This past weekend was lauded as Sherlock Holmes weekend. It’s a regular celebration for the folks in Cape May, NJ, and Cambridge, OH. In the crime fiction world there is plenty of reason to celebrate. The beloved sleuth and his revered creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, have shaped literature—especially the mystery genre—for ages and continue to do so even today.
For those who somehow managed to get through high school English courses without some exposure to the great Holmes, there are plenty of recordings of the novels and stories, like those Aurelia mentioned in her October post about her love of Sherlock. But for those who have read, reread, listened, watched, and maybe even enacted Doyle’s detective, here are some modern works he inspired to feed your hunger for the brilliant, deducing investigator.
Steve Hockensmith takes a fun twist with his Holmes on the Range series. Including novels and short stories, he parallels his Amlingmeyer brothers in the American West with Holmes and Watson across the pond. The series currently includes five novels, all narrated by William Dufris, and a collection of the shorts called DEAR MR. HOLMES, narrated by Barry Campbell. Hockensmith also reports that a new Holmes on the Range mystery is in the works! Read more…
When I tell people how much I enjoy listening to audiobooks, I often receive the response, “I can’t listen to audiobooks. I can’t pay attention.” I thought the very same thing at one time. Now I constantly want someone to be telling me a story.
Listening to audiobooks is a skill, just like reading print books. Even though we eagerly listened to adults telling us stories as small children, somewhere along the way, we lost the knack for listening—personally, I blame it on television, but that’s a different blog post. Never fear, though. Listening skills can be dusted off and honed back into shape. One of the ways I recommend people work on their listening skills is with short audios, and lucky for us, there are great short works of crime fiction available.
About once a year now, I listen to Craig Johnson’s WAIT FOR SIGNS. This collection of Walt Longmire shorts is described by Johnson as the stories between the novels. He develops his well-loved characters in funny, heart-warming, and engaging short stories. It’s probably my favorite collection to recommend to someone just starting to listen to audiobooks. I often recommend it as the introduction to the Longmire series as well. When you’re confident listening to these short stories, you can move on to his novellas—THE HIGHWAYMAN and SPIRIT OF STEAMBOAT. Same great style, in a slightly longer format. By the time you finish these two, you’ll be ready to listen to the novels. All of Johnson’s work is narrated by George Guidall. There hasn’t been one time I’ve attended a book event for Craig Johnson when at least one member of the audience hasn’t gushed about how much they love the series on audio. There’s a good reason for that. Read more…
I have a bit of an obsession with the Scandinavian and Nordic countries. I’ve been reading about them and studying different aspects of their culture, and I’m fascinated. Part of that intrigue may come from my affinity for their amazing crime fiction, which is actually a bit on the ironic side given their crime rates—Finland touts the highest murder rate among them at about half that of the United States but double Denmark, the nearest fellow Nordic country—but let’s not quibble.
While many may credit Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson with putting Scandinavian crime on the map, he isn’t the first of this region’s great writers. But he did garner global attention, and now crime fiction enthusiasts around the world have no trouble finding old and new titles alike from the many talented Scandinavian and Nordic writers creating dark and deadly tales.
I have to credit Norway’s Jo Nesbø with first hooking me on a geographical area far colder than any I’d opt to live in. I had barely started THE REDBREAST, narrated by Robin Sachs, before I knew I was a goner. Whether it’s a Harry Hole series audio or one of Nesbø’s standalones, I devour them all. I’m especially fond of John Lee’s consistently stellar narrations in the Harry Hole series. And you know I’m a devout fan of a writer when I can’t pass up a title, even if it is THE COCKROACHES. (At fewer than 7 murders per million people in Norway, I’m pretty sure Nesbø’s already exhausted them all as inspiration for his books.) Read more…
As kids, no one ever wants a curmudgeonly neighbor who’s regularly chastising them to “stay off my lawn.” That messes up all the games of kick-the-can and hide-and-seek. And what happens when your baseball accidentally goes in their yard? Lost. For. Ever.
But in other realms, the curmudgeonly characters are often some of the most well-loved. They’re the comic relief, the unfiltered voice, the personality we secretly hope we’re brave enough to embrace one day. And typically, there’s a pretty good heart buried deep inside as well. TV is full of these grouchy personalities: Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS, Dr. Gregory House as the title character in HOUSE, and for those who can remember, Jonathan Higgins in MAGNUM, P.I.
Crime fiction also claims a number of delightfully cantankerous characters.
Louise Penny, whose new audiobook in the Three Pines series is GLASS HOUSES (and an Earphones Award winner), has crafted an excellent curmudgeonly specimen in Ruth Zardo. Penny’s expletive-spewing poet may walk around with a rain cloud over her head, but she brightens every scene she enters. Both Ralph Cosham in the early recordings and now Robert Bathurst illuminate her cranky disposition with aplomb, allowing that hidden softie to peek out just around her sharp edges.
Listeners of mystery series often look forward to the annual event of a new title from their favorite authors. This week’s new reviews will please a lot of listeners.
Daniel Silva is a writer I follow in both audio and print, but it’s hard to beat George Guidall’s performances of the escapades of master spy Gabriel Allon. HOUSE OF SPIES is the 17th in the series, and even with the recurring characters, I think a newcomer could drop in anywhere. If globe-trotting spies are not your cup of tea, consider Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia series. MISS JULIA WEATHERS THE STORM is #19 in a series “owned” by narrator Cynthia Darlow. I’ve not tried one myself, but I do love Cynthia Darlow.
Another tempting series is the Lady Hardcastle mysteries from T.E. Kinsey. DEATH AROUND THE BEND (#3) sounds like it might quell my sadness in saying goodbye to all the DOWNTON ABBEY folks, although these mysteries are set a decade or so earlier. A lady’s maid and her mistress as sleuths sounds pretty grand.
My last suggestion this week isn’t exactly a new installment in a series—but if you think “new” can also extend to a new narrator having a crack at a well-loved series, check out Stephen Fry’s SHERLOCK HOLMES—and it’s not just another performance of the many Holmes stories. Fry not only narrates each one, but interjects a short essay before each novella and the major collections of stories. Fascinating for fans, but also a perfect way to get a little context before leaping into ‘the game.”
Which series are you keeping an eye on for the next installment?
Recently I took a trip to Central Virginia to visit a friend who moved there. She waited for me to arrive before heading out to her new library so she could sign up for a card and investigate this cherished repository of stories. It’s a lovely, modern building that includes a front porch and—no joke—rocking chairs. But what really caught my attention was this sign they had hanging on one of the bookshelves:
Having worked as a high school English teacher, I cannot understand the mindset that audiobooks are cheating. Don’t misunderstand—I believe literacy is vital in our society, but reading the words printed on the pages of a book is at the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy. Where the true value of good stories comes into play is in the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of characters, plot, theme, sometimes setting, symbols, etc. And when we listen to audiobooks, we’re still wholly responsible for that role. Read more…