When it comes to making history live, nobody does it better than David McCullough. Now, with The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, he’s done it again in spades. You won’t find Hemingway or Gertrude Stein or any of the Americans we usually associate with the City of Light. The Yankees in McCullough’s account were the first wave of “talented, aspiring Americans” who began to make the transformative, transatlantic voyage in increasing numbers in the 1830s. From James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel F.B. Morse, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Elizabeth Blackwell to Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and Harriet Beecher Stowe, they came to learn and to immerse themselves in a kindred yet very different culture where wine was cheaper than milk, the food was fabulous, the boulevards were broad and the astounding treasures of the Louvre were open to the public. Weaving detailed bios of these Americans into the colorful fabric of Parisian history from 1830 to 1900, McCullough makes excellent use of his ability to simultaneously entertain and educate, while master narrator Edward Herrmann’s perfect pacing makes this journey from apple pie to tarte tatin into compelling listening.
CASE OF THE GREEN PARROTS
Though Claire DeWitt may have started her detecting career as a Nancy Drew-ish kid, the older investigator, whom we meet in the first installment of Sara Gran’s quirky, genre-bending series, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, moves in a bleak world where, as Raymond Chandler would say, “the streets were dark with something more than night.” But crack the tough, take-no-prisoners façade and you’ll find a woman with an odd mystical core, who follows the abstruse, enigmatic precepts of an abstruse, enigmatic French detective, rarely says no to drugs, finds clues in dreams and throws the I Ching. Back in New Orleans, just after Katrina, to find a missing D.A., Claire is instantly immersed in a maelstrom of malaise, dislocation, disillusionment and gratuitous violence but, while solving the case, she may have found a young acolyte and, through him, a touch of redemption. Carol Monda reads in a voice and style that’s noir personified—aloof, ironic, ideally tailored to Claire and her grim surroundings.
AUDIO OF THE MONTH
Contrary to the hyper-hype surrounding the release of Jo Nesbø’s latest Harry Hole mystery, The Snowman, superbly narrated here by Robin Sachs, Nesbø is not the next Stieg Larsson and Harry is not a stand-in for Mikael Blomkvist. But that elusive something about Scandinavian crime fiction that has grabbed American attention is here—big-time. There’s a serial killer in Oslo, perhaps the first ever in Norway, preying on married women with children, and each murder is accompanied by a snowman built of new-fallen snow. As Harry, beset by inner demons, debilitating bouts of binge drinking and a wrecked romance, digs deeper, he and his new associate, an almost preternaturally canny and collected young policewoman, uncover a pattern that goes back for years. Yet, over and over again, just when you think he’s got his grisly guy, the storyline swerves and the suspect is exonerated—until you get to the gasp moment, when all the elements in this brilliantly conceived plot fall into place.