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IoS Books of the Year 2012: Audio books

The name's Bonneville ... Hugh Bonneville

Sue Gaisford
Sunday 02 December 2012 01:00 GMT

In 1967, Ian Fleming thought David Niven a perfect choice to play his hero on screen. But films make their own demands and stray from their progenitors. How Fleming would have thrilled to hear all his original books read with imperturbable panache, by a dozen of our finest actors, half a century on. Hugh Bonneville coolly saves the world from the evil Goldfinger; The Spy Who Loved Me rescues feisty Rosamund Pike from ruthless hoodlums in a seedy motel; Dan Stevens is restored to vigorous manhood by the glorious Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. These and other equally fine actors perform all of the Bond books, unabridged (AudioGo, £15 each). Each reader adds comments on a final, bonus track. Bill Nighy, for instance, is delighted by how well written Moonraker is, adding, besottedly, that he loves everything about Gala Brand, including "her skirts, her shirts … her throat".

This is the original, ultra-suave Bond, born before our times. A soft-centred killer, he smokes Chesterfield Kings; thrashes the bejazus out of a supercharged 1933 Bentley convertible (just listen to the "loitering drumbeat" of that exhaust); surfaces unscathed from cliff-falls, explosions and more intimate tortures; and remains unshaken and nearly always unstirred throughout, despite drinking enough to send today's GPs into apoplexy. These readings are fabulous, and dangerously addictive.

An earlier hero emerges in the first of a beautifully constructed series about murder in 18th-century Leeds. Chris Nickson's protagonist is Richard Nottingham, Constable of the city, searching for a murderer, a thief, and the other half of The Broken Token (Creative Content, £24.27). Steven Pacey is the fine reader of this vividly convincing historical thriller. You long to go to Leeds, right away, and trace the ancient streets he inhabits.

J K Rowling's first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy (Little,Brown, £30) is strong meat. Tom Hollander does a miraculous ventriloquist's job on the huge cast inhabiting a small West Country town with more than its share of greed, jealousy, racism, heartbreak and petty ambition. Bleak it may be, but it is also brave, compelling and unforgettable.

Generally, authors are unwise to read their own work. But Edna O'Brien is a soft-spoken and seductive exception. Her memoir Country Girl (Canongate, £21.41) looks back over her life from its beginnings in rural Ireland, where she qualified, surprisingly, as a pharmacist, to the maelstrom of 1960s London, a turbulent marriage and agonising divorce, and a career as the novelist who, like Françoise Sagan in France, defined a generation. Once started, it is impossible, in every sense, to ask her to pause.

Finally, a new unabridged reading of Kazuo Ishiguru's 1989 masterpiece The Remains of the Day (Canongate, £19.99). Dominic West perfectly captures the painful dignity of Lord Darlington's butler, Stevens, in a deadpan reading redolent of pathos, regret and occasional wild humour – as when Stevens is required to instruct His Lordship's nephew on the facts of life. Neither, by the way, emerges any the wiser.

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