Solve: Why listen to mystery audiobooks?

5 excellent reasons to delve into the world of audiobook mysteries—and 5 titles to get you started!

I’m often confronted with the question of what draws me to the mystery/crime genre. The first time I heard the question, I was taken aback. I didn’t have words to answer the query; I just knew I enjoyed the stories. So I started to think about it, to analyze what drew me to these plots full of murder and mayhem. But what about the narrations of these books? What makes them worth listening to? Audios in this genre possess some qualities that make them especially great options to listen to. Here are my top five reasons why I listen to mystery and suspense audiobooks plus some to titles to get you started:

Swift Pacing
It’s not a given, but suspense plots often demand quick pacing to keep the audience engaged in the mystery. And thrillers by their very nature are a race against something: the villain, time, danger. This fast pace helps to keep the mind from wandering to other things. And for those who listen to audios while walking or running, it keeps you moving briskly as well, like an up-tempo song.

Need a title to exercise with? Try Siobhán MacDonald’s TWISTED RIVER, with a cast of exemplary narrators. The changing perspective helps the pacing on this one, too.

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Clues
Listening to mysteries requires one to pay attention so as not to miss clues. When I have that strong motivation to figure out the puzzle, I’ve found I don’t get distracted so easily. Of course this means the author has to have written a mystery I want to solve, so the burden is intensified for them in audiobooks. Weak plots are blatantly obvious in mystery audiobooks.

Ready for your next puzzle? Try something from John Verdon, like his brilliant THINK OF A NUMBER, narrated by George Newbern.

57367Intensity
When life and death are at the core of the story, the stakes are high. Emotions run high and action is fierce, and a good narration means you hear every bit of that intensity. But on the printed page, if you’re tired or distracted or just in a bad mood, you’re more likely to simply see flat words on a piece of paper.

If you’re ready to ramp up the intensity, give January LaVoy’s reading of THE COMPETITION by Marcia Clark a try.

93226Social Issues
In many ways, the crime novel has become the social novel. But what difference does that make for listening to those stories? Emotional investment. When the author is passionate about what they’re writing, they transfer that passion to their audience, making the act of listening much more instinctive.

The range of issues is enormous, but a recent favorite of mine is Thomas Mullen’s DARKTOWN, narrated by André Holland.

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Nuance
OK, this isn’t necessarily limited to the mystery/crime genre, but when you combine it with my other reasons for listening to these stories, it makes the whole experience exceptional. As with intensity, a print reader might miss nuance on the page. Subtle or dry humor can be overlooked completely, and the smallest of adjustments in tone can change meaning in monumental ways. Happily, there are many masters of nuance narrating books in the crime genre, and it’s spine-tinglingly wonderful.

One of the most brilliant examples of this is MacLeod Andrews’s narration of THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton. Nuance is vital because Hamilton’s protagonist doesn’t talk. And Andrews’s performance is so spot-on, this audiobook remains one of my all-time favorites.

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There are all kinds of reasons to love listening to mystery/suspense on audio. I picked these five reasons because after we learn to read for ourselves, many of us forget how amazing listening to stories is. Unlike with television or movies, listening to audiobooks still engages our imaginations, allowing us to build the setting and envision the characters. We’re still active participants in the storytelling process. I often hear people say that they don’t listen to audiobooks because they aren’t able to pay attention, but for all the reasons I highlight above, mysteries are naturals at keeping your attention. Especially with a phenomenal narration.

These are just a few of my reasons for loving this genre—feel free to share yours in the comments!

Solve: Crime for Kids

Crime written for kids by authors such as John Grisham, Kathy Reichs, Ridley Pearson, and James Patterson is reaching listeners of all ages. What have you heard lately?

lock-and-keyThere seems to be a proliferation of adult mystery and suspense writers dipping their toes–or taking the full plunge–into writing for younger readers. John Grisham has kid lawyers, Ridley Pearson brings a young James Moriarty to life, Kathy Reichs and her son created a “pack” of young crime fighters–one of whom is the grandniece of Reich’s Temperance Brennan–and James Patterson has an entire imprint for children with books spanning the age range.

These mysteries aren’t limited to American writers either. The Scandinavian rage that’s captured the adult side of the genre is present on the YA shelves as well. Salla Simukka’s AS RED AS BLOOD, the beginning of The Snow White Trilogy, is a prime example.

But children’s or YA mysteries aren’t anything new. Many of us learned to love the genre from series such as The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown or books like THE WESTING GAME.

And while the classic stories as well as the newer generation of mysteries continue to hook youth on reading and listening, the same stories are captivating adults as well. What is it about these audiobooks that make them so magical to audiences of all ages?

I talked with actor and narrator Peter Berkrot who’s performed some YA audiobooks. I wanted to know how he approaches an audiobook intended for young listeners and if he does anything different from the audios he performs for adults. For the most part, his preparation is the same, but he says, “in the acting choices and in honoring the writing, I find that good YA books tend to strip away any excess writing and leave us with an essence of each character. Not to say that YA novels aren’t as sophisticated or intelligent as their adult counterparts. On the contrary, young readers are incredibly insightful and can detect inauthenticity when authors get too clever or complex. There is often a parable-like quality to good YA, allowing direct access into the spirit of the character. Just as in real life, young people have not developed a capacity for self-deception and complex psychology; novels of this sort take us more instantly into the truth of the characters. So I trust the writing and stay out of its way.”

hunt-killersI’m not sure I broke it down enough to notice that before, but he’s absolutely right. I’m sure that’s what I found so intriguing about Charlie Thurston’s narrations of Barry Lyga’s I HUNT KILLERS trilogy. And the fat was definitely trimmed from Bill Cameron’s PROPERTY OF THE STATE, which isn’t on audio but I’d love to see recorded.

