After almost a year of COVID and social distancing, some of us are desperately missing family members, while others are suffering from the claustrophobic pressure of constant contact with relations. Whichever camp you are in, you, like me, have likely become increasingly aware of the emotional complexities of family relations. To quote Tolstoy, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Mystery writers certainly understand this as they leverage family dynamics to provide us with hours of intrigue and entertainment. The following recent audiobooks provide us a window into the challenges of all different types of families and their internal dynamics.
THE GUEST LIST, by Lucy Foley and performed by six talented narrators, is a variation on the locked room mystery. Guests are invited to an isolated, rugged island off the Irish coast to celebrate the wedding of a glamorous couple. Then the murders begin. The lovely accents of the narrators and the descriptions of the island create an engrossing atmosphere for the story of betrayals, revenge, and family dynamics. To avoid spoilers, I can’t say much more—you'll just have to listen.
For a different kind of family situation, you might try EDDIE’S BOY by Thomas Perry, read by Michael Kramer. Eddie was a butcher and a successful hitman who generously adopted an orphan named Michael, who he trained in both businesses. While this, the fourth addition to the series, takes place with Michael being retired and living in England, listeners hear a good deal about how Eddie taught and shaped Michael’s future. The interesting twist is that you find yourself appreciating what Eddie the hitman did for this young boy, and although he is a murderer, you find yourself rooting for Michael.
Then we have two very different takes on brothers: The first is S.J. Rozan’s THE ART OF VIOLENCE, read by Erica Sullivan. The 13th book in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series provides a view into a dysfunctional family and the impact on two brothers, Peter and Sam. Peter seems like the stable, successful brother taking care of his mentally unstable but artistically talented brother Sam. Sullivan voices the many potential perpetrators in this twisted New York City private detective/police procedural. Love, empathy, friendship, and betrayal all play a role here.
LITTLE CRUELTIES by Liz Nugent also focuses in on the loving/competitive/hateful relationships of brothers. The audiobook is performed by multiple narrators, each providing a voice for one of the three Drumm brothers.The story covers decades of their growing up in Dublin and their adult lives. Rather than a chronological saga, the audiobook weaves back and forth over the years. With each brother represented by a different narrator, we get to be in their heads hearing their perspectives on the cruelties they inflicted and suffered. An engaging but dark story.
And finally, let’s take a look at a Romeo and Juliet-type plot involving two of Louisiana’s oldest and longest-feuding families. In James Lee Burke’s PRIVATE CATHEDRAL, narrator Will Patton returns to voice the 23rd addition to the Dave Robicheaux series. In this story Robicheaux is challenged to deal with the heads of these families and with a mysterious, mythical assassin who they send after him.
By the time you get through these, I am hoping you can turn your own expectations of your family relations into true appreciation. And make that next Zoom family celebration one where everyone just stays on mute and smiles at one another.