Friday, January 29, 2010

Wren and bee

OK ... I'm on an adult mystery jag. I get this way periodically: after months of books for teens and kids, I get a jones that has to be itched (mixed metaphor?) for about 10 books. I'm reading and listening to them this month, and I have found myself occasionally getting confused about what clue goes with which novel. Maybe I should keep one genre in the ears and another for the eyes. At any rate, this is another historical setting: Jazz Age London. In The Bee's Kiss (a cocktail database, I love that), Barbara Cleverly's suave and sophisticated detective Joe Sandilands finds himself back in London, after several years (and four novels) in India.

Scotland Yard assigns him to the murder of Dame Beatrice Jaglow-Joliffe, found battered to death in her hotel room at the Ritz. Dame Beatrice was instrumental in the creation of the Wrens during World War I, and -- even though they were disbanded after the War -- it is rumored that she was attempting to revive them. A fairly dysfunctional family can be added to the mix, along with some possible sexual shenanigans. The body is found by a young Woman Police Constable (and upper class society girl), Tilly Westhorpe; and she joins Sandilands and his sergeant, Bill Atkinson to solve the case.

These mysteries are sophisticated and clever (the author's name is so perfect). Sandilands remains a bit of an intriguing cypher and politics often plays a role in his detecting, resulting in somewhat ambiguous endings. Right does not always prevail. In this installment, I enjoyed the revelation of the killer enough to think about (highly unlikely that I ever would) going back to pick up all the clues again.

The Bee's Kiss is read by Terry Wale, a skilled narrator who probably reads tons of audiobooks that never make it to our shores. He's a little more polished than the reader of the previous book -- I had no trouble understanding him, he is a bit less juicy, his women sound natural. He creates a nicely differentiated cast of characters -- each of whom is a "standard" British character -- dashing detective, lower class sergeant, debutant with nerves of steel, Eastender old guy, upper class twit, wise-beyond-her-years teenager, etc. Wale's skill is that each of these characters sound like real people. He never resorts to cariacture to differentiate dialog. And in a plot-driven novel, he keeps the story moving along at a pleasing, but not hurried, pace.

The publisher, Soundings, is utterly new to me (I wonder if they just don't publish children's books). My library only has about a dozen of their audiobooks. There is a pleasant taste of slightly 1920s-ish music at the end of each disc, and each opens with the briefest of cues (i.e., Disc 3). A completely suitable compromise between nothing (wait ... is the battery dead or am I at the end?) and the terribly intrusive "this is the end of disc 3." I particularly like the help at the beginning: My ancient computer and my bargain mp3 player don't seem to be able to pull much data from the audio CDs that I download and then copy (for personal use only!). I usually get Unknown Disc as a label. When I'm listening to a 14 (or so) -disc-er, it can be a bit tricky getting to the right disc. It would be nice to know I'm in the right place at the beginning (assuming, of course, that I remember what disc I just finished ...). Just a thought.

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