My wife and I primarily listen to audiobooks while driving to and from our parents’ houses. Hers live about four hours away while mine are 10. In the past few months we’ve driven out to both and also took a trip down to Philadelphia so we’ve been listening to a variety of different books at different times (partially because I lost my iPod temporarily while on the way home from Thanksgiving).
Anyway, while the iPod — which had the next book on it — was missing, we listened to The Broker a book by John Grisham as read by Dennis Boutsikaris which my inlaws passed to us. Clocking in at just about five hours, this book was a wonderful listen that stayed on point and kept us involved the entire time we listened.
The plot revolves around Joel Backman, a D.C. lobbyist who went to jail after getting mixed up with some international spy satellite tech. He’s given a surprise pardon by an outgoing president at the behest of the CIA who place him in Italy. While there, they secretly control his entire life in an effort to learn his secrets before letting the international spy community know where he is so they can kill him. Of course, Backman doesn’t know about these plans, so he does his best to learn Italian and blend in to his new surroundings, eventually catching wind that something is up before going on the run and grabbing a little insurance.
Like I said above, this book is a nice, taut thriller with a surprisingly likable character. You really start to feel for him as he tries to figure out his new life. At the same time, the spy and political worlds are dealing with the situation in various ways. Even though the scope of this book is fairly broad, it still stays focused without driving off course too much. I also enjoyed the ending which showed Backman mixing his old skills with some of the new ones he learned while on the run. All in all, I give this one a big thumbs up. For what it’s worth, this is the first Grisham book I’ve ever read or listened to which seems pretty crazy, especially considering how insanely popular he was back when I was at the peak of my voracious reading appetite.
Patricia Cornwell’s The Bone Bed, another Kay Scarpetta novel read by Kate Reading, was a lot more of a time commitment and not quite as focused as The Broker. We listened to this one on the way to and from Philly, to New Hampshire, part of the way to Michigan (after finishing The Broker) and then finished it early on our way back home after Christmas.
This time around, super duper medical examiner Kay Scarpetta is investigating or involved in a series of murders or disappearances. As the story continues, they seem to be connected and Kay eventually stumbles into the truth about what’s really going on and who is behind it all. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing with some potential problems with Marino, the advances of a young doctor she works with and her husband’s FBI partner who has eyes for him.
Bone Bed came after Port Mortuary and Red Mist. One of the big problems we had with Mortuary was that Kay wound up not doing too much in the story and was basically playing catch-up in her office while everyone else was doing things out in the field. Red Mist went a different direction as did Bone Bed, but BB did have a bit of a problem. A few actually.
First and foremost, Cornwell seems to really enjoy telling her readers about traffic patterns in and around Boston. As a reader, I could care less about these descriptions. When you’re in a story and have just read/heard something really interesting and want to get to the next stage of figuring it out, the last thing you want to learn about is a traffic jam. We listened to the unabridged version, which might have been a mistake, but I think these scenes would have been pretty boring had I read it the traditional way.
The other problem involves the end of the book. After so much detail was put into the scientific side of the investigation, SPOILER Kay winds up getting kidnapped by the killer while she’s talking to a different person altogether. Why an ME is out interviewing people is beyond me, but I can live with that. It just felt kind of quick and unearned for me. At the end of the story, she really doesn’t have any agency and doesn’t even free herself, but relies on her team to do that (though she was ready to defend herself). I get that the killer was worried because things were starting to heat up thanks to Scarpetta’s investigation, but I would have rather Scarpetta’s investigation more directly lead to the killer’s capture.
And speaking of the killer, while his motivations were really interesting, I didn’t feel like his immense skill at what he was doing was well explained. This person set a really elaborate trap with the first body discovered in the book. We understand why a person would do that, but not why this person did it, especially if their main motivation seems to revolve around killing stand-ins for a hated person. How did he even think of that crazy plan?!
At this point, we’re still pretty solid Scarpetta fans, but I’m not sure if the last few listens have been all that great. If these were books by other people would I like them as much? Probably not, but since I’m already a fan of these characters, I’m more forgiving.