‘One Day I Shall Astonish the World,’ by Nina Stibbe
Best known for her novel “Man at the Helm,” Stibbe again shows her tart comic touch in this charmer of a story about an unreliable friendship. While working at a sewing shop in an English university town, Susan Warren meets Norma Pavlou, an ambitious young woman who sews her own clothes — badly. The two become precarious friends, with Norma forever seizing the main chance, often to Susan’s detriment. Still, Susan does herself no favors by dropping out of college when she gets pregnant and marries Roy, whose main interest is golf. Joanna Scanlan, an award-winning comic actor, is an inspired choice as narrator. She has a fine sense of drumery, her timing is exquisite, and her manner gentle and touching when the plot darkens and calamity looms. (Little, Brown & Co., unabridged, 10 hours)
‘The Return of Faraz Ali,’ by Aamina Ahmad
Ahmad’s extraordinarily accomplished first novel revolves around Faraz Ali, born to a prostitute in Mohalla, Lahore, Pakistan’s red-light district. Fraz’s powerful father has the boy taken from his mother and raised by a poor but respectable family. By 1968, he is an up-and-coming police officer, and as Pakistan erupts into civil unrest, Fraz’s father asks him to return to Mohalla to cover up the death of an adolescent girl — an “accident,” he calls it. It’s not. Fraz can’t let it go and begin to uncover hidden connections going back decades, a dangerous exercise in a dangerous time. The large cast of believable characters is given voice by narrators Homer Todiwala, delivering the men’s sections, and Nina Wadia, the women’s. Both actors handle the characters beautifully, faithfully capturing their personalities. This is a great novel, rich in setting, shocking in its depiction of brute, inexorable power, but unexpectedly sweet in conclusion. (Penguin Audio, Unabridged, 12¼ hours)
‘City on Fire,’ by Don Winslow
It’s the 1980s and two mobs, one Irish, the other Italian, run Providence, RI’s criminal enterprises. The Irish have the docks; the Italians, politicians and police — all under the predator gaze of Boston and New York crime syndicates. In the middle of it is Danny Ryan, son of an alcoholic father who used to run the Irish end and brother to the reckless, unreliable Liam, who has stolen the girlfriend of one of the Italians. Danny, who has always wanted out of the rackets, is levelheaded and a would-be peacemaker, but Liam’s folly has unloosed in the Italians a thirst for vengeance coupled with opportunism and treachery — and we are deep in Winslow’s menacing territory of bad faith and escalating violence. Ari Fliakos, a gifted actor who has played tough guys with gangland panache, narrates this in a hard-hitting Providence accent that only occasionally sounds as if JFK has grabbed the mic. (Harper Audio, Unabridged, 9 hours).
Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for The Washington Post.