George P Pelecanos is currently one of the hottest properties in American thriller writing, but what he is acclaimed for is the depth and detail of his recreation of Washington, DC. Hell to Pay, a tale of how just a few of the lost young souls in its drug and hooker underworld are saved, is exciting listening, once one's ear has adapted to the rich, slurred cadences of Richard Allen's streetwise accent. But, too frequently, the sequence of events is confusingly speeded up, and I suspect that only ruthless omission can explain the disappearance of the promisingly menacing Worldwide Wilson from the plot. It's possible that if I had read or heard Right as Rain, which introduces the lead characters, the private investigator duo Derek Strange and Terry Quinn, it would all have made more sense. It would help if publishers provided more substantial notes for sequels.
But abridgement for audio can do books a favour. Julie Parsons's The Courtship Gift (Macmillan, 3hrs, £8.99) is about a Dublin entomologist who attracts the attentions of a homicidal maniac with an interest in insects. A courtship gift in the shape of the silk-wrapped corpse of a rival suitor is what the male damsel fly presents to its mate. Matthew Makepeace regularly kills unworthy husbands and enjoys the favours of their widows. He sets up a Bluebeard test to see if Anna will still love him if she knows the truth.
Wildly unlikely, yes, but hefty pruning frees the listener's imagination from unconvincing explanations, and the result is nail-biting suspense. It's made the more compelling by Niamh Cusack, who relates the macabre happenings in a voice of angelic innocence.
If you're visiting Italy this year, try Eric Newby's wartime memoir Love and War in the Apennines (HarperCollins, 3hrs, £8.99, read by Richard E Grant). It begins with Newby himself floating off Etna – "a plume of smoke like the quill of a pen sticking out of a pewter inkpot" – after a failed assault on the coast. After a year in an Italian prison camp, he goes to ground in the Apennines to escape the German advance, and finds shelter, protection and the love of his life among the Italian peasants who live there.Reuse content