BBCR4X + Topkapi by Eric Ambler

Aural Noir: Online Audio

BBC Radio 4 ExtraRadioArchives.ccAccording to the Wikipedia entry, BBC Radio 7 was renamed BBC Radio 4 Extra back in April. I’m not much for re-branding – it’s a grubby little idea that makes me think of scientific management, focus groups and meetings … endless … unproductive … meetings. The more I think about meetings the less I want to think.

Hopefully the new name will last a few years, and then perhaps BBC management can go ahead and arrange to have a meeting about considering the update of their antiquated delivery methods – perhaps they’ve already started as I hear they’ve finally dropped RealAudio (the web’s first big audio technology).

Speaking of delivery methods, I discovered my first interesting BBC Radio 4 Extra offering over on is my favourite site for public radio, its chock full of great taxpayer funded programming. The site is extremely well organized and make even people who are wary of the word “torrent” comfortable with the technology. Files are, naturally, in the MP3 format, and when well seeded, a program the size of Topkapi will take only about TEN minutes to download. That’s service folks!

Topkapi, aka The Light Of Day, is a 1962 novel Eric Ambler. I’d heard about it – but until it showed up on I never even thought to investigate it. Well, after investigating it turns out that The Light Of Day was an Edgar Award winning novel, 1964, and has a fair cachet in espionage and crime fiction circles. The name change, for this reading, was likely done to remind BBC listeners of the movie – Topkapi is pretty famous, the Ottoman Sultans used it as their personal residence as well as an “impregnable fortress” that housed its famous seraglio/harem.

the Topkapi Palace by night

The Wikipedia entry for Ambler has this gem:

“A recurring theme in Ambler’s books is the amateur who finds himself unwillingly in the company of hardened criminals or spies. Typically, the protagonist is out of his depth and often seems for much of the book a bumbling anti-hero, yet eventually manages to surprise himself as well as the professionals by a decisive action that outwits his far more experienced opponents.”

That certainly fits Topkapi.

I can’t say how much of the novel was excised for this abridgement, but I can say the novel definitely works as a quick listen. There are some unnecessary sound effects added, but when they show up they don’t overwhelm the text. The story is told in first person, by the clever, but unlucky anti-hero. David Westhead, the reader, is truly excellent in performing the lead character. He’s got a wonderfully subdued humor, and the voice and accent work he provides for the man supporting characters adds a lot of color.

Topkapi by Eric AmblerTopkapi (aka The Light Of Day)
By Eric Ambler; Read by David Westhead
Six 30 minute episodes – Approx. 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4 Extra
Broadcast: May 2011
Small time operator Arthur Abdel Simpson is an illegitimate stateless half British half Egyptian pimp and pornographer. He makes his living fleecing tourists in Athens, Greece. When he picks up a likely looking pigeon at the airport he soon discovers that he’s the one in trouble. He’s then blackmailed into driving a car to Istanbul.

1/6. Minor crook Arthur Abdel Simpson spots a likely mark at Athens airport
2/6. Arthur Simpson is interrogated by Turkish security for unintentional arms smuggling.
3/6. Arthur is now seconded to Turkish security. He also has to work at the suspect’s villa.
4/6. Unwilling agent Simpson watches a group of ‘tourists’, while he works as their driver.
5/6. Arthur Simpson witnesses a vicious knife fight and waits for news of Fischer.
6/6. Arthur Simpson is still on the roof. He has just reluctantly robbed the Treasury.

Here’s the trailer for the film version:

I’ll try to find a copy of the film itself, and maybe see if its anything like the audiobook.

Posted by Jesse Willis

BBCR4 + Keep Your Pantheon by David Mamet

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Radio 4RadioArchives.ccI use an RSS feed aggregator to check most websites these days but is one I still have to check manually. One recent visit turned up a torrent that figuratively screamed for a download. Keep Your Pantheon was broadcast in 2007 on BBC Radio 4 and was written by David Mamet.

Yes, that David Mamet!

The production, as performed by a cast of veteran BBC voices, is of course a comedy (hopefully you could tell by the title), and follows in the fine tradition of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Blackadder the ThirdSense and Senility. To get the MP3 head on over to and do a search. You will, of course, also need a torrent client (thats the software for getting torrents). I use µTorrent.

BBC Radio 4 - Keep Your Pantheon by David MametKeep Your Pantheon (or On The Whole I’d Rather Be In Mesopotamia)
By David Mamet; Performed by a full cast
1 Broadcast – Approx. 45 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4 / Afternoon Play
Broadcast: May 28, 2007
An impoverished acting company on the edge of eviction is offered a lucrative engagement. But through a series of riotous mishaps, the troupe finds its problems have actually multiplied, and that they are about to learn a new meaning for the term “dying on stage.”

