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Audio Book Review
Books to read with your eyes on the road

Jonathan Lowe
Audio Book Reviewer

With a few realistic or literary exceptions, like Willa Cather’s “O Pioneers,” or the movie “How the West Was Won,” the image we have of the Old West is mostly filled with clichés ... gunfighters without scruples, “Hang ’em High” executions, card cheaters, drunken brawls, cattle drives, shotgun weddings. So if you want to know what it was really like, you’ll have to read some biographies or history books. But for entertainment purposes, and some hearty saloon guffaws, try “Tall Tales of the Old West,” written and read by Jim Williams. Some of these amusing tales sound true all the way until the twist ending, and with just the right amount of detail to convince the listener, while Williams does a fine job in the telling. (Americana Audiobooks/3 hours on 2 cassettes/ISBN 1-58807-019-0)

Another western title that may have you laughing is “Heart of the Mountain Man” by William W. Johnstone, about an outlaw named Slaughter who is holding the wife of a man who owes him money, and is tracked down by characters with names like Smoke, Pearly and Bear. Narrator Doug Van Liew is the perfect narrator for this, with his gusty ad lib characterizations and gruff voice. Complete with vivid gunfight and knife fight sound effects, the story is simply an excuse for dumb, luckless men mistaking foolhardy machismo for bravery, and blowing each other away in rapturous detail. (Otis Audio/6 hours on 4 cassettes/ISBN 1-890990-88-4)

In “Wings of Fire” by Dale Brown, the Libyan president has assassinated the Egyptian president. Ah, but then the woman (made widow) has had enough, seizes power, and plots revenge. Hiring a clandestine tactical assault team known as the Nightstalkers, she proclaims herself Queen, and pits PMS against testosterone in a battle of wills and wiles. Narrator Ron McLarty has a gift for accents and for interpreting the self-righteous bravado and outrage of outlaw Arab leaders in this production. (Putnam Berkley Audio/6 hours on 4 cassettes/ISBN 0-399-14896-5)

“Fire Ice” by Clive Cussler, co-written with Paul Kemprecos, is another thriller. Here, a mining tycoon wants to be a Russian czar, and hatches a bizarre plot to detonate pockets of methane hydrate under the sea floor to cause tidal waves along the U.S. eastern seaboard. This acts as a diversion while he plays a power game within the Russian political machine. Cussler — even more than Tom Clancy — has this co-writer formula mastered. His ability to crank out 007-like plotlines seems inexhaustible. Scott Brick reads the unabridged version. (Putnam Berkley Audio/14 hours on 10 cassettes/ISBN 0-399-14907-4)

“City of Bones” by Michael Connelly is a well-written police procedural that chronicles a case transforming both the personal and professional life of its chief investigator, Harry Bosch. When the bone of a child is uncovered by a dog in the Hollywood Hills, the discovery prompts Harry to revisit his own personal past, and to draw conclusions about the meaning of his own life and future. What starts out small and routine becomes large and meaningful, as is often the case with good fiction. Actor Len Cariou lets the story unfold in an unexaggerated and natural manner in the abridged version. Actor Peter Jay Fernandez reads the unabridged version with a bit more dramatic effect, but even he does not go over the top, and so remains believable. (Time Warner Audiobooks/12 hours on 8 cassettes/ISBN 1-58621-203-6)

Finally, a reality check. Twenty-five years ago, when it was easier to pass bogus checks, Frank W. Abagnale Jr. was called The Skywayman because he traveled the world posing as a Pan Am co-pilot while “hanging paper,” as the fraud is known. His exploits are chronicled in “Catch Me If You Can,” an amusing autobiography. Barrett Whitener successfully and entertainingly interprets the conversations and thought patterns behind Abagnale’s bold, freewheeling scams — from fooling bank clerks and seducing flight attendants to playing con games on airport personnel, prison officials and FBI agents. With fraud still America’s number one crime, this fascinating memoir is a true-life cautionary tale of interest to anyone wishing to avoid becoming a victim. Was Abagnale caught? Yes, he was, and spent a horrific six months in solitary confinement in a French prison, without clothes, light, bed or even a toilet … that is, just before he was deported to the United States, and promptly escaped again. How? Well, by dismantling the plane’s lavatory toilet and climbing down through the hatch upon touchdown at night, of course. (Blackstone Audiobooks/ about 8 hours on 8 CDs/ISBN 0-7861-9757-9)

Audio books can be rented from Audio Adventures in many truckstops or by calling 1-800-551-6692. Reviewer Jonathan Lowe is the award-winning author of “Postal” and “Dark Fire.”