If the combo of a title like They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? and an author named Christopher Buckley doesn’t shout sharp satire with cutting-edge irony, you’re probably a newly arrived space alien. In Buckley’s latest, “Bird” McIntyre, a lobbyist for the aerospace behemoth Groepping-Sprunt with a high-spending trophy wife, needs to beef up support for Groepping’s mammoth killer drone. Why not inflame American anti-Chinese sentiment with a rumor that the Chinese are trying to poison the Dalai Lama? To set the rumor raging, Bird enlists the aid of Angel Templeton, the sexy, long-limbed, Ann Coulter-ish commander of the Institute for Continuing Conflict. Action shifts back and forth—from Beijing, where the mild president of the People’s Republic is trying to fend off ferocious attacks from party hardliners, to Washington, where Sino-American tensions are heating up, and to Bird’s workweek condo, known as the “Military-Industrial duplex.” Buckley’s take on our times, as clever as ever and disturbingly believable, is made even better by Robert Petkoff’s perfectly paced narration.

TWO TWISTED TALES
Elsie, a very plain, very troubled, desperate woman of 24, tried to catch good-looking young Norman’s attention at church. He responded. Asking whether “either would have died if Norman hadn’t smiled,” Minette Walters ponders their sad, intertwined fates in the first of the two novellas that make up Innocent Victims. Based on the true story of the 1924 “chicken farm murder,” Walters tells the tale with the starkness of a documentary and the pull of a psychological thriller. In the second novella, in-your-face—or, in this case, in-her-face—anti-Irish prejudice clouds feisty Siobhan Lavenham’s judgment as she tries to sort out the truth about murder, arson, robbery, present passions and past perjuries, turning a straightforward hedunit into a surprising, witty whodunit. Reader Simon Prebble is at his best, evoking time and place and using his estimable gift for dialect with spot-on accuracy.

TOP PICK IN AUDIO
It’s 1938 and Warner Brothers has sent Austrian-born Fredric Stahl—handsome, charming, just muscular enough to be seen in a bathing suit—to Paris to star in a French film titled Apr├ęs la Guerre. Ironically, Stahl finds himself in a city that, like the rest of Europe, is on the brink of war, and we fortunate listeners find ourselves on the brink of being totally mesmerized by Alan Furst’s latest thriller, Mission to Paris, read with smooth elan by Daniel Gerroll. Furst is a master of this genre and a master at painting this era in Casablanca black-and-white. He’s in top form here, mixing up a heady, atmospheric cocktail of intrigue, deception, seduction and romance and serving it in a Paris shadowed by the threat of a Nazi takeover, swarming with political operatives who find Herr Stahl a potential agent of influence. And the compelling Herr Stahl turns out to be a leading man with a moral compass strong enough to see him through a dangerous, intricate interlude with espionage.

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