'The Execution of Noa P. Singleton,' 'The Never List' two worthwhile listens

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 11:51 AM

I had a seven-hour solo drive to Atlanta, but I was equipped. Or so I thought.
I was halfway through John Banville’s “Ancient Light” (Random House, 8CDs, 9.5 hours). Banville, a Man Booker award-winner, uses elegant language which came alive with Robin Sach’s skillful reading, and I easily entered the troubled mind of Alexander Cleave. Banville’s reflective novel brilliantly weaves Cleave’s risque affair at 15 with his best friend’s mother, feelings of failure after his daughter’s death, and his introspective thoughts about aging. Sach’s narration meshed all time periods without losing flow and, made the protagonist believable and worthy of compassion. 
I’d listen to this literary-rich novel at night, I decided, but for the road I needed something with more of a driving force. I was happily surprised when I learned Banville wrote mysteries under the pen name of Benjamin Black. For driving I would listen to “Holy Orders: A Quirke Novel,” read by John Keating (Macmillan, 9.5 hours)
If you really want to judge an audio’s success, take it on a test drive. I suggest you take extras in case your disappointed by a reader or a story, and I generally include one mystery with a serial killer because those work better than coffee for keeping me awake. In this case, my strategy panned out because “Holy Orders” failed me. Without the roar of my AC, I might not have noticed that John Keating began sentences strongly and swallowed their conclusions so that I had to strain to hear them. It took more focus to capture the backstory for the second in Black’s series than I could muster while driving.
An hour from Atlanta in rural Georgia, Interstate 85 slowed to bumper-to-bumper non-moving traffic, the kind that can only come from a horrible traffic mishap which indeed was exactly the case as I later learned a car had caught fire. I had no clue as a detour.  Thankfully I found an elderly local who drove a truck, two good signs of someone who might be able to direct me. After 20 minutes, I landed back at Interstate 85, this time above the accident. Handled, I thought. Then took 85 north instead of south and had to begin the entire detour again. 
Luckily I’d swapped “Holy Orders” for Elizabeth Silver’s “The Execution of Noa P. Singleton” (Random House, 10 hours). Rebecca Lowman portrays Noa, a 25-year-old college dropout who’s been on death row for 10 years. Lowman’s voice is clear and steady, her pronunciations precise. This not only made for the clarity I needed in the car, but created an excellent portrayal of the intelligent heroine who seems unconcerned about her pending execution, unwilling to share the secret of what really happened, and sarcastic regarding everything from the jury who judged her to the woman in the next cell who calls out at night. Noa is slated for execution in six months and will not open up to either the attorney fighting for her appeal, nor his boss, Marlene, who also happens to be the mother of the young woman Noa has supposedly killed. 
Lowman’s expression of Noa’s neutrality goes a long way to aiding listeners in hearing the difficult story of her past. Her self-centered mother has had a string of lovers, Noa never had a close friend after the death of her childhood bff Persephone, and her father’s taken off at her birth and when he resurfaces, their reconnection ends in Noa’s crime. Noa, whom Lowman has painted as withholding, metes out fragments of the truth, teasing those trying to save her life (and the listener). 
Amanda Carlin reads Marlene’s narrative. Carlin’s reading is also precise and has a cold edge, though she lets frustration show when Noa stonewalls as “X-Day” approaches. Marlene writes letters to her murdered daughter and though there are some expressions of emotion, her manipulation and rage are most apparent. Marlene’s narrative give us plot pieces Noa doesn’t know, provides another view of Noa and explains why Noa distrusts the woman who has sworn to help her.
En route home, I listened to Koethi  Zan’s “The Never List” (Penguin Audio, 7 CDS, 8.5 hours). The main character is Sarah, a young college freshman who, with her best friend Jennifer, gets into the car of a madman who kidnaps and adds them to his collection of captives. For three years, until his capture, he tortures all of them and Jennifer is killed. Ten years later Sarah is surviving as best she can when she learns the abductor is up for parole and decides to fight her fears and rally the survivors to help her. It is even more gripping than it sounds. Zan manages to suffuse every chilling moment with Sarah’s grit, determination and fear. Kristen Sieh’s reading represents the menace of the evil characters, makes the fear of all the tortured girls palpable, enunciates clearly and emotes better than that.
With “Ancient Light” as lullaby and Silver and Zan’s mysteries to keep me awake in the car, it was overall a successful audio trip.  
Read more at Susie Wilde’s website, ignitingwriting.com.