The Second Mrs. Hockaday
Author: Susan Rivers
Narrators:
Julie McKay and James Patrick Cronin
Published 2017 by Highbridge
7 hours – Unabridged

hb1141_secondhockaday_204Seventeen-year-old Placidia Fincher, daughter of the Valois plantation in South Carolina, had no immediate plans for marriage on that day in April 1863 that she came home to find a stranger negotiating the purchase of a mule from her father. Still less did she expect that within days she would be mothering a small child and running the estate of an absent Confederate officer, but as the new Mrs. Gryffth Hockaday, that is exactly where she ended up. For the widowed Major Hockaday of Holland Creek, it was perhaps equal parts attraction and expedience that drew him to the bewitching Placidia; with his first wife not long dead, he needed someone to raise his infant son and take charge of his household while he continued to wage war against the Union.

These events are already several years in the past as the novel begins. Right away, we learn that Placidia is in jail, awaiting trial, and it’s not long before we find out why. She gave birth to a child during the two years her husband was away, and is accused of murdering the infant within hours of its birth. The story unfolds through letters between Placidia and her cousin Mildred, and through transcripts of sworn testimony from various parties at the coroner’s inquest. Later in the novel, letters between other family members, interspersed with diary entries by Placidia during the time she was on her own as mistress of Holland Creek, gradually fill in the mysterious gaps in the tale.

It is a riveting tale, indeed. In authentic-sounding Southern accents, Julie McKay reads the entries expressing Placidia’s point of view (as well as those letters penned by her cousin Mildred), while James Patrick Cronin reads the coroner’s inquest documents, letters from Gryffth Hockaday, and later letters by male family members. All the different perspectives on life during and after wartime, and on the societal conventions of South Carolina throughout the period, commingle to paint a picture of a time and place in which is change is already under way before the people living through the change even realize what is happening and what it means. As the facts of the case come to light and fall into place, the listener begins to understand how changing the world can begin with facing up to the truth about your own family. Upheavals that start small in the home may ripple outward and alter the tide of history.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday is top-notch historical fiction that also packs a suspenseful punch. A layered story and thought-provoking story with a mystery to solve at the center, it is a relatively brief but highly satisfying listen that should appeal to listeners of many tastes.

~*~

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.

Loner
Author: Teddy Wayne
Narrator: David Bendena

Published 2016 by Dreamscape
6 hours, 8 minutes – Unabridged

Loner audioThis is the story of David Federman: entering Harvard as a freshman, leaving behind the New Jersey boyhood in which he was chronically and unjustly undervalued by his classmates, ready to manifest the greatness that he’s convinced is his by right. That’s his point of view, at any rate. And David’s point of view is the one the listener is privy to throughout this story, which starts out benignly enough but becomes increasingly not for the faint of heart. At first, it appears that this is going to be just another coming-of-age-at-college tale, with a misfit protagonist looking for his tribe in a new venue. David certainly is that misfit, but he is also the loner of the title, and he doesn’t seem all that interested in finding – or even particularly convinced of the existence of – members of his tribe. What he is interested in, from the moment he lays eyes on her, is Veronica Morgan Wells.

A beautiful, wealthy, and sophisticated Manhattanite, Veronica is pretty clearly (to the listener anyway) out of David’s league. He is instantly obsessed, however, and begins stalking her on and off campus and scheming his way into her schedule and her life. Like many outsiders, David is a keen observer (and critic) of the behaviors and foibles of those around him, but he displays a stunning lack of self-awareness and understanding of his own place in the social and academic landscape. Perhaps it is this bone-deep cluelessness that gives him a slight sympathetic edge at the outset, making him come across as equal parts pathetic and despicable. But the choices he makes and incremental insights into his outlook gradually pivot him to the darker end of that equation, and the listener’s sympathy falls away.

David’s narrative throughout is in the second person, aimed at the “you” who is Veronica Wells. Narrator David Bendena exhibits great skill, inhabiting David Federman’s persona completely, and providing essential vocal signals along the twisting route through the subterranean labyrinth of David’s reasoning and impulses. (I hope Bendena had access to counseling afterward, in case he needed it.) Hard to listen to at times, this is in no way a feel-good story, but it is an important one, and highly recommended for those who can stomach it.

~*~

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.

Silence
Author: Anthony J. Quinn
Narrator: Caroline Lennon

Published 2016 by Dreamscape
9 hours, 40 minutes – Unabridged

silence“The past … Don’t you know? It’s the new front line.” So says one cop character to another in Silence. That’s the case in the “new” Northern Ireland, anyway – post-Troubles, trying to forge a new, peaceful future, and yet still haunted by the bloody times gone by. It’s the 21st century, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) is no more, replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). In County Armagh, near the border with the Republic of Ireland, the fragile trust between formerly warring factions is hard won and tested anew each day.

Inspector Celcius Daly, Catholic and thus a minority in the PSNI, returns for his third case in the borderlands south of Lough Neagh and north of the Republic of Ireland. Once again he is sorting out the connections between the fresh bloodshed of the present and the dark deeds of the past. This time, however, things get really personal.

The case is perplexing enough to begin with: an elderly priest has bypassed the barriers at a police roadblock, driven off the road and died in a crash. Some of the police seem eager to write it off as a suicide, but Daly is skeptical. The late Father Walsh turns out to have been working on a detailed “murder map,” linking a series of deaths from the late 1970s to one another in a new way. Were all of these people random victims of the general sectarian violence that rampaged in the area in those days? Or was something else going on? When Daly sees his own mother’s name tagging a pin on Walsh’s murder map, there is no way he is turning his back on this case.

Daly’s mother died when he was nine years old, and he grew up believing that her death was collateral damage, that she had been accidentally caught in crossfire between police and paramilitaries. Now he is uncovering evidence that she (and others) may have been specifically targeted – but why? And what is the link between those long-ago deaths and the recent demise of Father Walsh?

Though at first it may seem an unusual choice to have a female narrator perform a story told from the point of view of a male character, Caroline Lennon brings considerable talent to the task. Her Northern Irish accent is convincing, and her ability to cross genders with her voice soon has listeners forgetting to think about whether a man or a woman is reading.

For listeners interested in the history of The Troubles and their legacy in today’s Northern Ireland, the Celcius Daly mysteries are an absorbing addition to the crime fiction of the region. In Silence, he gets himself entangled in a metaphorical blackthorn thicket of secrets so dense and so personally challenging that one wonders if he will be able to return for a fourth book. Let’s hope so.

~*~

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.