Readers capture essence of mystery characters

Linda Castillo’s “After the Storm.”
Linda Castillo’s “After the Storm.”

Several years ago I read that typing on a computer freed your left mechanical brain so your right creative brain could run free.

And the reverse works, too, I thought, for I’d noticed that when my mind ran rampant, I could settle it down with an audiobook, then organize my day.

A parallel function worked at night. If I woke, grabbed for my audio and after only a short period of listening, I was asleep again. I sometimes slumbered so quickly that I didn’t switch off the story and in the morning my book had nearly ended without me.

Meditation audios and nature audios hadn’t worked as well. I had to keep my brain busy, and decoding a story stopped it from making middle-of-the-night lists of troubles and to-do lists.

You don’t do that much listening, theorizing, or headphone wearing without having to admit you’re an audio addict.

I had more proof earlier this year when audios became my survival mechanism during the one week we had to prepare our house for a potential buyer to see. My architect husband likes a spare look, so he designed our home with closets and drawers everywhere. That’s fabulous unless you stuff them with junk for more than two decades.

The long closet that burrows under our stairs like a rabbit’s warren was impassible. It was time to clean out my love-hate drawer, the one I adore because there’s room for everything, but loathe when I try to find anything.

I only made it through the cleaning process because of a mystery binge, counting on the company of favorite sleuths and narrators. Clearing out my daughter’s old prom dresses didn’t seem so overwhelming when reader Kathleen McInerney’s facility with Amish vernacular took me directly into the life of Police Chief Kate Burkholder who suffered hits during a hurricane in her Ohio community only to face internal torments in Linda Castillo’s “After the Storm” (Macmillan, 11 hours).

I cruised through sorting out sheets and towels with Sue Grafton’s “X” (Random House, 15.5 hours) as Judy Kaye accented the sarcasm of Kinsey Milhone and the tension as she struggles to collect from vanishing clients and better understand the life of a deceased colleague.

I cried, not because of the loads of trash I had to tote, but because Orlagh Cassidy seemed to feel Maisie Dobbs’ pain as much as I did during the incredibly sad beginning of Jacqueline Winspear’s 11th mystery, “A Dangerous Place” (HarperAudio, 9.75 hours). Then I was rapt as a recovering Maisie takes on a historical mystery that lands her in war-torn Guernica.

I finished the frenzied cleaning with first time novelist Vu Tran’s “Dragonfish” (Blackstone Audio, 9 hours). Robert, the protagonist, a pugilistic Oakland cop, is still recovering from a divorce from his enigmatic Vietnamese wife, Hong. Threatening Vietnamese thugs descend on his home, kidnap him, drive him to Las Vegas where they demand he discover his ex-wife’s whereabouts. Tom Taylorson reads Robert’s narrative, delivering a nuanced portrait of a man who doesn’t just seek his missing ex-wife, but redemption from his cruelties to her. Nancy Wu, the second narrator, reveals Hong’s secrets through letters she writes that “no one will read.” Her tone is as tender as Taylorson’s reading is tough. In wrenching emotional tones, Wu recounts Hong’s flashbacks from the 1970s – the painful death of her beloved first husband during the Vietnamese War, her consuming grief in a Malaysian refugee camp, her guilt-filled desertion of her daughter and the overwhelming result of all this loss and sorrow.

What happens when you pair the addictive-listening power of mysteries with a woman who’s an audio fiend? Folded sheets and towels, drawers where you can find what you want and closets you can walk into.