I’m often confronted with the question of what draws me to the mystery/crime genre. The first time I heard the question, I was taken aback. I didn’t have words to answer the query; I just knew I enjoyed the stories. So I started to think about it, to analyze what drew me to these plots full of murder and mayhem. But what about the narrations of these books? What makes them worth listening to? Audios in this genre possess some qualities that make them especially great options to listen to. Here are my top five reasons why I listen to mystery and suspense audiobooks plus some to titles to get you started:
It’s not a given, but suspense plots often demand quick pacing to keep the audience engaged in the mystery. And thrillers by their very nature are a race against something: the villain, time, danger. This fast pace helps to keep the mind from wandering to other things. And for those who listen to audios while walking or running, it keeps you moving briskly as well, like an up-tempo song.
Listening to mysteries requires one to pay attention so as not to miss clues. When I have that strong motivation to figure out the puzzle, I’ve found I don’t get distracted so easily. Of course this means the author has to have written a mystery I want to solve, so the burden is intensified for them in audiobooks. Weak plots are blatantly obvious in mystery audiobooks.
When life and death are at the core of the story, the stakes are high. Emotions run high and action is fierce, and a good narration means you hear every bit of that intensity. But on the printed page, if you’re tired or distracted or just in a bad mood, you’re more likely to simply see flat words on a piece of paper.
In many ways, the crime novel has become the social novel. But what difference does that make for listening to those stories? Emotional investment. When the author is passionate about what they’re writing, they transfer that passion to their audience, making the act of listening much more instinctive.
OK, this isn’t necessarily limited to the mystery/crime genre, but when you combine it with my other reasons for listening to these stories, it makes the whole experience exceptional. As with intensity, a print reader might miss nuance on the page. Subtle or dry humor can be overlooked completely, and the smallest of adjustments in tone can change meaning in monumental ways. Happily, there are many masters of nuance narrating books in the crime genre, and it’s spine-tinglingly wonderful.
One of the most brilliant examples of this is MacLeod Andrews’s narration of THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton. Nuance is vital because Hamilton’s protagonist doesn’t talk. And Andrews’s performance is so spot-on, this audiobook remains one of my all-time favorites.
There are all kinds of reasons to love listening to mystery/suspense on audio. I picked these five reasons because after we learn to read for ourselves, many of us forget how amazing listening to stories is. Unlike with television or movies, listening to audiobooks still engages our imaginations, allowing us to build the setting and envision the characters. We’re still active participants in the storytelling process. I often hear people say that they don’t listen to audiobooks because they aren’t able to pay attention, but for all the reasons I highlight above, mysteries are naturals at keeping your attention. Especially with a phenomenal narration.
These are just a few of my reasons for loving this genre—feel free to share yours in the comments!
Margaret Atwood‘s 1985 classic dystopian novel THE HANDMAID’S TALE debuts April 2017 as a streaming series on Hulu.com. The book has been a bestseller for decades, but has had a resurgence in the months since the 2016 election. The New Yorker calls her “the Prophet of Dystopia,” and the title is fitting. Her story of Offred, a Handmaid who is enslaved to bear children for a government leader and his wife, studies the role of women in a society that has slowly and quietly stripped them of their rights. The tale remains chilling today.
Atwood and the team at Audible have created a special new audiobook edition, adding new content from Atwood to the sparkling performance by Claire Danes released in 2012. Back then, AudioFile reviewer Leslie Fine gave the performance an Earphones Award—you can read her review of the “timeless and timely” audiobook here.
We reached out to Leslie to see what she had to say about the new content:
The Special Edition audiobook of Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE offers some thought-provoking new material, outlined below.
Questions and Answers
The original novel ends with a keynote lecture from the “12th Symposium on Gileadean Studies,” framing Offred’s disturbing story as a curiosity from the past and ending with the eerie “Are there any questions?” Atwood uses this Special Edition as an opportunity to ask and answer those questions, with an eye for current events in the United States. A full cast performs this section, and for the most part, the performances here are fine, with the keynote speaker assuming a lofty, supremely erudite tone that suits the content. The questions culminate in the ultimate one: “What sort of political climate do you think could potentially break apart our current stasis and deliver us back in time, so to speak?” Listeners may indeed be interested in that response.
