This month I turn to historical mysteries that allow us to take a time machine back to periods of wartime. The recommendations below sample the diversity of audiobooks covering periods of war and postwar for the last 150 years. Yet the emotions they evoke could be those driven by the stories and pictures we see in the news today.
The first three relate to the years before and after World War II and touch on scenes in the United States and across the globe to Australia.
Thanks to Barrie Kreinik's masterful narration, listeners are drawn into the world of Madeline Grant, a Londoner studying at the Sorbonne just before WWII, in THE PARIS ASSIGNMENT by Rhys Bowen. We follow Madeline as she falls in love, marries, has a child with a French man, and becomes a courageous British spy. Kreinik’s ability to differentiate characters through accents, tone, and attitude shines through. Kreinik also meets the challenge of voicing Madeline’s young son Olivier as he goes through the trauma of war. The pace of the story will keep you glued to your earphones through to the end.
Continuing in the WWII era but across the pond, we have THE GOLDEN GATE by Amy Chua, narrated by Robb Moreira, Tim Campbell, and Suzanne Toren. In this Earphones Award winner, listeners are transported to 1944 Berkeley, California. Yale Law School professor Amy Chua in her debut novel brings in background, history, and small and large details to paint a rich picture that listeners experience with all of their senses. We are introduced to police detective Al Sullivan, who is investigating the unusual murder (no spoilers here!) in the posh Claremont Hotel of a wealthy industrialist who is also a presidential candidate. In digging into the case, Sullivan finds potential ties to a decades-old murder of a child that took place in that same hotel. Listeners are treated to a well-written and well-researched story, masterfully delivered by talented narrators. Stick to the end to hear a great, revealing conversation between author Chua and main narrator Moreira.
Also taking place in California—but this time in southern California after the end of WWII—is EVERGREEN by Naomi Hirahara, narrated by Allison Hiroto. The audiobook begins with several statements that start with the phrase: “While we were gone . . . .” Listeners are immediately and dramatically reminded that the war impacted not only the many who were fighting but also dealt traumatic blows to Japanese Americans here in the U.S. who were held in detention camps. This is Book 2 in the Japantown Mystery series, following the New York Times Best Mystery Novel of 2021, CLARK AND DIVISION, also narrated by Hiroto. Well written and meticulously researched, EVERGREEN allows listeners to truly experience what life was like for Japanese Americans working to rebuild their lives after WWII.
And now for something completely different—a different age, a different place, a very different time. In FLAGS ON THE BAYOU, James Lee Burke takes a break from his Dave Robicheaux series to bring us this beautifully written picture of life on the bayou during the Civil War. Each chapter is a monologue delivered by one of the outstanding narrators, namely: MacLeod Andrews, Michael Crouch, Dana Gourrier, Marin Ireland, January LaVoy, and Ray Porter. Author Burke delivers an introduction and an epilogue. While this audiobook is listed as historical fiction, the crime element is very much there, so I feel justified in including it here. This Earphones Award winner provides listeners with poetic, poignant, and painful insights into a very dark time in U.S. history that echoes through our current times. This is an important, although sometimes challenging listen.
These audiobooks not only transport us to different eras but also offer a profound understanding of the human experience during times of war and its enduring impact.