Thursday, May 27, 2010

"The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allen Poe

Source: Voices in the Dark (mp3)
Length: 41 minutes
Reader: Sean Puckett

The story: The Prefect of Police for Paris comes to the great amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin with a seemingly simple mystery: A woman of some great importance has lost the possession of a letter containing embarrassing information, presumably concerning an affair. Minister D---, a high-ranking official, has stolen the letter from her and appears to plan to use it to blackmail the noblewoman in the near future. The police have thoroughly searched Minister D---'s residence and even staged a fake mugging to search the man himself, but so far have not been able to recover the letter. Where is the missing letter? Will Dupin be able to get it back?

I enjoyed this Dupin story more than the "Murders in the Rue Morgue", not because the mystery was so much better (it's not), but because Poe gets right down to the story immediately, rather than introducing the plot with a long philosophical treatise. Poe seems more comfortable with his characters this go-round, allowing them to show some wittiness. He even makes a joke at his own expense, when the Prefect says of M. D----, "He's a poet, which I take to be one removed from a fool." With Poe himself being a poet, we can see a bit of the author in Dupin's tactful reaction: " Yes . . . but I admit to a bit of doggerel myself".

Rating: 7/10

The reader: Puckett reads with a sleepy drawl, which while not entirely suited to this piece, is pleasant and understandable. He provides slight inflection to each of his characters to differentiate them without performing voices for each. The recording itself is clear and well-produced. If you find Puckett's narration not to your liking, there are several versions of this story available at LibriVox and at Lit2Go.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Source: Librivox  (Zipped mp3s) 
Length: 25 hr, 34 min
Reader: multiple

The book:  As the book opens, artist Walter Hartright is about to embark on a new job: he'll be the drawing master for the heiress of Limmerage House, Miss Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Miss Marion Halcolme. While out for a stroll before leaving for Limmerage, he chances to meet a young woman, dressed all in white and behaving very erratically. The extremely long novel that follows this encounter starts out as a standard English romantic tragedy, but then takes a turn into a exciting yarn about hidden identities, secret agendas, and a intriguing mystery.

In its own day, The Woman in White was apparently a blockbuster bestseller, and it's easy to see why. Modern audiences may grow annoyed with Marion's constant lamentations that she would be better if she were a man, but she proves herself more heroic than any of the male characters in the book. Laura, on the other hand, I found to be weak, shallow, and unworthy of all the love and attention spent on her. Walter Hartright is an appropriately good-hearted hero, while the villains are self-centered and casually evil, but not so evil as to be cartoonish.

For all the book's length, it managed to hold my attention as an interesting read. To play the "If author 1 and author 2 had a baby" game, I would say it's like what would happen if Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Conan Doyle collaborated on a novel: you get the mystery and outre villains of Sherlock Holmes with the dark backstory, frustrated romance, and class inequality of Jane Eyre.

Rating: 9/10

The readers: Collins writes in his introduction, "the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offense against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness."  The story unfolds as an epistolary novel, with the viewpoint switching between diaries written by protagonists, statements for the court from minor characters, and "documents" procured by Hartwright. The readers for LibriVox take up this theme by having different readers voice the different narrators of the story. Most of the readers are very good, with none being absolutely unlistenable. Especially talented are Tim Bulkeley as Walter Hartright and Ruth Golding as most of Marion Halcolme's parts. Since these two make up most of the narration for the book, many of the other readers have only a chapter or two. Of these minor characters,  Glen Halstrom is truly chilling as Count Fosco.

(This review was entered in a Book Review Party Wednesday contest at Cym Lowell's blog.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Free Listens returns!

I've been away for awhile. When I started Free Listens, it was a fun way for me to share all the great audio I had heard on the internet with people who were looking for high-quality free audiobooks. Work, a move, and lots of new things in my life got in the way, and I decided to end it last December after a full year of blogging.

But now, situations have changed again. I will be starting Free Listens back up at the beginning of June. So tell your friends, blog about it, and subscribe to the RSS feed. You'll be seeing a whole new set of great audiobooks and audio stories reviewed every week.