Strabo … Martin Jarvis
Lupus Albus … Lloyd Owen
Philius … Darren Richardson
Pelargon … Simon Templeman
Ramus … Morgan Sheppard
Quintus Magnus … Christopher Neame
Titus … Kenneth Danziger
Servant / 1st Centurion / Armourer / Priest … Alan Shearman
Messenger / 2nd Centurion / Guard … Matthew Wolf

Director Rosalind Ayres

A snippet from the script:

A snippet from ACT I of David Mamet's KEEP YOUR PANTHEON

Comparative videos for research, private study, criticism, or whathaveyou:

Posted by Jesse Willis

LibriVox: Greek And Roman Ghost Stories by Lacy Collison-Morley [non-fiction]

SFFaudio Online Audio

LibriVoxLooking for a bit of background on ancient ghost stories? Here’s the introduction to a 1912 scholarly work (full of footnotes) that was recently turned into an audiobook:

“This collection was originally begun at the suggestion of Mr. Marion Crawford, whose wide and continual reading of the classics supplied more than one of the stories. They were put together during a number of years of casual browsing among the classics, and will perhaps interest others who indulge in similar amusements.”

LibriVox - Greek And Roman Ghost Stories by Lacy Collinson-MorleyGreek And Roman Ghost Stories
By Lacy Collison-Morley; Read by Timothy Ferguson
7 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 1 Hour 56 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: October 4, 2009
A non-fiction work, comparing and collecting ghost stories by Classical Greek and Republican or Imperial Roman authors.

1 – The Power of the Dead to Return to Earth – Approx. 16 Minutes |MP3|
2 – The Belief in Ghosts in Greece and Rome – Approx. 9 Minutes |MP3|
3 – Stories of Haunting – Approx. 20 Minutes |MP3|
4 – Necromancy – Approx. 18 Minutes |MP3|
5 – Visions of the Dead in Sleep – Approx. 14 Minutes |MP3|
6 – Apparitions of the Dead – Approx. 27 Minutes |MP3|
7 – Warning Apparitions – Approx. 12 Minutes |MP3|

Podcast feed:

iTunes 1-Click |SUBSCRIBE|

[Thanks also to “isolation” and “Hokuspokus”]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Aural Noir Review of FALCO: Venus In Copper – a RADIO DRAMA

Aural Noir: Review

BBC Audio - Venus In Copper - based on the novel by Lindsey DavisSFFaudio EssentialFalco: Venus In Copper
Based on the novel by Lindsey Davis; Performed by a full cast
3 CDs or Audible Download – Approx. 3 Hours [RADIO DRAMA]
Publisher: BBC Audio /
Published: July 2006
ISBN: 1846071399
Themes: / Crime / Ancient Rome / Detective / Murder / Noir /
Sample: MP3

“Greetings! Marcus Didius Falco at your service, private informer, investigator to you. If you need references ask the emperor. I’ve just done a big job for him. It went very well, so well his chief spy got jealous and threw me in prison, accused me of stealing some imperial lead. Those ingots are going to haunt me forever. I’d have given them the money if anyone had bothered to ask. Still it wasn’t all bad rotting in jail. I had company, a very friendly rat. But before I had time to get to know him better my mother bailed me out.”

Marcus Didius Falco is the central character and narrator of Venus In Copper (the third in a series of novels by Lindsey Davis). Falco’s narration and dialogue is sprinkled with half-nods and sly-winks to the private detective stories of the 20th century. At least one or two lines out of Falco’s mouth each episode echoes something from Chandler, Chinatown or another quip you’ll half recognize. Falco lives in 70’s AD Rome under the rule of Emperor Vespasian. He works as a ‘private informer’ solving mysteries for the citiy’s elites or the nouveau riche freed slaves. That latter is the case with this mystery, concerning the investigation of a black widow set to marry into a rich family made up of freed slaves. The serpentine plot takes the fore of the drama with Davis and dramatist Mary Cutler (a friend of Davis’s) beeing careful to detail Falco’s personal life just enough to make us care about them all. I mentioned that the program seems to delight in referencing the 20th century private detective story. But it also seems highly interested in showing us actual historical 1st century AD detail. The feel for Rome itself, the interplay between fact actually informs the plot – how wonderful and refreshing for a historical mystery! Te program is both comforting in its familiarity and simultaneously fascinating in its new setting. The characters are likewise familiar and new. Venus In Copper is wonderful.

