Line One
Aliens, architects and ‘All the Pretty Horses’

Jonathan Lowe
Audio book reviewer

This month, let's start off with another hat trick pulled off by James Patterson, with the help of co-author Andrew Gross."Lifeguard" is the plot-twisting tale of Ned Kelly, an infamous historical name taken by a rich man's employee and itinerant lifeguard in swank Palm Beach, FL. That's  also home to none other than Patterson himself.

The author knows the streets and chic hangouts well, too, because he employs them throughout a story that features the theft of art treasures, a motorcycle chase - complete with sound effects - and two romantic liaisons.

A bewildered Ned enters this story as a one-time criminal, is then framed for murder, and must exonerate himself. Sympathetic throughout, Ned tries to discover who framed him, and in so doing, becomes the hero. It's a nice trick on several levels, because Ned disdains the idle rich, except for his employer. 

Patterson's trademark way of telling the story with short, page-turning sentences, remains, but this is not a serial killer book, so narrator Billy Campbell's evocative interpretation is a better choice than the clipped and ironic tones evident on Patterson's Alex Cross novels.

A final trick is the cover art, which shows two sets of footprints going down to the lifeguard tower, but which turn into one set. Ned's dual personality, rejoined? You decide. (Time Warner Audio/8 hours unabridged) ˜˜˜˜

In a twist on the usual star wars and blaster battles, Orson Scott Card imagines a battlefield of the mind in which recruits must outwit conventional wisdom and computer programming in order to win.  

Never mind the irony that social advances continue to be stalled as technology rages on, the premise here is that children can be the best tools for "success" in warfare, and recruiting the right one can guarantee victory.

This collection of novellas, called "First Meetings in the Enderverse," includes "The Polish Boy," in which John Paul Wiggin, the future father of Ender Wiggin, is recruited to be a commander against an alien invasion. "Teacher's Pest" is another John Paul Wiggin story in which he pares off against another gifted student, Theresa Brown.

Then, in "The Investment Counselor," Andrew Wiggin is a fugitive on the run from genocide when a blackmailing tax inspector threatens to expose him. 

The best novella is the last, though. "Ender's Game" is the 1977 story that first introduced Ender to the world and should probably be listened to first if you're not familiar with the Ender series. 

The readers are sensitive to the human side of the stories, and include Gabrielle de Cuir, Amanda Karr and the methodical deep voice of Audie winner Stefan Rudnicki. (Audio Renaissance/5.5 hours unabridged) ˜˜˜1/2

In "Crusader's Cross," James Lee Burke serves up another Dave Robicheaux mystery with his typical moody, atmospheric gift for detail. Here, an old roommate of this Louisiana cop makes a deathbed confession that implies the murder of a young woman Robicheaux recalls in the book's opening.

Decades have passed, and now Robicheaux becomes active in investigating the possible homicide. While searching for the truth, he metaphorically steps through some rotting boards to expose the rats in the cellar - meaning the New Orleans underworld.

With an ideal narrator, who is emotionally invested in Robicheaux's changing moods, what you have are backwater hayseeds and macho mobsters threatening and posing for each other, while an old injustice propels an alcoholic cop to lose his fragile self control. You even identify with Robicheaux, but also feel sorry for him. The crimes that he solves are mostly for his own peace of mind, what little there is of it.

And of course Will Patton is the perfect fit to read the story, having long ago nailed the accents and bayou bravado in this regional series. (Simon & Schuster Audio/12 hours unabridged) ˜˜˜1/2

With housing starts at all-time record highs, it's fitting that "The Architect," as imagined by Keith Ablow, would be a rich and successful killer who can't stop designing his client's dream homes, but also has designs on their personal lives.

After all, West Crosse reasons, you really can't enjoy the perfect life in your new home if you have an abusive spouse or an unwanted child, now can you? And Crosse is there to help, from behind the walls.

It's an interesting, if somewhat implausible, premise, especially as the implications rise to include designs on political power. But actor Denis O'Hare can't be faulted for his performance, which is not self indulgent, but crafted and measured, like a well-made kitchen cabinet. (Audio Renaissance/6 hours abridged) ˜˜˜

Western fans are in for a treat as three stories by Cormac McCarthy have just been abridged and released on CD, performed by none other than Brad Pitt. These include "All the Pretty Horses," which was made into a movie; "The Crossing," about a boy who returns a she-wolf to the wilds of Mexico; and "Cities of the Plain," about the vanishing life of the cowboy in 1952 New Mexico.

How is Pitt as a narrator? Not bad, although his performances are, at times, uneven. In the first story, for instance, he starts off very subdued and laid back, then becomes enthusiastic, and then may have been told to throttle back a bit to maintain the arc of the story, because his tone changes again. A believable performance, all the same, with the impeccable writing of a National Book Award winner to guide him. (Random House Audio/8 hours abridged) ˜˜˜˜

These audio books may be rented from Audio Adventures by calling 1-800-551-6692. You can sample Jonathan Lowe's adventure "Fame Island," read by Emmy-winning actor Kristoffer Tabori, at BlackstoneAudio.com.

Aug/Sept Digital Edition