John le Carré nar­rates his own book — and it’s a treat

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BOOKS - By Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

“Agent Run­ning in the Field” by John le Carré, nar­rated by the au­thor, Pen­guin, 91⁄2 hours

John le Carré, mas­ter of es­pi­onage and gifted voice ac­tor, gives an out­stand­ing per­for­mance nar­rat­ing his 25th novel, a spy thriller set in Eng­land’s tor­rid sum­mer of 2018. As Brexit and a visit from the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent cre­ate havoc, spy han­dler Nat has been rel­e­gated to head­ing Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence ser­vice’s sub­sta­tion for has-beens and screw-ups called “Haven.” Nat, a cham­pion bad­minton player, is chal­lenged to a match by a young, Brexit-hat­ing, Trump-loathing man named Ed, another of le Carré’s pas­sion­ately ide­al­is­tic in­no­cents. One thing leads to another, and the rest of le Carré’s dis­tinc­tive in­gre­di­ents come sift­ing in: queasy loy­al­ties and dis­il­lu­sion, en­emy agents’ un­holy in­fat­u­a­tion with one another, and cyn­i­cal, high-level scape­goat­ing. Cryp­tic, ex­cit­ing and witty in its por­trayal of man­ner­isms, the novel is fur­ther en­hanced by its au­thor’s de­liv­ery. His rich, wood­wind bari­tone mu­tates ef­fort­lessly into ar­ro­gant old-boy bray, in­dus­trial Mid­lands clunk and the brit­tle tones of “one of those up­per-class girls who grew up with ponies.” The plot does ex­e­cute a few im­prob­a­ble ma­neu­vers, but that is more than com­pen­sated by the per­fect unity be­tween story and nar­ra­tor.

“The Big Book of the Dead” by Mar­ion Winik, nar­rated by the au­thor,

Tan­tor, 5 hours

Mar­ion Winik’s rem­i­nis­cences of dead fam­ily mem­bers, friends and oc­ca­sional others is as much a mem­oir as it is a salute to those who have lived. There is sad­ness here but also hu­mor and wit and an over­all feel­ing of en­gage­ment with life. Set in New Jersey, Penn­syl­va­nia, Texas, New Orleans and fi­nally, Bal­ti­more, the 125 pieces evoke changes in so­cial mi­lieu and way of life, from Bo­hemi­an­ism and drug use to moth­er­hood, wid­ow­hood and pur­pose. Winik nar­rates the book her­self in a bold, pleas­antly low-pitched voice, her de­liv­ery ex­cep­tion­ally ex­pres­sive of the emo­tions her fine, con­cise writ­ing con­jures. Each per­son — and, in some cases, an­i­mal — is cap­tured in an elo­quent vi­gnette, at times high-spir­ited or me­lan­choly and mov­ing. Among her sub­jects are her mother, the golf champ; her first, much-loved hus­band, who lost his bat­tle with AIDS; her still­born baby; a phi­lan­der­ing hookup (who ac­tu­ally may not be dead); Rocco, a cat; Les­lie, a per­son­able gold­fish; and the man whose life taught her that it’s “nec­es­sary and gor­geous to be who you are” — which could be the cen­tral mes­sage of th­ese mar­velous por­traits.

“The Man That Got Away” by Lynne Truss, nar­rated by Matt Green, Lamp­light, 71⁄2 hours

This is Lynne Truss’ sec­ond novel star­ring Con­sta­ble Twit­ten. It is sum­mer 1957 in the English sea­side town of Brighton and young Twit­ten has be­come a devo­tee of Nancy Mit­ford’s “Nob­lesse Oblige,” in which the el­e­ments of “U” (up­per­class) and “Non-U” (not up­per-class) lo­cu­tions were set be­fore a class-ob­sessed English public. Twit­ten in­sists, un­heeded, that the book could be a valu­able foren­sic tool in iden­ti­fy­ing crim­i­nals — and so it turns out to be. But that vin­di­ca­tion comes long af­ter the mad­cap plot has wended its way through the town’s seed­ier hol­i­day at­trac­tions and bumped up against a rag­tag se­lec­tion of mis­cre­ants, among the po­lice-station char­lady and “crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind,” Mrs. Groynes. Matt Green nar­rates this deft ca­per with a fine se­lec­tion of voices and in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm for its many about-turns. He sounds as baf­fled as we are by where this is all head­ing — and as pleased too, when we find that a group of sup­posed mu­si­cians are, un­known to each other, op­er­a­tives from In­ter­pol, New Scot­land Yard, MI5, Brighton Po­lice and Mrs. Groynes’ gang.

Kather­ine A. Pow­ers re­views au­dio­books ev­ery month for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

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