Saturday, June 11, 2011

Audio Review: Among the Mad

Listened 6/2/11 - 6/11/11
Time: 9 Hours
Publisher: Henry Holt/MacMillian Audio

"Time and tide wait for no...woman."

Oh dear. Not again. I seem to have no luck in the audio book department. For those of you keeping score, that would bring the final tally to oh-n-two.

I won this copy of Among the Mad through a raffle at the Picador Pre-BEA Cocktail party. While I am extremely grateful to the publisher for freeing up a copy, it was something that I knew I would not normally read (or in this case, listen to) on my own. Certainly not one to look a gift horse in the mouth - or leave a gifted book go unread - I decided to listen to it in my car during my daily commute to work.

Though it was not quite as painful as my first audio book experience, it was a bit of a drag. 9 hours is a long time to sit and listen to a book being read to you, even if you are taking it in 45 minute intervals. I wasn't a fan of the narrator, Orlagh Cassidy, who reads in a british accent, or her numerous character voices. Strangely enough, research on Orlagh told me that she has won quite a few awards for her narration on other Maisie Dobbs audio books, so who am I to judge, right?

The author, Jacqueline Winspear, seems to have a rather big hit with this series. Personally, I found the writing to be a bit too pretentious - and before I get bashed for saying that, yes, I know the novel was set in London in the 1930's and times were different back then. I felt the author spent entirely too much time dancing down unrelated lanes, and not nearly enough time sticking to the main story line.

The story follows Maisie, a private investigator, after she witnesses a man committing suicide on a public street around christmas time. The next day, a letter - which mentions Maisie by name - is sent to the authorities threatening to kill innocent people if certain demands are not met. Maisie gets called to Scotland Yard to assist as special advisor in the hunt to track down this unknown madman.

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? And if the author had stuck strictly to that plot, I think it would have turned out to be an incredibly quick moving mystery novel. But that was not the case. Instead, we are treated to in-depth sidebar's with Maisie's assistant Billy, whose wife is struggling to maintain her sanity after the death of their little girl. We are also made to listen to Maisie's best friend Priscilla whine and drone on about how unsettled she is after moving back to London.

You'll notice that I have decided to leave this review of Among the Mad unrated, as I did with the previous audio book I had listened to. I have become more sure of the fact that the problem with the audio books does not lie with the books themselves. I believe the problem mainly lies with me. It would not be fair to push a rating on a book that I listened to knowing it was not a good match for my tastes, and knowing that I've always struggled listening to books being read aloud. I'm also discovering that I am terribly critical of narrator voices. Whoda thunkit?

If I have gained anything from this experience,
it's that books are better than audio books because:

1) When the narration and descriptions get too bogged down and boring, I can always skim ahead to the character conversations.

2) I can make the narrator and the characters sound any which way I like.

3) I can peek ahead to see if the story gets any better before deciding if I want to continue or kick it to the curb.

Now, for fun of it, go back and reread this review in a british accent!


  1. I think your frustration with the side storylines has to do with the fact you're coming in towards the end of the series as it now stands. Billy is one of the most-beloved parts of the book, but you didn't have the prior experience with him built up over the previous 4 or 5 books.

  2. You know, Jen, you could have a point there. I almost never read a book out of order, and in this case, I really wasn't interested in reading the ones that came before it.

    It worked well as a stand alone (despite the fact that I disliked it) - in fact, I actually forgot it was part of a series until I wrote the review. As I listened to it,I hadn't even considered the possibility that these characters existed previously and had a history to them before I met them....

    Have you been enjoying the novels, then?

  3. I read them all and loved them (the first and fourth less so than the others), I would say that the fact it is a series had a big influence on you not liking it. All of Maisie's mysteries stand alone fine, but that isn't the entirety of what they are about. Unlike many cozies that just catch you up on any pertinent information and where one book in the series is are largely indistinguishable from another as far as character, there are a number of really significant character development arcs that go on throughout the series, and they are a big part of the attraction - moreso than the specific mystery, most of the time.