been significantly re-written, but in a way that preserves the basic point of the plot. I suspect that the modernisation is going to annoy a lot of readers, but for me it worked well.

In hindsight, I'd have probably enjoyed this CD set more if Philomel Cottage had been last rather than first of the three plays. It annoyed me so much that it rather put me off the other two. I'm in two minds as to whether the set would have worked better for someone who was already familiar with the stories - I think I would have got on better with Philomel Cottage had I already known the story, but that the alterations to Swan Song might have been irritating. Overall, I don't really regret spending the time to listen to this set, but I'm glad I only paid remainder price for it. and am disinclined to listen to it again.

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First of the trilogy of BBC Radio 4 plays released in 2009 as a bridge between Series 2 and Children of Earth. I missed this on initial broadcast, and didn't get around to listening to it until my recent purchase of the CD set. This is pure quill Torchwood -- something (or as in this case someone) falls through the rift, and Torchwood has to deal with it. There's a detailed plot summary on Wikipedia. Good story with some interesting exploration of the Torchwood universe, and mostly well-acted. PC Andy gets a good role.
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Audiobook of the second Dalziel and Pascoe, abridged on 3 CDs and read by Warren Clarke, who played Dalziel in the late 90s tv adaptation. I've previously reviewed the novel itself here. This is a good abridgement, and Clarke is an excellent reader, but of necessity it does leave out some of the character development. An enjoyable version but probably better for those already familiar with the book.

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73) James Goss -- Torchwood: Department X [audiobook]

One of the audio-only tie-in novels, read by Kai Owen on 2 CDs, and set between series 2 and 3.

The last of Cardiff's traditional department stores, GR Owen, has just gone into administration. A pair of very slick operators from the administrators have arrived to audit the company's assets, and it's clear that they're interested in more than just the usual stock and staff assets. They're not the only ones, because two of the staff present to be interviewed happen to be Ianto and Gwen, working undercover on a project of Jack's. Nobody has seen the Department of Curiosities since 1905, and Jack wants to know why. Pity the store tries to kill him every time he sets foot in it...

A well-constructed story with a very Torchwood feel to it, and some logical extrapolations of the Torchwood universe. It's very funny in places, not least because it openly references the similarities between GR Owen and Grace Brothers in Are you Being Served -- I particularly enjoyed the scene where Jack has some fun teasing Ianto about working in menswear.

Very enjoyable, although I think not quite as good as Ghost Train, also written by James Goss and read by Kai Owen. I was mildly irritated in this one by Kai Owen's habit of leaving a Significant Pause so that you know he's finished speaking dialogue and moved to the dialogue tag. He didn't do this in Ghost Train, because it was first person and thus didn't really have dialogue tags. It's a distracting irritation from an otherwise good reader.

LibraryThing entry
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Back to posting July's book log...

69) Agatha Christie -- "How does your garden grow?" and other stories [audiobook]

Five short stories taken from the collection "Poirot's Early Cases", read on 3 CDs by the man who plays him so perfectly on tv, David Suchet. The stories included in this set are "The Plymouth Express", "The Submarine Plans", "Problem at Sea", "How Does Your Garden Grow?" and "The Market Basing Mystery". Entertaining short mysteries, and Suchet is an excellent reader. I'd like to get more audiobooks read by him.

LibraryThing entry
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36) Reginald Hill -- A Clubbable Woman [audiobook]

Abridged audio adaptation of the first book in the Dalziel & Pascoe series (which I've previously reviewed), on 3 CDs. It's read by Warren Clarke, who played Dalziel in the tv adaptation. This is a good abridgement, which from following along in places on the printed edition I thought cut about half the text while retaining everything needed for the plot, plus a good chunk of the characterisations. Clarke does an excellent job of reading.

LibraryThing entry
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35) James Goss -- Torchwood: Ghost Train [audiobook]

2 CD Torchwood story written for audio, and set between second and third series. It's read by actor Kai Owen, for the very good reason that it's a first person narrative from one Rhys Williams, haulage manager. What we get is not just "actor reads book", but "actor in character tells us a story about what happened when he got mixed up in an alien invasion last week".

