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Summer's best books on tape

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Brought out for summer travelers who missed these books in hardcover, here are some tapes for the highway. By the time you get to Phoenix you’ll have been all over the map — from the Middle East to Mississippi.

Paris Trout By Pete Dexter; read by Charles S. Dutton
A National Book Award winner in 1988, this novel about the unraveling of a small Southern town after the murder of a young black girl moves with a chilling inevitability toward its violent conclusion. The black-and-white world of rural Georgia in the 1950s is brought to life in Charles Dutton’s reading. B+

The Spy Who Came of Age and The Spy in His Prime By John le Carré; adapted and read by the author
The concluding volumes of a trilogy of self-contained audio adaptations based on The Secret Pilgrim reveal an author in love with the characters he creates. A former radio actor, Le Carré fully inhabits his spooks and clerks, delighting in their oddball cadences, plunging headlong into their weary despair. The Spy in his Prime‘s enterpiece — an extended, excruciating interrogation in which the narrator traps a pitiful double agent — builds to a shattering climax made all the more chilling by Le Carré’s expert vocal characterizations. Age: B+ Prime: A

Saint Croix Notes: River Mornings, Radio Nights By Noah Adams; read by the author
The host of All Things Considered may also be the world’s most eloquent weatherman, spinning 11 thoughtful essays out of the local Saint Croix River Valley forecasts. Each yields its quiet pleasures, but they do get quieter as the collection rolls on. Best heard in small doses. B

The Seventh Commandment By Lawrence Sanders; read by Joanna Gleason
In Sanders’ latest Commandment tale, an overweight, middle-aged, female insurance-claims adjuster takes on family politics, the New York jewelry business, multiple murder, and adultery. Gleason’s crisp reading delivers the menace at a suspenseful clip. B+

I Had A Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story By Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler; read by Courtney Vance; introduction and conclusion read by Hank Aaron
Aaron’s brief appearances on the audio version of his autobiography are simultaneously proud, passionate, and humble, much like the man who emerges from his story. In the designated-hitter slot, reader Vance hits a home run; his quietly moving performance will make you forget you’re listening to an actor. A

The Firm By John Grisham; read by D.W. Moffett
Grisham’s best-selling legal thriller about a too-bad-to-be-true Memphis law firm is a yuppie’s nightmare and an actor’s dream. With an arsenal of accents at his disposal, Moffett creates a rogues’ gallery of sinister Southerners who steal the show from the hero. His performance — and an abridgment that delivers the story at breakneck speed — are the perfect distractions from the mounting implausibilities of the plot. A-

Magic Hour By Susan Isaacs; read by Ken Howard
Isaacs’ most recent mystery never takes flight — the words simply rush out and disappear, aided in their swift passage by Howard’s adequate two-note performance. The three hours pass pleasantly enough, but magic they’re not. B

Indemnity Only By Sara Paretsky; read by Kathy Bates
The detective is a dame, and Kathy Bates plays this Philip Marlowe in a skirt to the hilt, tossing off one-liners and mining the gem-studded prose for its campy delights. In fact, she’s so effective at finding the humor in whodunit that you occasionally ask yourself, is this mystery or is this farce? B

Cry to Heaven By Anne Rice; read by Tim Curry
Anne Rice fans won’t be disappointed by this lavish period drama, stripped to its luxurious essentials for tape. No vampires or witches here — just the bizarre world of the 18th-century castrati. Framed by rich detail, punctuated by lush operatic excerpts, and read with vigor by Tim Curry, Rice’s tale of Machiavellian intrigue overflows with baroque splendor. A-

The Prize By Daniel Yergin; read by Bob Jameson
This trip down the twisted road to Middle East oil dependency offers cautionary fare for the drive-time listener. The massive tome, a surprise best-seller, has been reduced on tape to its discussion of oil, politics, and contemporary military strategy, but there’s still a mountain of information to digest. B+

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