I also had the chance to chat with Kirby Heyborne about narrating for younger listeners. Since he’s been so successful in this realm of audiobook recording I wanted to know his secret to narrating for children and young adults. He told me he took some cues from story time with his own kids: “I found that when my kids were little and I read to them for bedtime, they preferred me not reading down to them. They were more interested when I was invested in the characters and made them sound fun and believable.” Isn’t that really what we all hope for in a good audiobook performance? No wonder the books that are intended for younger audiences strike a chord with adults as well. By the way, Kirby is also a fan of THE WESTING GAME, “My all time favorite mystery novel. In fact, it’s one of my all time favorite books of any genre.” Mysteries have that effect on many people!

A conversation I found especially fascinating was the one I had with Amy Rubinate. “I’ve been directing a lot of middle grade, YA and picture books lately, and it has caused me to look more closely at my approach to the work.” Amy has narrated books for young readers for a long time and has developed an instinct for the characters and plots in these stories. “But when I’m directing, I have to put more thought into it in order to convey that information to the actors. The best thing I can do is cast the books well – then not a lot of direction is needed; the narrators lock right into the work. But we also spend time in session weighing how to approach subtle aspects of character that would be reflected in the narration; for example: how much innocence/wonder would still be present in the voice and spirit of the spunky 12-year-old protagonist, given the hardship he has endured.” I think it would be especially fun to be a fly on the wall in those sessions!

When I asked Amy about her favorite mystery from childhood, I was reminded of a story I, too, adored, “My favorite audio mystery/thriller when I was a kid was a ‘story record’ of the Disney movie, The Rescuers. I listened to it hundreds of times, and mimicked all of the voices. They did a novelization of the movie with wonderful narration, interspersed with dialogue cut from the movie. Bob Newhart, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Geraldine Page…it never failed to enchant me. I think the repetition of great work like this is one of the things that made me able to handle dialogue easily many years later.” I think I’ll be picturing the little dragonfly, Evinrude, all day today. What great memories.

There are a lot of wonderful titles out there making selections for young–and young-at-heart listeners–explode. How about you and your young audiobook fans? What titles have captured your imaginations and entertained you lately? Do you ever listen to a title together? Feel free to share your experiences and recommendations in the comments today.

There’s no mystery about it – our website is full of more great audiobooks for children and young adults!

 

 

Solve: The Environmental Mystery

In honor of Earth Day, I’m looking at some popular environmentally-focused mysteries, like Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. What are some of your favorites in this realm?

Saturday is Earth Day, and since I’m a bit of an environmental enthusiast, I thought it fitting to celebrate with some of my favorite mysteries featuring crime solvers who are passionate about the planet. They’re park rangers and game wardens and wildlife specialists encountering murder and mayhem amid the beauties of nature. And they sure do find plenty of mischief to keep them busy.

113830One of the ground-breakers in this sub-genre of mystery is, of course, Nevada Barr. She introduced her spitfire protagonist, National Parks Ranger Anna Pigeon, back in 1993 with TRACK OF THE CAT. Since then, Anna has traversed the American landscape in National Parks across the country. 2016 brought the 19th Anna Pigeon novel, BOAR ISLAND, alongside the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service. Seasoned veterans Barbara Rosenblat and Joyce Bean have narrated the majority of the series in audiobook, giving series devotees a consistent voice for Anna Pigeon and bringing the beauty of Barr’s settings to life. Have you checked out this series? Do you have a favorite?

57204Randy Wayne White takes us off dry land with his marine biologist protagonist Doc Ford. White had his own experiences with sea life while working as a fishing guide on Sanibel Island, so fittingly, Doc Ford’s first appearance was titled SANIBEL FLATS in 1990. Last month, his 24th adventure launched—MANGROVE LIGHTNING. I have a special affinity for this series partly because one of my favorite narrators has performed the majority of the series: George Guidall. There have also been recordings from two other seasoned greats in the mystery genre, Dick Hill and Ron McLarty.

vicious-circleOf course I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention C.J. Box’s Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett. Box introduced Pickett in 2001 with his debut, OPEN SEASON. Last month Pickett returned in the seventeenth installment for the series, VICIOUS CIRCLE. David Chandler has been along to supply Pickett’s voice since the very beginning. And the amazing landscape of his Wyoming home gives Box plenty of nature in which to wreak havoc.

sick_puppyThis is just a small snapshot of the mysteries that embed themselves in the jobs connected to nature and wildlife or environmental issues. Thrillers make use of issues like toxic poisonings (John Grisham’s THE APPEAL) and even the more humorous mysteries can have an ecological theme (Carl Hiaasen’s SICK PUPPY).  What are some of your favorites in this realm of mysteries and suspense? Any you wish were on audio but aren’t? I’d love to see Robert Greer’s ASTRIDE A PINK HORSE or Kirk Russell’s John Marquez series recorded for audio.