Authors on audiobook

February 3, 2012 at 1:55 am (Book clubs, books, Mystery fiction)

   I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman was a recent selection for discussion by the Usual Suspects Mystery Book Group. The choice of this particular title was a problem for me. I had recently had occasion to revisit What the Dead Know via audiobook. My reason for doing so was  that the AAUW Readers were set to discuss it last November. I first read What the Dead Know when it came out in 2007, and I remember liking it a great deal. But somehow I was enjoying it a good deal less the second time around. The story seemed padded and convoluted; the prose rather humdrum when not downright clunky. So the prospect of engaging with yet another Lippman title did not, for the moment, have much appeal.

A big part of my problem stemmed from the audiobook itself. The reader was adequate to the task, but no more. In several sections of the narrative, she  needed to assume a Southern accent, and for me at least, her efforts to do this were labored and unconvincing (not to mention irritating). Lippman’s novels are mainly set in Baltimore  and the surrounding area, so it’s natural to encounter allusions to local landmarks. The audiobook reader was clearly unfamiliar with these. One particularly egregious example involved the name of a department store. Hochschild Kohn & Company was at one time a well known retailer in this area. “Hochschild” is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. It sounds like “hoe.” The second syllable rhymes with “filled.” The audiobook reader pronounced it as though it were spelled “hock child.” Aargh!!!

  My dismay at this performance was all the more acute since I had just listened to two wonderful readings of Golden Age classics. The first was Look to the Lady (aka The Gyrth Chalice) by Margery Allingham, read by Francis Matthews; the second was Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh, read by James Saxon. I’m familiar with both these readers but I’d forgotten just how superb they both are.

Margery Allingham is the one Golden Age author whose works I’ve had trouble warming to. Listening to Look to the Lady reminded me of one reason why: she repeatedly describes her protagonist Albert Campion as peering “foolishly” from behind his spectacles. I found this – and still find this – annoying. And yet Look to the Lady was a delightful tale, replete with gypsies on the heath, a visiting American professor and his feisty daughter, a semi-decayed family of aristocrats and their most precious possession (an ideal MacGuffin if there ever was one!) and, inevitably, Albert Campion, who’s oh so smart though you’d never know it from the way he peers through those coke bottle lenses!

   Ngaio Marsh has been a favorite of mine ever since I read Death in a White Tie. That novel chronicles a London season in 1930s and brings that high society ritual vividly to life. Marsh provides a varied and engaging cast of characters, one of the most appealing of which is her series protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Singing in the Shrouds, as its title implies, takes place almost entirely aboard a ship. It is like a country house mystery, with a limited pool of suspects and a steadily accumulating sense of dread. As a reader, James Saxon produces a somewhat more plummy sonority than Francis Matthews, but no matter. They’re both outstanding examples of exactly the right voice and inflection for the material.


A final word on I’d Know You Anywhere: much of the action of the novel takes place here in Howard County. The local references are fun but would not alone make for a worthwhile reading experience. That said, I liked this book more than I thought I would – more, in fact than What the Dead Know. Laura Lippman is not a great prose stylist, but she is an excellent storyteller, and her occasional touches if irreverent wit are a pleasure to encounter.


  1. Pauline Cohen said,

    Hochschild Kohn, the former store, seems to cause problems for audiobook readers. I remember listening to the actress Amanda Plummer (daughter of Christopher Plummer–definitely, and Tammy Grimes, I believe) reading a golden age mystery by either Hammett or Chandler–the name of it escapes me–and she was doing an excellent job until she came to Hochschild Kohn! It really destroys the mood and makes the listener come crashing back to reality. You can really tell the difference between someone who has knowledge of an earlier Baltimore by they way the store is pronounced as opposed to the reader who has absolutely no familiarity.

  2. Kathy Ackley said,

    Thanks for these reviews, Roberta. Ngaio Marsh has always been one of my favorites and I’ve been inspired to look for these two on audio. I just listened to A Man Lay Dead, her first novel and the one I used to use in my British mystery course. I read all of her novels years ago, so it’s fun to revisit them by listening to someone read them to me. Kathy

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