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By Ellen Quint

Unhampered by the constraints of the police or the private investigator, amateur sleuths can be anyone—and do just about anything. As you can see from a small sampling of recent audiobooks in this sub-genre, the amateur sleuth can arise from any career, from a maid to a wedding planner to a journalist. Of course, the writer is then challenged to introduce a murder and, more importantly, create a credible reason why this person would be motivated to pursue a murder investigation.

In Val McDermid’s 1979, read by Katie Leung, we are introduced to reporter Allie Burns. This is McDermid’s first new series in 20 years. As a female reporter in a man’s world, Allie is looking for a way to make her name. Journalists make great amateur sleuths because they are persistent and, in many cases, fearless in pursuing a story. Narrator Leung, a Scottish actor, is perfectly suited to take on the Scottish accents and phrases. You may recognize Leung from her playing Cho Chang, Harry Potter’s first love interest in the film series.

A very different take on the amateur sleuth is THE MAID by Nita Prose and read by Lauren Ambrose. Here we have a very unlikely amateur sleuth, Molly, who might be considered “on the spectrum.” Molly loves her job as a maid in The Regency Hotel. She comes upon the dead body of an infamous hotel guest and becomes the prime murder suspect. So the motivation for Molly and her crew of friends is to solve this Clue-like mystery to clear Molly of suspicion. Ambrose’s narration earned her an Earphones Award.

In HELLO, TRANSCRIBER by Hannah Morrissey, read by Angela Dawe, we have an amateur sleuth who has a legitimate relationship with law enforcement—Hazel Greenlee, the protagonist, works as a transcriber of police reports for the local police station. Hazel is also an aspiring and frustrated novelist, which comes through in her language and observations. This Earphones Award winner provides a cast of colorful characters delivered masterfully by Dawe.

Angela Dawe also gives us the very funny and entertaining FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT by Elle Cosimano. Our amateur sleuth here is a somewhat successful author of murder mysteries, a single suburban mom who ends up in an improbable murder-for-hire situation. The twists and turns and humor will keep listeners fully engaged and entertained. The second book in the series, Finlay Donovan Knocks ’Em Dead, was just released this month.

Speaking of suburbia, one more amateur sleuth audiobook to add to the list: SUBURBAN DICKS by Fabian Nicieza and read by Natalie Naudus. Andie Stern, very pregnant suburban mom, is a former criminal profiler frustrated by her amateur status. She teams up with a local journalist, Kenny Lee, to reveal deep-held community secrets of racism, murder, and police corruption. Naudus masterfully delivers the various accents and the sarcasm and humor that drive this audiobook.


Mystery & Suspense Audiobooks from AudioFile Magazine

Listeners looking for a new mystery are in for a treat—AudioFile editors have found some excellent new audiobooks for your March listening. Lisa Gardner’s newest Frankie Elkin story comes to life with Hillary Huber’s dramatic narration, while Emily Woo Zeller captivates listeners with her dynamic narration of S.J. Rozan’s latest Lydia Chin mystery. Looking for something extra creepy? Try Joanne Harris’s intense new psychological suspense audiobook. Read on to see all of the audiobook choices this month, and perhaps plan to listen with the lights on.


ONE STEP TOO FAR: Frankie Elkin, Book 2

by Lisa Gardner | Read by Hillary Huber

AudioFile Earphones Award

Brilliance Audio | 11.75 hrs.

Narrator Hillary Huber uses perfect pacing and emphasis for Gardner’s second in a series featuring missing person specialist Frankie Elkin. Huber’s narration matches the story’s intensity as Frankie searches for a young man who has gone missing after a wild bachelor party in a national forest. Huber allows tension to creep into her delivery as the search reaches its dramatic climax. Gardner creates fully realized characters, flawlessly performed by Huber. Don’t miss this exciting race for survival.



FAMILY BUSINESS: Lydia Chin/Bill Smith, Book 14

by S.J. Rozan | Read by Emily Woo Zeller

AudioFile Earphones Award

Blackstone Audio | 8.5 hrs.

Emily Woo Zeller delivers a terrific narration of S.J. Rozan’s newest mystery, featuring New York City private eye Lydia Chin and her partner, Bill Smith. The complex, fast-paced, and witty story involves an old building, Chinatown’s Tong gang, a developer, the historic preservation society—and a murder. The ensuing tale involves family secrets, double-dealing, gunshots, crackling dialogue, and colorful details. Zeller convincingly transforms herself into a wide range of characters and performs remarkable multi-person conversations. Her audible smile adds to the humor and her pacing propels the action.




by Joanne Harris | Read by Alex Kingston, Steven Pacey

AudioFile Earphones Award

OrangeSky Audio | 13 hrs.

Alex Kingston and Steven Pacey narrate this beautifully written and produced third audiobook in the Malbry series. It’s an intense psychological suspense story, a mystery involving a missing boy and a body uncovered in a schoolyard. Kingston’s evocative voice tells the disturbing life story of Headmistress Rebecca Buckfast. Listeners also hear the proper, pedantic utterances of Roy, the elderly Latin master, convincingly portrayed by Pacey. The voice of the monster, “Mr. Smallface,” is creepy, and listeners may never look at a bathroom drain the same way again.



DIABLO MESA: Nora Kelly, Book 3

by Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child | Read by Cynthia Farrell

Hachette Audio | 12 hrs.

Cynthia Farrell is the perfect narrator for this action-packed audiobook featuring homicide, government conspiracy, and maybe UFOs. Farrell delivers both male and female voices with aplomb and adds the appropriate urgency when archaeologist Nora Kelly and FBI Special Agent Corrie Swanson land in trouble. Lucas Tappan, a really, really rich guy, hires Nora and her brother to excavate a site in Roswell, New Mexico, site of a supposed UFO crash. The dig uncovers two corpses. Farrell keeps the subsequent adventure, peril, and romance as real as possible, and thoroughly engaging. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.