Audiobook Reviews May 2017 by Jonathan Lowe


Okay, I know everyone is waiting for this book, but the best thing one can say about INTO THE WATER by Paula Hawkins is that the narrators of the audiobook edition are first rate, and succeed in separating the many voices (ie. characters) in a way that the print edition of the book cannot. The story starts in the past, with a suspected witch being killed, and moves to the present for the duration, with small town mysteries being amplified by buried secrets foreshadowed throughout. The tone and multiple narrators reminded me of a better novel by Adele Griffin titled THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE. Hawkins is, of course, author of the wildly successful THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, made into a movie. This, her second novel, will no doubt be a bestseller because of that, and probably a movie too. But not only is this novel inferior to her first, it is merely average for the genre. (Not outstanding.) The prose is not polished, either. Hawkins likes to write “his eyes slid off my face” rather than “his gaze.” Instead of original and memorable descriptions, such as Alafair Burke would use, we get boots “caked” in mud. And overuse of the F word. There is resonance in making the narrators sound real in dialogue, using cliches, but in exposition one should be more subtle. The final chapters seem like postscripts without the big reveal or twist many might think would be coming. More of a whimper than a bang. An interesting, offbeat, cosy English mystery. Not a blockbuster. Kudos to narrators Rachel Bavidge, Sophie Aldred, Daniel Weyman, Laura Aikman, and Imogen Church. They’ve got the accents down pat, and with proper emotional resonance.

Speaking of water, ICE GHOSTS by Paul Watson is the true adventure story of the search for the lost Franklin expedition to find a NW passage through the Arctic in 1845. Two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror were lost, and only later discovered in 2014 and 2016, respectively. An eloquent account–in chronological time–is given, illuminating the entire story from both then and now. Included are the many failed expeditions, some independent and others financed by billionaires. The mystery and suspense elements are not exaggerated as in some Hollywood movie, but rather inherent in the text, masterfully read by Malcolm Hillgartner for Blackstone. One of my favorite narrators, he is simply a delight to listen to.

Next, Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal is a Harvard grad and editor in chief at Kaiser Health News. Her book AN AMERICAN SICKNESS is a startling look at how hospitals have learned to break the rules by overbilling patients and taxpayers for services and ancillary items they may not know are coming, including “facility fees” to use spaces, physical therapy by the minute, and every minor item used in treatments (from toothpicks to suppositories at up to 100 times their cost.) Specialists who are merely in the room or are not known to be outside the network of insurance carried by the patient can bill at will. Independent consultants can add fees to bills, with unneeded tests generating a new round of fees each time. Horror stories are recounted of patients bankrupted by medical bills, some of whom thought they were covered by insurance. Narrated with believable urgency by actress Nancy Linari, the audiobook reveals just how tricky the medical industry has become to recoup profits lost for treating uninsured people in ERs as required by law. ER costs have skyrocketed too, as more people are coming in with gunshot wounds or heart attacks, living on the edge and overweight with poor diets. Will privatizing medical care help? Maybe not. Private ambulance services are abusively high, while many specialists demand higher and higher wages and fee compensations…some living in the Hamptons and commuting by private planes like Hedge Fund managers. Even charities that support research “are in bed with Big Pharma.” Then there is the drug industry’s link to the junk food industry (also with a foothold in hospitals, schools, movie theaters, etc.) Americans pay every which way from Sunday, only to be overbilled for funeral expenses. All to avoid eating right, exercising, and learning the facts from books like this. The “security” scare industries are not just the Pentagon and Homeland agencies, they extend to health care with the desire to be “safe at any cost.” Well, here are the costs of not reading and speaking out on the reforms she recommends: MASSIVE. Rosenthal offers real solutions to this crisis. Will people listen? Recommended for anyone with a beating heart.

Finally, I was stunned this past week by learning that Ron Howard’s second season of Breakthroughs, airing this month, includes one show about using the deactivated HIV virus to treat cancer. This was the premise of my novel THE METHUSELAH GENE, except that involved using HIV to fight aging. The kicker? In Ron Howard’s first season he talked about the science of fighting aging. (He is also involved in the Einstein series on NatGeo, based on EINSTEIN: HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE by Walter Isaacson, read on audio by the late, great Edward Herrmann.) Anyway, the Breakthroughs show details work with the roundworm c-elegans, a nematode also featured in my Big Pharma suspense novel. I remember that I called a pharmaceutical scientist to run the plot by him prior to writing, and he seemed intrigued by the idea of using HIV to bypass the blood/brain barrier and deposit a longevity gene along for the ride. Another scientist told me an anti-aging pill will probably be developed to extend life (by decades) before mid-21st Century. So I began imagining how much it would cost, and who might kill to steal the formula before patented. Little did i know that, several years later, the premise to my scifi-ish novel would become real science!

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