Anton Lesser, playing Falco, is absolutely extraordinary, carrying the program to the heights of radio drama excellence. Anna Madeley, playing Falco’s aristocratic girlfriend, is also amazing. In fact the entire cast does excellent work. Falco’s world is depicted with a rich soundscape with atmospheric effects and well themed music. The only flaw in the entire production was an artificial sounding talking parrot – but then again I don’t think I’ve ever heard a convincing talking parrot imitation. The program is available in stereo on CD or (occasionally via BBC iplayer) or in monaural via Highly recommended.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul LevinsonThe Plot To Save Socrates
By Paul Levinson; Read by Mark Shanahan
7 CDs – 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listen & Live Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1593160747
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Cloning / Philosophy / Ancient Greece / Ancient Rome / Ancient Egypt / 19th Century New York /

“Think not those faithful who praise all thy words and actions;
but those who kindly reprove thy faults.”
Socrates (c.470 BC – 399 BC) Greek philosopher

2042 AD. Sierra, a young classics scholar has discovered a lost Platonic scroll. Its contents will lead her to attempt to trounce the awful punishment that was imposed upon Socrates, the pre-eminent philosopher of the golden age of Greece. Joining her is her fiance Max, her thesis advisor Tom, Alcibides (a famous Greek orator and friend to Socrates), 19th century New York publisher W.H. Appleton, as well as the famously talented inventor, Heron of Alexandria.

Levinson opens the novel well with grad student Sierra Waters discovering a lost Socratic dialogue. It is a terrific opening, and I think this is what got my hopes so high. This isn’t a terrible novel, it just doesn’t grab me like I wanted it to. It is, rather, a workman-like time travel adventure. I was hoping it would be something deeper. In terms of pace, there is at least one too many characters. And none of them, including Socrates, engaged me as they should have. This is doubly troubling considering that the ideas weren’t sufficent for the novel length. Both the time travel itself and the mechanism of the time travel (a set of chairs created by a mysterious time traveler from the future) are sidelined and remain virtually unexplained. There are some interesting reveals sprinkled here and there and Levinson gives a decent twist-ending but it is only satisfying on one level and doesn’t and fufil the promise I thought it had. I never became enraptured by the story. There are unfilled gaps in the narrative. It feels as if the novel were abridged, though the packaging copy assures me that it wasn’t. The biggest single disapointment for me was the lack of more than a surficial philosophical content. Socrates reasons for allowing himself to be executed by an Athenian jury are only lightly touched upon. Levinson has an interest in philosophy, but Socrates and the Socratic method deserve a stupendous Science Fiction showcase and not this – a light adventure yarn. Had the spartan but solid contents of the plot been rendered to novellete or novella length the story would probably have worked far better. To his credit Levinson includes Socrates’ distrust of the written word. The written word is fixed, something that can’t be quibbled about as easily as can the thoughtful power of spoken word. Had Socrates known about audiobooks I think he’d have questioned the recorded word too.

Narrating duites on this one are by Mark Shanahan. Shannahan has a decent range, offering some distinction between the many characters. His job however was made more difficult than it should have been; Levinson’s characters aren’t fully dimensional. The narration is accompanied by sound effects and a situational background noise. I was disapointed with the inclusion of sound effects. If the text says “the doorbell rang.” you don’t need the sound effect of a doorbell ringing. If the narrator then reads the line “the doorbell rang.” not only don’t you need the sound of a doorbell ringing it interupts the flow of the story to include it. Less intrusive, but certainly no less unnecessary is the occasional inclusion of background noise designed to be appropriate to where a scene takes place. A pub, with a humm of clinking of glasses and the buzz of distant conversations, a seaside with the cry of seagulls and the slosh of waves. I get it, we’re in a pub or on a beach. But the absence from the rest of the narrative makes these scenes stand out in a way they shouldn’t and thus paradoxically distances the listener rather than drawing him or her in. The music is actually pretty good and definitely works better than the rest of the production details. The music fades in and out, bookending scenes. There are also one or two sentences that were missed in the final pass. Shannahan will read a line, and then read it again.

Upon reading other reviews scattered around the net I see that more people seem to have become caught up in the novel than I did. I envy them. I wanted to like this novel a lot more than I did. One reviewer pointed out that Levinson’s characterization and was like that of Isaac Asimov’s. I don’t disagree, I just think that was one of Asimov’s few weakness. Another reviewer pointed out how well constructed the chronology of the time travel was. Again, I don’t disagree, it was well woven. Maybe my problem is that most of my favorite time travel stories are of a much shorter length. If that is your problem too, bear that in mind joining in on The Plot To Save Socrates

Posted by Jesse Willis