Siren Songs | The Reader’s Shelf | November 15, 2012

Print readers easily recognize names such as Lee Child and Bob Woodward. In the audiobook universe, Scott Brick and Katherine Kellgren top the best sellers lists, consistently offering listeners compelling and dazzling narration. Yet just as there are talented authors who are not household names, there are narrators who, while they may win awards and enjoy an ardent fan base, are not as well known as they might be. These six narrators offer listeners great pleasures with voices that seduce and accents that transport and are dedicated to making the audio version of a work as wonderful, if not better, than its print counterpart.

Robin Sachs’s reading of Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Britannia Road (9 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Books on Tape. 2011. ISBN 9780307939999. $40) is a consummate performance. Exhibiting a vast vocal range, this narrator brings to life a Polish couple separated by World War II, whose eventual reunion is fraught with past betrayals and desperate hope. Sachs deftly manages the novel’s emotions, conveying through adroit reading all the story’s simmering tension and grief. His voice communicates the nationalities of the characters and carries subtle hints of broken dreams and longed-for desires.

Kirsten Potter is masterly in her delivery of Joanna Bourne’s The Spy­master’s Lady (9 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Recorded Bks. 2010. ISBN 9781464031601. $102.75), a historical romance that introduces an elegant and extraordinarily capable gang of British spies. In this opening title, Robert Grey, the head of the British Service, first encounters French spy Annique Villiers in a prison cell. Potter embodies Annique with a voice that is perfectly accented and charmingly conveys our heroine’s inner thoughts. Her portrayal of Robert is equally brilliant, capturing his British accent and exasperation with the far too cunning French agent. Potter’s reading makes the story sparkle as it reflects all the cleverness of Annique’s interior (and spoken) dialog and Robert’s seemingly endless frustration and admiration.

David Timson reads Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four (4 CDs. unabridged. Naxos. 2003. ISBN 9789626342961. $28.98) with fastidious attention to Sherlock Holmes’s character and Dr. Watson’s sensibilities, as he infuses suitable hints of threat into this tale of stolen treasure and sworn oaths. Timson pulls readers deep into the mystery, nicely pacing its revelations and artfully narrating the novel’s intriguing conclusion. Timson, who has brought Holmes and Watson to life many times, also reads the novels of Charles Dickens for Naxos, and his work on these is equally delightful.

Jenny Sterlin has a voice that recalls all the best British actors on Masterpiece Theatre rolled into one. Her talent for accents serves her well as she reads Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus (11 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Books on Tape. 2004. ISBN 9780736699280. $96). Set in a Florence, Italy, torn between the intellectual yearnings of the Renaissance and the reactionary fervor of fundamentalism, Dunant’s novel revolves around Alessandra Cecchi, the clever and talented daughter of a wealthy merchant who desires more than her constricted world allows. Sterlin ably crafts voices for Alessandra and the other characters that not only seem pitch-perfect to the time and emotions of the story but make each character vividly unique. With her great sense of pacing and an astounding dexterity with rhythm and inflection, Sterlin brings the Renaissance to life.

Ralph Cosham once again narrates Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries, this time taking on the eighth in the series, The Beautiful Mystery (11 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Blackstone. 2012. ISBN 9781427226099. $85). Gamache and his compatriot in the Sûreté du Québec, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, journey to a remote monastery renowned for its Gregorian chants to investigate the murder of its choir director. While Cosham excels at the creation of voices and the mixture of accents necessary to bring Gamache’s world to life, listeners will most value the manner in which he paces the story, lingering over Penny’s descriptions and evoking the music-filled spaces of the mystery through a deep and resonate tone.

Susan Lyons’s grand talent for creating personalities is well showcased in Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake (8 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Recorded Bks. 2003. ISBN 9781449885908. $92.75), a complicated and compelling tale of simmering resentments and literary hoaxes. Carey’s skill in telling the story of Sarah Wode-Douglass, a British editor of a small poetry magazine; John Slater, a British author who has connections to Sarah’s family; and Christopher Chubb, an Australian expatriate who is involved in an extraordinary circumstance, is well-matched by Lyons’s narration. Her Sarah is clipped and smart, Slater is plumy and drawling, and Chubb is wonderfully twangy. Through her amazing voices, careful attention to the novel’s language, and exquisite control of Carey’s fast-moving plot, Lyons creates a whole new experience of Carey’s work.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at