Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde; Narrated by Simon Vance

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde; Narrated by Simon Vance

Medium: Audio CD
Publisher: Penguin Audio; Unabridged edition (August 3, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN: 0143058746

Genre: English Fantasy/Police Procedural. The second in the Nursery Crimes Division Series by Jasper Fforde. Mr. Fforde, according to the biography put out by Hodder & Stoughton, after the publication of his second book, worked for 13 years in the film industry is such fascinating positions as "focus puller" while writing, at first, for his own amusement. 76 rejection letters later The Eyre Affair was published.

Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and the other members of his team: Detective Sergeant Mary Mary and Detective Constable Ashley start with running a sting on the Great Red Legg'd Scissorman, who had stalked children in Cautionary Valley for over twenty years, performing thumbdectomies (snik-snik) on disobedient children who dared to suck their thumbs. While the operation results in the capture of the villainous Scissorman Jack is still chastised by the local press in the form of Josh Hatchett of The Mole for taking foolhardy risks with the children of the neighborhood.

Then, of course there was the recent cock-up when the wolf, despite Jack's best efforts, was able to swallow down Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. Although they were rescued by the woodsman, they were still in a parlous psychological state. Of course should they ever come to their senses there was the possibility that they would sue the Wiltshire and Berkshire Constabulary. In fact Jack's career is hanging in the balance when it seems all hell breaks loose.

The Gingerbread Man, notorious serial killer and prize patient of St. Cerebellum's criminal hospital for the criminally insane, breaks out and erupts on a murderous rampage. Vegetable Growers engaged in Extreme Cucumber Competitions are blown up. Conspiracy theorists flourish as the Men in Green slink around. Punch and Judy, spouse abusers and marriage counselors extraordinaire, have moved in next door to Jack and his family. The illegal porridge trade is flourishing among the anthropomorphic bears of Reading. Goldilocks Hatchett, Josh's sister and an intrepid girl reporter, is missing--although it seems she might have been seen in Anderson's Wood near the home of Ursula, Ed, and Junior Bruin.

This book is better than the first in the series. Puns and jokes abound. And when you finish I invite you to visit The Official Nurse Crime Division Tour of Reading .

As for Simon Vance, the narrator of this wonderful mishmash, he is superb. Mr. Vance, who is a British actor and audio book narrator under this name as well as the names Richard Matthews and Robert Whitfield, is just as believable when he speaking the lines of a blue alien Rhambosian (Ashley), a seven foot tall rampaging cookie (or is he a cake?), and a pair of papier mache puppet marriage counselors as they hurtle crockery and vituperation at one another. His pacing is excellent and his voices distinguishable.

If you have a taste for fabulous nonsense (including that of Edward Lear) then you must get this audio book and listen to it at once.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Clubbed to Death by Ruth Dudley Edwards; Narrated by Bill Wallis

Clubbed to Death by Ruth Dudley Edwards; Narrated by Bill Wallis

Medium: Audio CD
Publisher: Chivers Audio Books; Unabridged \edition (November 2002)
Language: English
ISBN: 0754054829

Genre: English murder mystery by Dublin born journalist, biographer and almost prize winning mystery writer, Ruth Dudley Edwards. (She has been shortlisted for the John Creasy award for Best First Novel and twice for the Last Laugh award for the year's funniest crime novel.)

Bill Wallis, the narrator who has done a compelling job of bringing Edward's Robert Amiss books to life, is a British actor and comedian who has appeared in a number of long running British comedy shows.

Synopsis: In the United States the term Gentleman's Club has come to mean a strip bar with suspect substances on the floor, weak drinks and a huge sign that can be seen from the nearest interstate. In Ruth Dudley Edwards satirical mystery Clubbed to Death it means something quite different. In the select world of "Clubland" dignified front doors open to elegant foyers, sumptuous dining rooms and hushed libraries redolent with the whiff of cigars and brandy, one particular club stood out for its interesting ethos-- a club endowed by it wealthy founder in the spirit of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. Wilmot, a noted intimate of King Charles II, libertine and poet, died at the age of 32 of "dissipation", i.e., the effects of alcoholism and syphilis.

But all is not well at the ffeatherstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshaw) club. The members in residence are all elderly and eccentric. The servants are treated vilely. And just recently the last Secretary who had been brought in to reform the finances of the club had fallen to his death from the gallery in what might have been an accident, a suicidal leap or a premeditated murder.

Unsatisfied with the coroner's verdict of death by accident, another member of the club had urged Detective Superintendent Jim Milton and Sergeant Ellis Pooley of Scotland Yard to investigate the matter further. Sergeant Pooley's idea was to send the currently unemployed and love lorn Robert Amiss into the mouth of the lion disguised as a waiter. Amiss, whose last job as a civil servant had not prepared him for the cramped quarters, inadequate and badly prepared food and general abuse, that resulted in the ffeatherstonehaugh having an absurdly high turnover of employees.

Despite the fact that the subject is murder, Dudley manages to wring quite a bit of hilarity out of Amiss' experiences. While their behavior is over the top, the elderly suspects are granted some dignity.

Fans of Ida "Jack" Troutbeck will no doubt be disappointed to find that she does not appear in this mystery, but there's still a lot of fun to be had.

As for Bill Wallis' narration-- he manages to give each character it's own voice and accent. The listener would very rarely have problems with distinguishing the characters, even in the longer passages without speaker tags.

This is a very happy combination of talented narrator and author that I plan to put on my keeper shelf for future enjoyment.