Rhys has a problem in the form of missing fridges, which to begin with looks like perfectly ordinary pilfering. But as Rhys looks into it, the mystery starts acquiring enough weirdness round the edges to make him think it could be Torchwood territory. Pity Torchwood's having a really bad day, and he can't even get advice about how to investigate his own little problem, never mind actual assistance. Rhys turns private investigator, and finds himself couriering packages that were delivered to Cardiff railway station - after midnight, on a long disused platform. It turns out that there's a Torchwood interest after all, but Torchwood proper is missing or dead, and only Rhys is in a position to put things back the way they should be.

The story's very entertaining, with a perfectly balanced blend of humour and horror, and a lot of running gags that turn out to be plot elements as well. Those plot elements are part of a carefully constructed story where various small details which have been layered in become important as the story gradually unfolds. And it's wonderfully read by Kai Owen. But along with all this, we get some lovely pieces of characterisation. The story revolves around Rhys, but we also see Rhys's view of Gwen and her job, and Ianto and Jack. A great story with plenty of re-listen potential. This entertaining audiobook easily justifies its cover price.

LibraryThing entry
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34) James Herriot - If only they could talk [audiobook]

First of the memoir/novels by James Herriot about life in a rural veterinary practice, abridged to 3 CD length. It's read by Christopher Timothy, who played Herriot in the 1970s/80s tv adaptation All Creatures Great and Small, and it's read very well.

This book covers the period from Herriot's arrival at the practice for a job interview to the end of his first year there. It was a time when modern drugs were just starting to come into use -- before antibiotics, but with some other new treatments providing results that seemed little short of a miracle. Herriot brings the past to life with his gentle, compassionate stories about his patients and their owners in the Yorkshire Dales. It's some years since I read the book, but it appears to have been abridged by selecting some stories and omitting others. Tricky Woo fans will be pleased to hear that the little peke has not been left out.

LibraryThing entry
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32) Agatha Christie -- The Body in the Library

Miss Marple novel with, yes, a body in the library. The library in question belongs to an old friend of Miss Marple, but the dead blonde doesn't. Unfortunately for Colonel Bantry, it's far too delicious a piece of tittle-tattle for the villagers to believe that the Colonel has never seen the girl before, and Mrs Bantry is well aware that her husband will be broken by the gossip if the real murderer isn't found, even if the police believe him to be innocent. So her immediate reaction is to call in her friend Miss Marple for help.

The victim is soon identified, along with several people who might have had a motive to kill her. But those with strong motives have strong alibis, and those with weak alibis have weak motives. Adding to the confusion is the second murder of a young girl. Miss Marple has good reason to find the solution, both to clear the names of the innocent -- and to prevent a third murder.

AS usual with Christie, many of the characters are cardboard, but very skillfully painted cardboard, with real motivations and consistent characterisations. One of the final elements really does seem to come out of nowhere, but the groundwork for it has been carefully laid. This is a beautifully constructed mystery, with all the clues you need, mixed in with a whole shoal of convincing red herrings.

The strength of Christie's books is always her dissection of human behaviour, but here she's particularly good at showing the dark side of the interest in gossip that Miss Marple uses to bring justice for the dead.

A week or so after reading the book, I listened to the abridged audiobook from Macmillan Digital Audio, read by Ian Masters. It's a good abridgement on 3 CDs which manages to retain the necessary plot elements without signalling them too broadly, and Masters does a good job of reading the text. In particular, he manages to read the dialogue for the female characters without the over-exaggerated high pitch used by male actors on a few of the audiobooks I've listened to recently.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 90 (there was a glitch in earlier numbering, which I've corrected from here on, and in the master list for the year which will be posted soon)

Re-listen of the second CD set taken from The Thirteen Problems, read by the incomparable Joan Hickson. The four short stories on this double CD set are the titular "The Blue Geranium", "The Four Suspects", The Companion" and "A Christmas Tragedy". The format is a group of friends telling each other creepy mysteries after dinner, allowing the others to try to guess the solution, and then revealing the answer. Miss Marple, of course, is able to solve each by her observation of human nature. Superbly read by Hickson, and highly enjoyable, though probably best listened to one or two at a time rather than the whole lot in one sitting.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 55

This is a 2-CD audiobook of the first five stories from the Miss Marple collection "The Thirteen Problems", read by the late, great Joan Hickson, who played Marple on tv in the 80s and 90s. In each story, a small group of friends gathers together each Tuesday night, and spend part of the evening with one member telling the story of a mystery they encountered, and the others trying to work out what actually happened. Miss Marple, of course, is always the one to solve the puzzle, by drawing on parallels she has seen in village life down the years.

