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Pipes to Kill for
Part of my job as a librarian is reading stories aloud, though unlike my colleagues, I read them to grown-ups, and the stories often involve murder, extramarital affairs, and the occasional cannibal feast. From having read aloud myself, I’m very aware of just how skilled professional audiobook narrators truly are. Here are some of my favorite male audiobook readers whose pipes and talent I would kill to have.
Richard Ferrone’s inky baritone has darkened the shadows of horror and leant its understated virility to great heroes ranging from Genghis Khan to St. Augustine of Hippo, but it is on the mean streets that he really comes into his own. With a voice like well-traveled asphalt and a bemused, matter-of-fact delivery that has been around the block, Ferrone sounds pretty much just like you thought Mike Hammer (in Mickey Spillane’s Dead Street) or the Continental Op (in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest) would sound. Ferrone won best crime-narrator nods for both of these, but I’d suggest his reading of the relatively unknown Ed McBain pulp The Gutter and the Grave, featuring a down-and-out detective with nothing to lose.
Where Ferrone’s voice confides, Tom Weiner’s more formal, authoritative tone commands, and he excels in large-scale military action and science fiction. His delivery seems equally at home in the Stockholm of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s precisely observed police procedurals and in the cold interstellar reaches of Robert Heinlein or Philip K. Dick. Weiner’s vocal range is well displayed in the vast international canvas of John Birmingham’s alternative history Without Warning, where he disappears behind a huge cast of diverse characters.
Sometimes it takes a while for a character to find his voice. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch had been read by a few fine narrators, but when Len Cariou read Lost Light, Bosch was home. Cariou’s rumpled rasp seemed to perfectly fit the way the dogged, hounded Bosch sounded in my head, and Cariou’s skills as an actor perfectly gesture at the unspoken loss and heartbreak that course beneath the surface and fill the silences of this elegiac story. Since then, Cariou has owned Bosch, making this a series I enjoy listening to even more than reading.
A relative newcomer on the scene, Dominic Hoffman impressed me mightily with his reading of Walter Mosley’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, in which he brilliantly captures the complex and evolving reality of the novel’s aged narrator as the cowl that has shrouded his mind is lifted, bringing a century of personal history into sharp if perplexing relief. Hoffman has done a number of sports biographies, as well as Paul Rusesabagina’s powerful memoir, An Ordinary Man (the basis for the film Hotel Rwanda), and I selfishly hope that he takes up a crime series soon.
I have always enjoyed listening to Homer, and there are as many narrators to choose from as there are translations. Alfred Molina does a great Iliad, as does Derek Jacobi, and Ian McKellen’s Odyssey understandably has its groupies. Like Joyce Saricks, I also enjoyed Stanley Lombardo’s readings of his own translations, though most recently, I was surprised to find myself loving Anthony Heald’s excellent unabridged readings of W. H. D. Rouse’s prose translations, if only for the refreshing change of pace. The compaction of prose and Heald’s nimble, intense reading give the age-old story freshness and immediacy.
The Gutter and the Grave. By Ed McBain. Read by Richard Ferrone. 2006. AudioGo, $49.95 (9780792738718).
The Iliad and The Odyssey. By Homer. Read by Anthony Heald. 2008. Blackstone, $29.95 (9781433248825).
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. By Walter Mosley. Read by Dominic Hoffman. 2010. Books on Tape, $29.95 (9780307875839).
Lost Light. By Michael Connelly. Read by Len Cariou. 2003. Hachette, $46.98 (9781586214890).
Without Warning. By John Birmingham. Read by Tom Weiner. 2009. Blackstone, $89.95 (9781433260780).
David Wright is Reader Services’ Librarian, Seattle (WA) Public Library.
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