Nothing like a little murder to get you through the holidays.
If you need a mysterious distraction while stuffing the bird tomorrow, pop "The Thanksgiving Day Murder," by Lee Harris, into your tape deck. A solid whodunit populated with unusual characters, it will keep you guessing until the last cassette. (Blackstone Audiobooks; unabridged fiction; five cassettes; 7 hours and 30 minutes; $39.95 if purchased, $10.95 if rented; read by Susan O'Malley. For information, call (800) 729-2665.)
A year before the story opens, Natalie Gordon went to buy a balloon at the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. She was never seen again.
Her distraught husband meets former nun and amateur sleuth Christine Bennett at a dinner party and persuades her to take his case. It does not take long before Bennett learns that someone had removed Natalie's personnel file from her old job, and that many of the details of her life had been purposely blurred. Not only must Bennett learn what happened to the missing woman, but she must also uncover her true identity.
Though this has its lightweight moments, it also has a few scenes that are nearly hard-boiled, which gives this a rather intriguing edge. Also unusual is that it is very much told from a woman's vantage point, as Bennett looks for clues in bits of makeup and details from daily life that a man might not consider.
Narrator Susan O'Malley has a strong voice of moderately deep timbre. She sounds appropriately capable and no nonsense without losing her femininity. O'Malley does not use various accents, instead choosing a straight performance with appropriate emotional responses.
The only problem with this production is the tonal quality, as there is some sound bleed-through, which is quite distracting.
While we are in holiday mode, let us fast forward to Christmas for "A Walk to Remember," by Nicholas Sparks. (Recorded Books; unabridged fiction; five cassettes; 4 hours and 45 minutes; $34 if purchased, $11.50 if rented; read by Frank Muller. It will also be available early next year on compact disc. For information, call (800) 638-1304.)
I am not a fan of Nicholas Sparks, who I believe to be an overrated writer of sentimental twaddle. Now that my prejudice has been clearly stated, I have to admit rather enjoying his latest novel, though much of that pleasure was derived from the talents of narrator Muller.
Set in Beaufort, S.C., this reminiscent tale brings us back to 1958, when the well-heeled teenage son of the local congressman finds himself without a date for the big school dance. In desperation, Landon Carter asks Jamie Sullivan, the geeky minister's daughter from the wrong side of the tracks. Next, he finds himself roped into playing the lead opposite her in the yearly Christmas pageant. These two events forever change the life of a spoiled young man as he discovers first love and then everlasting sorrow.
Sparks, who follows an old tear-jerker format, impresses little with his plot outline. Though the premise is unsophisticated, he does surprise on occasion with moments of true poignancy and unexpected humorous dialogue. Too much of the story, however, is sticky-sweet heart candy set in familiar territory.
While Sparks is not a particularly vibrant writer, Muller is an extremely vibrant reader. He brings the tale to life, highlighting the humor and moving us though the tragedy as lightly as possible.
Muller, whose voice is almost sinfully rich and malleable, infuses teenage sass and irony into Landon's words, which tones down the story's more cloying aspects. However, he tends to reach a bit too far with Jamie's vocal characterization. He does not attempt a falsetto, but simply softens his voice for her speeches. Unfortunately, she comes across as a little too much of a goody-two-shoes, giving her an unnecessary melodramatic edge.
Rochelle O'Gorman reviews audio books every other week. Next week: Dick Lochte on mystery books.