AudioFile's 2023 Best Mystery & Suspense Audiobooks promise a thrilling journey for listeners across the globe, exploring locales in Australia, New Zealand, England, and the United States. Offering a rich tapestry of sub-genres from spy thriller to eco-thriller, amateur sleuth to political intrigue, these audiobooks share a common thread—the masterful narration of well-crafted stories that have all earned the prestigious Earphones Award.
In ALL THE SINNERS BLEED, narrator Adam Lazarre-White flawlessly embodies Titus Crowne, the first Black sheriff in rural Virginia. Author S.A. Cosby weaves a compelling narrative, delving into themes of family challenges, grief, and the intricate dynamics of faith. The story is southern rural noir at its best, and listeners will be drawn in by Lazarre-White’s talents in voicing men and women of all ages and backgrounds. Dive deeper into the audiobook and gain insights from our interview with S.A. Cosby.
Listeners will be totally engaged and terrified by the perhaps “too close to the truth tale” that lawyer, political activist, and author Stacey Abrams spins in the second entry to the Avery Keene series, ROGUE JUSTICE. Narrator Adenrele Ojo returns to deliver Keene and the numerous characters, good and evil, in this complicated tale of forces threatening our justice system and the power grid. Ojo demonstrates her skills in performing a diverse cast of players, including the U.S. president and a former Mossad agent. This is a great series for listeners to get in on early—although this second audiobook has enough backstory for listeners to catch on to the characters and their relationships. Hear the Behind the Mic conversation with Adenrele Ojo on the podcast.
For a lighter listening experience, turn to VERA WONG'S UNSOLICITED ADVICE FOR MURDERERS by Jesse Q. Sutanto, performed by Eunice Wong. The plot takes place in San Francisco and introduces us to the tea shop owner, widow, and doting, somewhat annoying mother, Vera Wong. When a young man is found dead in her tea shop, Vera decides to turn amateur sleuth. Eunice Wong’s use of accents and tone differentiates the many characters and keeps the pace in line with the humor and the poignant insights into immigrant communities in San Francisco. Learn more about narrator Eunice Wong in AudioFile’s narrator spotlight, and stay tuned, as the book has been optioned for a television project.
Crossing the pond to England, Mick Herron's THE SECRET HOURS, performed by Golden Voice Gerard Doyle, offers a standalone with some characters and themes found in Herron’s Slough House series. Those new to Herron’s work will be able to pick up quickly on the world Herron explores— in this case, a present-day investigation of MI5 that takes us back to Cold War Berlin. The story is a combination of a spy thriller and what I call a “civil service procedural.” The latter stems from the window provided into the back rooms of the British government, its various departments, and the administrative side of the spy houses. Doyle’s ability to keep listeners engaged with both the mundane and the terrifying is a tribute to his talents. You can listen to an AudioFile discussion of the audiobook here.
Venturing even farther afield, BIRNAM WOOD by Eleanor Catton, performed by Saskia Maarleveld, takes listeners to New Zealand. This audiobook falls into a fairly new sub-genre—eco-thriller—but is also very much a psychological thriller. Listeners will meet Mira, founder of a guerrilla gardening collective that plants, harvests, and shares the bounties of crops they grow on land they “occupy.” The story rolls out through the perspectives of several of the members of the collective and an American billionaire interested in a property that Mira also has her eyes on. Maarleveld is a master at accents and and at differentiating and conveying characters. Listeners will have the opportunity to get into the minds of each of the key characters and see the issues from their individual perspectives.
And then we move on to Sydney, Australia—a city I recently visited. With DEAD MAN’S POSE by Susan Rogers and John Roosen, performed by Rupert Degas, listeners are treated to a tour of the city and some remote places in Australia. Yoga instructor and former lawyer Elaine and her partner in investigation Ric, who comes with his own special skills, are intent on finding answers to who killed one of Elaine’s students. Rupert Degas’s talents for differentiating characters is tested to the max in one chapter where all of the quirky characters that have some knowledge of the victim come together to hash out the events leading up to the murder. Fun, smart characters, an interesting plot, and a good pace delivered by Golden Voice Rupert Degas make for a great listening experience. The good news is that the second in the series (that listeners get a sample of at the end of audiobook 1), COBRA POSE, is now available.
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Eunice Wong photo by Hoebermann Studio. Adenrele Ojo photo by Michael Roud Photography.