Hickson's reading is an absolute joy to listen to, not only because she is Miss Marple for myself and many other fans, but because she is a superb reader. Her reading is perfectly paced, and brings the characters to life. The stories themselves are entertaining enough, although are probably best taken two or three at a time rather than all at once, as otherwise the consistent pattern of the stories could become annoying formulaic rather than pleasurable. I found that I usually worked out roughly what had happened and who had done it, but the exact details of how weren't that easy to spot -- although clear enough in hindsight...

A marvellous way to spend a couple of hours, although I may go out and buy the set with the complete "Thirteen Problems" to replace this set and its companion set "The Blue Geranium and other problems", which don't quite cover the full 13 between them.

LibraryThing entry
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Book 54

This edition is an abridged audiobook on 3 CDs, running time about 3 hours, read by Nigel Anthony. According to LibraryThing, it's the last of four novels featuring Colonel Race.

A year ago, a group of people sat down to dinner around a table in the Luxembourg table. One of them was dead by cyanide at the end of the evening, apparently a suicide. But Rosemary's husband tells a friend that he has come to believe that she was murdered, and has set a trap for the murderer in the form of a remembrance dinner on the anniversary of her death. It's a trap that will be sprung in the worst possible way, leaving his friend Colonel Race to tease out the clues -- before a third murder is committed.

In a series of flashbacks, Christie shows how each of the people around the table that night had a motive for murdering Rosemary, including her husband. As the action moves forward to the anniversary dinner and its aftermath, each character study is developed further, shedding new light on people's behaviour but often only changing their motive rather than removing it. Race has a problem on his hands -- there is an abundance of suspects for each murder, but any individual suspect really only has all three of method, motive and opportunity for one of the murders. And yet the murders are clearly linked...

The solution to the mystery is simple in hindsight, but well concealed by the array of convincing motives on offer. And even when Colonel Race finally understands the pattern of events, the suspense continues, because the pattern points to one more murder that must take place.

The mystery is an enjoyable way to pass a few hours, and the book is by and large well read by Anthony. I did find his reading of female characters' dialogue slightly irritating, as he used a slightly falsetto voice which simply sounded silly to me and thus pulled me out of the story slightly. But it's an enjoyable audiobook that I'll be happy to listen to again.

LibraryThing entry
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This is an abridged version of the first volume of Niven's memoirs, read by Niven himself. The edition I have is 2 CDs, with a running time of about 2 1/2 hours.

It says something about Niven's talent for storytelling that as a teenager I utterly adored my parents' copies of Niven's memoirs, even though I had no idea who he was and had never seen any of his films. I picked them up because they were books and they were there, and I had a marvellous time. His anecdotes were frequently hilarious, occasionally desperately sad, and always entertaining. The books offered a fascinating insider view of Hollywood in the thirties to sixties, although I now know that some of Niven's stories were closer to fiction than fact in his quest to entertain his audience.

The audiobook of A Moon's a Balloon was recorded in 1977, and Niven is charming, funny, and a superb reader. It starts with his school and Sandhurst days in the 1910s and 1920s, and then covers his first military career (with some hair-raising stories about his antics in the Highland Light Infantry). It moves on to his initial move to the US, and how he ended up in Hollywood. Niven's later career was a glittering one, but as he entertainingly describes, he started at the bottom of the ladder, and was not the most promising of new actors when he first had a chance to break out of the ranks of the extras. The audiobook also covers his return to the UK on the outbreak of war and his (eventually successful) attempts to rejoin the armed forces -- though Niven was always reluctant to talk about his war experience, and says very little about his time with the Commandos in the print book, and even less in the audiobook. Then there's a passage about his return to Hollywood after the war.

