Gallows Thief, by Patricia Cornwell, read by James Frain

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The Independent Culture

Cornwell's pacy plots and likeable characters translate well onto audio, and Gallows Thief is no exception. Ruggedly handsome Rider Sandman, of whose career at Waterloo we hear a shade too much, is trying to live down his father's profligacy, win back the absolutely fabulous Eleanor Forest and solve the mystery of a murdered countess in whose case the Home Secretary has taken an interest. The book's richly realised, Regency England scenes of high life and low life are brilliantly projected by James Frain, who enters with impressive completeness into the characters, be they simpering artist, cockney whore, sardonic rake or salt-of-the-earth sergeant.

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The Universe in a Nutshell, by Stephen Hawking, read by Simon Prebble, unabridged, Random House, c 4 hrs, £12.99. Hawking himself felt more people bought A Brief History of Time than read it: here he tries to provide a more accessible, layman's guide to the galaxy.

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