Is it too soon for authors to set their mysteries and thrillers during the pandemic? Are listeners ready to engage with stories that feel too much like the challenging misery that many of us of have been experiencing? Do we seek escape instead in our fiction listening? In an article posted last August on Crime Reads, thriller author Wendy Corsi Straub surveys her fellow writers on their plans to include the pandemic in their upcoming works. At that time, with so many unknowns, most of the authors stated that they had decided to avoid addressing the pandemic.
Now, a year later, some authors are taking on the challenge in different ways.
Of all the audiobooks I have heard recently, Louise Penny’s THE MADNESS OF CROWDS (out 8/24), masterfully narrated by Robert Bathurst, goes the farthest. She not only sets the story in immediate post-pandemic times, but tackles the really tough issues of what we have been learning about humankind during this period of limited resources. You can read an interview with Louise Penny in the August/September issue of AudioFile Magazine. Penny, who focuses much of the content in her Inspector Gamache series on character development, addresses the very personal impact on Gamache of having had to deal with COVID-19 deaths in a nursing home. Although the story is set in Canada, it will resonate in a relevant and painful way for U.S. listeners. Bathurst, who has become an expert in Penny’s characters, makes this an engaging listen while putting the challenging topics out there for listeners to tangle with.
In FALSE WITNESS, narrated by Kathleen Early, Karin Slaughter sets her story in Atlanta in the middle of the pandemic. Her references to COVID-19 and its restrictions come into play with the impact of wearing masks, the challenges of dealing with kids in school and out of school, and the overall craziness of navigating the legal system under COVID restrictions. The audiobook includes an important author’s note at the end explaining her inclusion of the pandemic in this story. Slaughter shares how she chooses to anchor her books in the now and take on significant and relevant societal issues. Early, who has narrated many of Slaughter’s audiobooks, is very effective in performing this dark, violent, and complex audiobook.
In THE CELLIST, Daniel Silva addresses the pandemic as it impacts Israel and the European countries that the story is set in. In this, the 21st audiobook in the series, narrator Edoardo Ballerini takes us across Europe, mainly in a private plane, that allows Chief of Israeli Intelligence Gabriel Allon to avoid COVID flight complications. Silva doesn’t shy away from addressing the nuisances and uncertainties caused by the pandemic and the unevenness in how different countries are managing the pandemic. While the pandemic doesn’t take center stage, it is a constant presence in this audiobook, as it has been in all of our lives for the last year and a half.
Early on in the pandemic, I had the pleasure of reviewing Michael Connelly’s THE LAW OF INNOCENCE, narrated by Peter Giles. Toward the end of the audiobook, the “Lincoln Lawyer” Michael Haller finds himself in a grocery store, just as the pandemic is becoming real, searching for items that have disappeared from the shelves as everyone is panic buying. The audiobook was released in November 2020, when the COVID death toll was rising. It felt like real life, and as a listener I appreciated the sense of fear and the challenges of dealing with the unknown that it portrayed. Narrator Peter Giles earned an Earphones Award for this great listening experience.