Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Travelling Companions : audiobooks for car journeys

Why I thought driving to Preston and back could be done over five days staying in Travelodges I don't know. By the time we'd packed and unpacked, found places to eat, lost our way and tried to check in at the wrong ones it added hours to the total journey time.

Thank goodness I thought to go to the library and borrow a couple of audiobooks. It made the driving, especially the long two hours between Birmingham and London, almost pleasurable.

I've learned a bit about which tapes to choose. A long drive to Edinburgh last year was aptly enlivened by Ian Rankin's Exit Music. The latest one we tried was Ian McEwan's Black Dogs, and what with the careful build-up of characters and descriptions of landscape, it was all too leisurely. A drive to Worthing and back didn't allow sufficient time. We came back to London with one of the six tapes still to go, but lacked the will to finish when we were no longer a captive audience.

The two I chose thise time were abridged to two tapes each, which perhaps doesn't do justice to the stories but the fault's on the right side.Both were thrillers, so it didn't greatly detract to have them speeded up. The only loss was some confusion as to who exactly was who in the first one, but that's a risk anyway in a story where people were done in almost as soon as they appeared.

Abridgement lent an edge to the sensationalism of Sleeping Cruelty; baldly stated, the plot seems outlandish. A rich man, a closet gay, sponsors a rising Tory MP who apparently commits suicide because of an unhappy love affair. However, it may be murder and the sponsor becomes mixed up with a number of very unsavoury characters, especially an incestuous brother and sister who were victims of child abuse and should by rights be locked up. They commit a number of murders for gain by dint of having the woman seduce men (and women) and then bumping them off. There were a few steamy sex scenes (one literally so, in a sauna) which were well done.

Decider's hero was an architect/builder, a man with six young sons who learns he has a say-so in the fate of a race-course over which an upper-crust family are squabbling. Having read three or four of his novels, I see why Dick Francis's heroes remind me of Ian Fleming's James Bond: they are given to heroic feats that expose them to physical damage, giving the tales a masochistic edge as they are stretched to the limit of enduring pain. Roy suggested life as a steeplechase jockey must have given Francis a lot of injury experience. Francis's forte, like Flemings, lies with action scenes. In this case the main set piece was an exploding grandstand from which the hero has to rescue his son.

The reader is crucial to the enjoyment, I think, especially when it comes to imitiating voices of the the opposite gender. Bill Nighy read Sleeping Cruelty but for me the drawl he used for the main villainess made her sound comical, like a film-noir femme fatale. Robert Powell was much more successful with the Dick Francis, especially with a sharp-voiced dowager and an uppercrust bully. He's better able to change pace and accent to suit his characters. I can almost forgive him for the non-role he seems to play in Holby City on TV.

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