Listen Up, Audio Books.

Into Thin Air

By Jon Krakauer

Read by the Author

Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio, $24

Four cassettes, 6 hrs., abridged

The tragic events on Mt. Everest in May 1996 have been in the media in numerous forms for more than a year. Jon Krakauer's firsthand account of how several climbers died on the ill-fated expedition is solidly on the bestseller lists, and so the audiobook version has particular appeal.

Hearing the author recount the daily events in journal-like entries allows listeners a unique link to the unfolding catastrophe. But, the author's flat rendition does little to enhance the gripping events.

Nevertheless, the audiobook makes for riveting listening simply because of the human drama. Turning off the tape is somehow akin to leaving your companions on the frigid slopes, as tragically happened in this case.

By the end, listening to the dated entries doesn't clarify the chaotic sequence of events. The visual graphic of a timeline in a printed version would be much clearer than this unrelenting oral account. Hearing Krakauer discuss his personal anguish and hindsight about the decisions and dynamics of the expedition, however, gives listeners an unusual connection to the disturbing questions he asks.

Likely To Die

By Linda Fairstein

Read by Diane Venora

Simon & Schuster Audio, $18

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged

Linda Fairstein knows the territory she covers in her second mystery thriller.

Having prosecuted many high-profile sex crime cases as a Manhattan assistant district attorney, Fairstein lends voice and credibility to her protagonist Alex Cooper - they have the same job.

Narrator Diane Venora speaks with husky, smooth authority for Alex Cooper and handles the dialogue of the New York cops and suspects with style. Venora projects the balance of toughness and caring that makes Detective Mike Chapman so appealing.

In "Likely to Die," the police team investigates the murder of a prominent doctor, whose connections with everyone from her medical residents to Cooper's current beau make for an abundance of suspects. Venora adds color to the minor characters, such as the hard-boiled D. A. Battaglia and a smarmy hospital administrator. Great beach listening, and for fans of the well-researched procedural, realistic detail.

Dinner With Persephone

By Patricia Storace

Read by Jill Eikenberry

Audio Literature, $17.95

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged

Poet Patricia Storace presents a delicious vision of modern Greece. She weaves in myths and metaphors with the gritty realism that comes from having lived there. Using the myth of Persephone, the young woman who spent six months in the underworld and six months on earth each year, as a unifying metaphor, Storace explores ancient cultural traditions in modern guise.

Jill Eikenberry delivers a narration perfectly in tune with the author. She reads with the detached yet passionate tone the author conveys. Eikenberry allows the beautifully written prose to do most of the work, but her finesse with timing and emphasis adds tremendously to the audio rendition. Her voice is at times smooth and ethereal, then changes to convey Storace's wit and irony. One hears her delight in the contrasts and complexities of ancient symbols and myths woven into the brash chaos of modern Greece.

The Wheel of Life

By Elizabeth Kbler-Ross

Read by Ellen Burstyn

Simon & Schuster Audio, $18

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged

As the final legacy of an amazing life, Elizabeth Kbler-Ross shares her story and personal philosophy in a moving memoir. Known primarily for her writings and studies, including the seminal "On Death and Dying," Kbler-Ross here reveals the joys and challenges of her half-century of humanitarian work. It begins when she defies her father to work with Holocaust victims.

Ellen Burstyn does a stunning job as the narrative voice of Kbler-Ross. Even though the program begins with an introduction by Kbler-Ross herself, in which we hear her heavily-accented and illness-weakened voice, Burstyn is fully believable as the voice of the author. Burstyn projects compelling energy. Her voice catches the emotions of moving recollections and takes on a steely obstinacy as she relates the challenges and obstacles Kbler-Ross faced. While authors can sometimes add more dimension to their own narratives, Burstyn delivers a beautiful portrait, conveying the strength and compassion that is the essence of Elizabeth Kbler-Ross.

In The Presence of the Enemy

By Elizabeth George

Read by Donada Peters

Books on Tape, $19.50 (Rental)

Fifteen cassettes, 22.5 hrs. Unabridged

An intriguing array of characters and subplots is the great joy of Elizabeth George's mystery series, which revolves around Scotland Yard's Inspector Thomas Lynley; his sergeant, Barbara Havers; and their cohorts, Simon and Deborah St. James, and Lady Helen Clyde. In this episode Havers gets the limelight as she's given her first chance at heading part of the investigation of the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the daughter of an MP.

Donada Peters has developed a kindred relationship with the characters through eight unabridged recordings. Peters fluidly interprets each of the major characters with all the style George could have intended. The minor characters - constables and the staff of a London tabloid - have identifiable traits, making the listening pure delight.

George's latest, "Deception On His Mind," has just been released, along with the abridged recording, narrated by Derek Jacobi (Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio). While Jacobi has mastered each of the titles in abridged form, they can't hold a candle to the unabridged versions. For mystery fans who want to savor the long unfolding of the plot and characters, Peters is top choice.

* Robin Whitten is the founder and editor of AudioFile, the monthly magazine of reviews and information on audiobooks.

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