SPRING FEVER, by Mary Kay Andrews. Macmillan Audio, 15 and a half hours, 12 CDs, $39.99; download list price, $23.99.
First-rate designer of romantic baubles Mary Kay Andrews sets this summer's offering in Passcoe, N.C., home of Quixie cherry soda and the Bayless family, which owns the company. Dark secrets, memories of past bliss and blackguardly schemes surround the failed marriage of Mason Bayless to Annajane Hudgens. And at the forefront, with her sights set on Mason, is Celia Wakefield, armed with skimpy outfits, cutthroat business tactics and a traitor's "tinkly laugh." Narrator Kathleen McInerney does the book proud, conferring subdued Southern accents on the Carolina natives and distinguishing between men and women with unobtrusive variations in key. She gives a pint-size, non-icky voice to a mystery child, Sophie, and a perky, uber-yummy Midwestern accent to the Nebraska-born manipulator, Celia. The book is a sparkler with just deserts and comeuppances dished up all around.
Nell Freudenberger's second novel has the lively bounce of a beach book and the tragicomic substance and psychological insight of a real work of literature -- which it is. Amina Mazid has come from Bangladesh to upstate Rochester, to marry George Stillman, a somewhat nerdy electrical engineer she met on the Internet. It is part of her plan, only gradually revealed to her husband, to bring her parents to America, too. But that is only one of the novel's many astutely explored complexities, for Amina and George have secrets in their pasts. Cultural misunderstandings and confounded expectations abound, some funny, some sad, but all brilliantly observed. Mozhan Marno delivers Amina's Bangladeshi accent with restraint and gives a slightly more pronounced subcontinental intonation to her parents. George's voice is plain white bread, as are his mother's and aunt's, while a yoga-besotted cousin is rendered with a truly inspired, self-absorbed, New Age inflection.
Simon Vance brings faultless balance and cadence to D.J. Taylor's extraordinary recreation of a character-crammed, atmospheric Victorian crime novel. The book is uncanny in its capturing of mid-19th century English literary style and sensibility. Redolent of the period's scrambling economic milieu and filled with suspense, it is set midway through Victoria's reign in a ruined country house, in London and at Epsom Downs. It follows a large cast of characters whose lives have become connected with Tiberius, a dark-horse prospect for the English Derby. Those acquainted with Vance's narrations will recognize his roster of voices and accents, here emerging perfectly tailored to the numerous players. Among them is a supercilious sporting man, a bounder who marries a chillingly enigmatic woman. This is a really superb book, made all the more so by Vance's empathetic rendering.
THE BUSY BODY, by Donald E. Westlake. HighBridge, five and a half hours, download only: highbridgeaudio.com, $18.87; audible.com, $13.21; iTunes, $10.95.
First published in 1966, this is one of Donald Westlake's earlier novels, a New York crime caper with the wondrous quaintness of a rediscovered artifact. Except for a hoary bumbling-drunk scene, the book's insouciance and wit are as exhilarating as they ever were. Narrator Brian Holsopple delivers much of the story in a friendly voice that is just right for the Westlakian hero, Al Engel, an amiably amoral man given to exclaiming "Oh ho!" when uncovering new mischief. A dead body with a cache of Mafia-owned heroin stitched into its suit has gone missing, and Al, the boss' right-hand man, has to find it. His adventures include a Chevy with a manual transmission, pursuit by mobsters with big-city accents, the demands of his querulous-voiced mother, the dangerous attentions of a sultry woman in white stretch pants and a cozy night with the dead man's widow who is -- and sounds -- vintage ditsy.