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More audiobooks

May 4th, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

I have been listening to more audiobooks, both via Amazon’s Vine programme, both with a TV connection.  One was a Torchwood story, the other a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.  Interestingly the Holmes stories were read by Benedict Cumberbatch who plays the modern day Holmes on TV.

My first experience with audiobooks (Bill Bryson: At Home) had put me off the concept a bit, but these worked a lot better.  I suspect a lot of this has to do with the content, audiobooks seem better suited to fiction, but they are also read with a lot more enthusiam and variation of tone than the Bryson book was.

For what it’s worth, here is what I wrote about them:

Sherlock Holmes: the rediscovered railway mysteries, by John Taylor, read by Benedict Cumberbatch.

As a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes I always approach new stories with a little apprehension in case they take liberties with the characters or are just written in the wrong way. I was greatly relieved to find that this little collection compares well with other ‘rediscovered’ stories.

There are four stories, each about 30 minutes in length. I was very pleased to find that only one of them concerned a murder. One of my favourite things about the Sherlock Holmes stories is that they often concern other mysteries, using a bit more imagination than just going for the easy sensationalism of a dead body.

As in all but two of the original stories, these are written by Doctor Watson in the first person and have much of the same atmosphere of the originals, right down to Watson’s apparent obsession with food and the subtle humour running through them. I would have been quite happy to have these in printed format alongside all my other Holmes books.

As for the reading: it is superb. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the Holmes character in the contemporary Holmes TV series, but is totally at home reading out a period piece. Like some of the more animated Jackanory presenters I remember from the 60s Cumberbatch does not just read the stories but performs them, doing all the voices as appropriate including a very good American accent for one part. I had not realised just how versatile he is.

As for practical matters, if you rip this to a PC to listen on an mp3 player the tracks all get labelled in such a way that they have meaningful titles, starting with a story and chapter number which ensures they will get displayed and played in the right order, which is not always the case.

Holmes fans will find much to enjoy in this collection, but casual listeners should enjoy it just as much – as long as they like detective stories without a body.

Torchwood: Department X, by James Goss, read by Kai Owen

First of all, it almost goes without saying that if you don’t like Torchwood on TV you won’t like this, so the real question is how will it go down with Torchwood fans?  As an avid watcher of Torchwood myself I have to say that I rather enjoyed this, but not totally.

The story is quite good, mostly well-written, and well-read.  The characters all behave and interact in the right way. My biggest complaint is about the sound effects and occasional incidental music.  This is not a radio play, but a reading of a Torchwood story.  Incidental music and sound effects would enhance a radio play, but I found them annoying in a book reading.  If the story was weaker or the reading less accomplished then it might need such gimmicks, but this did not need any help.

Kai Owen (who plays Gwen’s husband in the TV series) has a pleasant reading voice and puts plenty of emphasis, variation and emotion into the reading. He doesn’t do impressions of Capt Jack, Gwen and Ianto as such, but does characterise them quite well as well as other characters.  It really is worth listening to this just for his portrayal of Gwen’s shopgirl colleague.

When ripping to computer the file details need a little tidying up because the two discs have a slightly different way of labelling them, but nothing too confusing.

I found it an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

If I was still commuting I might be tempted to try more fiction audiobooks to pass the journey based on this experience, and to supplement the various podcasts I subscribe to.  I think I will give non-fiction audiobooks a wide berth though.

I will particularly keep an eye out for stories read by Benedict Cumberbatch.   I was lucky enough to see Patrick Stewart do his one-man show at the Old Vic when he recites/enacts A Christmas Carol which as far as I am concerned is the absolute pinnacle of story-telling and Cumberbatch’s reading is nearly as good which might sound like damning with faint praise but is actually one hell of a thing.

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