FOURTH OF JULY CREEK, by Smith Henderson. HarperAudio, unabridged, 15 3/4 hrs.
Set mostly in rural Montana, "Fourth of July Creek" is Henderson's remarkable first novel. Events are seen, for the most part, through the eyes of Pete, a 31-year-old social worker with problems of his own, namely drinking, a failed marriage and a teenage daughter who has run away. American actor MacLeod Andrews delivers the main text in Pete's voice, which varies from amiable and reassuring to resigned and appalled. He lends different voices to the various other characters: drug-addled deadbeats, a religion-obsessed mountain man, a bibulous judge, bullying cops and a couple of boys brought up rough and illiterate. The novel includes intermittent reports from Pete's daughter, her soft-toned voice provided by Jenna Lamia, a poignant addition to a surprising and compassionate story.
NORA WEBSTER, by Colm Toíbín. Simon and Schuster Audio, unabridged, 11 1/4 hrs.
Irish actor Fiona Shaw, who has played everyone from Hedda Gabler in "Performance" to Petunia Dursley in the "Harry Potter" series, brings her melodic voice to Toíbín's story of a recently widowed mother of four who is making her way out of all-encompassing grief. Shaw maintains much the same pitch for both male and female characters, while giving a poshy golf-club accent to one, a huffy bumbling one to another and an unobtrusive stammer to a child so afflicted. Mostly, however, Shaw keeps to her own speaking style and conveys the personalities and dispositions of the various characters through pacing and intonation. She is marvelously adept at expressing the undercurrents -- of guardedness, suspicion, pride, one-upmanship and nosiness -- that give the novel its richness.
AN OFFICER AND A SPY, by Robert Harris. Random House, unabridged, 16 hrs.
The novel "An Officer and a Spy" purports to be the memoir of Georges Picquart, the French army officer who, discovering that Alfred Dreyfus had been framed as a spy, became a whistleblower against his superiors. In his delivery, narrator David Rintoul shows Picquart's urbane, confident poise evolving into alarm, dismay, horror and anger. Wisely, he sticks with British accents for the chiefly French characters, the exception being Dreyfus himself, to whom he grants a slightly Germanic touch. Rintoul hits every note of condescension in these army officers, their well-fed, aristocratic voices steeped in vintage wine and anti-Semitism.
THE UNFINISHED CLUE, by Georgette Heyer. Bolinda Publishing, unabridged, 10 1/4 hrs.
Better known as the founding mistress of the Regency romance genre, Heyer was also a prolific writer of witty, high-spirited English country-house mysteries now being recorded by Bolinda Publishing -- among them "The Unfinished Clue" (1934). Actor Ulli Birve, brings a refined English accent to the well-born, weekend guests at the grand country place of Gen. Sir Arthur Billington-Smith. As much a comedy of manners as a mystery, the book is filled with splendidly awful people: a snaky nephew; a predatory seductress; a fuddy-duddy vicar, his snoopy wife and the heir presumptive; an aspiring literary genius there with his fiancee; and a cabaret dancer whose vanity and presumption Birve renders with flawless outrageousness.
BIG LITTLE LIES, by Liane Moriarty. Penguin Audio, unabridged, 16 hrs.
Caroline Lee brings an Aussie-inflected accent to "Big Little Lies." Set in Australia's New South Wales state and centering on a prized public school, the novel begins by telling us that someone will be murdered on the school's trivia night in six months. The number of possible victims waxes and wanes as the story takes on adultery, domestic abuse, bullying, lying and head lice. Lee brings bubbling, gossipy energy to the novel's many light moments and a slower, melancholy introspection as the characters' painful secrets emerge, erupting, finally, in an entirely satisfying denouement.