The Special Edition audiobook gives listeners insights into the author’s purpose, thanks to the new afterword by Atwood herself. The author’s measured reading of her essay calmly offers a brief history of the novel’s origins and reflects on its historical and social context. Her pacing is such that the listener has time to absorb her words without feeling pressed. Perhaps best of all, Atwood mentions questions readers have posed over the years and offers her thoughts on the answers. Listeners can almost feel like confidantes of an active, imaginative, perpetually-prescient mind.
Following Atwood’s excellent afterword is an additional critical essay by Valerie Martin, the content of which is quite thoughtful and enlightening as it explores the role of THE HANDMAID’S TALE in our culture since its publication. The listener is offered only “Essay” as a preface, and the pacing here is much more hasty, which does detract somewhat from the experience. However, the ideas themselves are worth hearing. On another production note, this section would benefit from a more distinct separation from the Atwood piece, one that would include the author’s name at the outset, rather than leaving Martin’s name until the end.
If you haven’t yet read THE HANDMAID’S TALE, this audiobook is an excellent way to challenge your mind and perceptions. If you are already a fan of this novel, this Special Edition will offer you even more to think about.—Leslie Fine
What are your favorite book-to-screen adaptations? Share yours in the comments!
There are two reasons to listen to this audiobook: Kirsten Potter and Scotland. In the interests of complete honesty, I would probably listen to almost any Scotland-set tale. It’s the most craggy, magical place to visit, and they like butter as much as I do. (I’m including a link to the absolute best shortbread – Stag Stornoway Shortbread – that you can only get in the Outer Hebrides. It’s worth the flight . . . and the ferry ride . . . trust me.) So take a cozy Scottish village setting and a second-chance-at-love story and add the memorable vocal stylings of narrator Kirsten Potter, and you get true listening pleasure. Did I mention it’s a series? I jumped in mid-series with this title and had no problem following along. I liked hearing hints about other characters and their stories, and I kept thinking it would be fun to go back and listen to the other stories.
In IT HAPPENED IN SCOTLAND, Rachel journeys to Scotland as a widow, bringing her daughter Hannah to meet her husband’s family, not realizing her old flame Brodie has also returned to the village of Gandiegow. Potter manages the intricate backstory of this contemporary, small-town saga with great aplomb. She incorporates Scottish terminology and accents into her character-driven voicings, differentiating Scots of various ages and temperaments, ensuring that each character is unique.
IT HAPPENED IN SCOTLAND: Kilts and Quilts, Book 6
by Patience Griffin, Read by Kirsten Potter
AudioFile Earphones Award
Watch a Behind the Mic video and find other audiobooks narrated by Kirsten Potter at our website!
There seems to be a proliferation of adult mystery and suspense writers dipping their toes–or taking the full plunge–into writing for younger readers. John Grisham has kid lawyers, Ridley Pearson brings a young James Moriarty to life, Kathy Reichs and her son created a “pack” of young crime fighters–one of whom is the grandniece of Reich’s Temperance Brennan–and James Patterson has an entire imprint for children with books spanning the age range.
These mysteries aren’t limited to American writers either. The Scandinavian rage that’s captured the adult side of the genre is present on the YA shelves as well. Salla Simukka’s AS RED AS BLOOD, the beginning of The Snow White Trilogy, is a prime example.
And while the classic stories as well as the newer generation of mysteries continue to hook youth on reading and listening, the same stories are captivating adults as well. What is it about these audiobooks that make them so magical to audiences of all ages? Read more…
AudioFile goes Behind the Mic to talk with Ramon de Ocampo about recording Anne Sibley O’Brien’s inspiring children’s audiobook, I’M NEW HERE. Part of an ensemble cast of voices, Ramon encourages us to explore this read-along and learn about welcoming immigrants and refugees.
“We’ve all been there—we’ve all been the new kid at school. And we probably will be again.” —Narrator Ramon de Ocampo