Though some of his anecdotes were embroidered, or re-told as his personal experiences when in truth they happened to his friends, he has a knack of making the listener feel as if they could have been there. And there's real emotion as he reads some of the passages -- most movingly, you can hear him holding back the tears as he reads the passage about the death of his first wife, even though she had died some thirty years before this recording was made.

Unreliable narrator though he may be, from the perspective of a reader/listener in the early twenty-first century this is a fascinating slice of history. Fascinating, and hugely enjoyable. I'm very glad I bought this.

LibraryThing entry
julesjones: Jack Harkness and a mug of coffee, Torchwood (coffee and Jack)
This is one of the series of Torchwood audiobooks read by cast members, and the first to be read by Gareth David-Lloyd. This one is only available as an audiobook, not in print. I bought it because I'd heard a sample of David-Lloyd reading an audiobook, and thought he was a good reader. It was well worth the money. The story's the usual competent tie-in work I've found with previous Torchwood books, and David-Lloyd is an excellent audiobook reader.

The story itself is set between series 2 and series 3, with references and foreshadowing that tie it firmly into the series universe for those who've seen the referenced episodes, without excluding those who haven't seen them, or overwhelming the story. The basic plot is standard monster-of-the-week fare for the Torchwood corner of the Whoniverse -- an alien castaway courtesy of the rift, its threat magnified by the meddling of local humans who don't understand what they're playing with. In this case it's alien insect larvae which feed on human emotions, and a vicar who thinks he's found a way to heal people of their sins and guilt. It's competently written, with a good look at love and the complexity of human emotions, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy here.

What does stand out is the characterisation, which is as good as you'd expect from the man who was script editor for the show. One thing which I particularly liked was that it showcases both the Gwen/Rhys and the Jack/Ianto relationships, while still acknowledging the attraction between Jack and Gwen. There are a lot of small details which build on what we've already been shown in the tv series, showing how the characters and their relationships are developing and changing. It's a particular joy to see the playful and affectionate side of both romances.

Gareth David-Lloyd does an excellent job of reading the book. He's a good reader when it comes to the mechanics of reading aloud, well paced and with good tonal colour. He's also very good at portraying the various characters already known to listeners from the tv series, getting most of them spot on in their dialogue. It's usually clear who's speaking, even without dialogue tags -- and you can tell the difference between narrator and Ianto's dialogue. He even mostly gets Jack's American accent right. I hope he's invited to do more of the audiobooks.

At two full-length CDs, it's a lot longer than a standard tv or radio episode, but with it being an audio book you'd expect that for the same basic story. I didn't feel that it was padded or too long. It feels about the same as reading one of the print tie-in books. Minchin makes good use of the format, taking advantage of being able to show interior monologue without crossing too far into telling rather than showing.

I enjoyed this a lot, and happily listened to it again a couple of weeks after the first time through. Definitely worth the attention of Torchwood fans in general, and very much recommended for fans of both Ianto Jones and Gareth David-Lloyd -- both the character and the actor are well served by this title.

Available as both CD and download.

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Play
at Amazon US
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Short story originally published under the "Andrew North" pseudonym, now out of copyright. Nice little short about the last priestess of a god with both genuine power and an implied policy of non-interference. As invaders take the city below, the priestess and her non-human colleague take the back door out of the mountain temple, and find themselves on a strange path to a strange place of safety.

With this being a short story, the world-building isn't to the same depth as in one of the novels, but Norton was adept at implying things with a few words. This has a number of Norton's favourite themes presented in miniature, and is well worth a read if you're a fan.

The text is available from Project Gutenberg and mirrors. The Gutenberg text is also available as a public domain audiobook at the LibriVox project, in both mp3 format and Ogg Vorbis format. The audiobook is about 41 minutes long and read by Mark Nelson. (You can find both the text and the Ogg Vorbis file mirrored at Wikisource.) I listened to the first ten minutes or so, and thought that it was an enjoyable performance.


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April 2019

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