Narrated by Louisa Jane Underwood
Anyone who has read or listened to even a small number of Amanda Quick’s historical mysteries will have realised that her books tend to be somewhat formulaic. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing; Ms. Quick’s particular formula – independent heroine meets mysterious, slightly dangerous hero and they solve a mystery while falling in love (and have their first sexual encounter anywhere else but a bed!) – is a popular and successful one, and I have no problem with formulaic when it’s done well. I wanted to listen to The Girl Who Knew Too Much mostly because the setting of 1930s Los Angeles is a departure from the author’s usual setting of 19th Century England, and being a bit of an old movie buff, I was looking forward to a noir-ish mystery with a touch of good old Hollywood glamour. Sadly, however both the noir and the glamour were missing and the mysteries – there are two of them – were very predictable.
Adding to my disappointment was the narration by Louisa Jane Underwood, which did nothing to help an already lacklustre book and in fact, made listening to it a chore rather than a pleasure. Had I not been listening for review, I’d have DNFed and returned it to Audible.
The book opens upon the first of the mysteries I mentioned, when personal assistant, Anna Harris, arrives at the swanky country home of her employer, Helen Spencer, to find that she has been murdered. Before she died, Helen appears to have had the time to leave a note, scrawl the word “RUN!” in blood and direct Anna to the location of a valuable notebook that she must not under any circumstances tell anyone about, not the police, not the FBI, not ANYONE. I had to ask myself at this point exactly what she was supposed to do with it if she couldn’t tell anyone she had it.
Anyway, Anna runs, changes her name to Irene Glasson and ends up in L.A., working as a reporter for Whispers, one of the various Hollywood gossip rags. She is due to meet with Gloria Maitland, an aspiring actress who has some sort of scoop on the up-and-coming heartthrob actor, Nick Tremayne – but Irene finds Gloria dead, in the swimming pool of the Burning Cove Hotel where they had arranged to meet.
The hotel is owned by Oliver Ward, a former stage illusionist and magician, whose career was cut short a couple of years earlier when an act went wrong and he almost died on stage. Remember that, because it’s important. It must be, because it’s mentioned so many times that I stopped counting after the sixth or seventh instance. After his career ended, Oliver put everything he had into the Burning Cove Hotel and has made it THE place to go for all the top stars and studio execs, so naturally, he isn’t best pleased at the bad publicity likely to ensue over the fact there’s a dead body in the pool.
Fortunately, however, Oliver becomes Irene’s biggest ally as the pair of them team up to try to find out who killed Gloria. Irene reveals that her friend and mentor, Peggy Hackett, died under suspicious circumstances rather like Gloria’s, and that she now suspects that Peggy was also murdered. Naturally, the further Irene digs into the pasts of the victims, the more she attracts the wrong sort of attention from the wrong sort of people. Nick Tremayne might be nice to look at and a talented actor, but beneath the veneer, he’s selfish and unpleasant and was trying to end his affair with Gloria before she met her watery end. Now he’s desperate to get Irene off his back and isn’t above resorting to threats. His studio’s fixer, Ogden, will do whatever it takes to protect its stars from bad publicity, and tries to put the frighteners on Irene, which culminates in another dead body; and Nick’s newest friend is the enigmatic and handsome Julian Enright, son of an old money New York family and heir to one of that city’s most prestigious law firms, which has a nice sideline in extortion and assassination. Throw in Nick’s stalker, his exceedingly nervous assistant, Claudia, Oliver’s eccentric uncle Chester, Irene’s brusque editor and a variety of other secondary characters, and the book is pretty much bursting at the seams. I can’t understand the need for two separate mystery plots – the notebook and the L.A murders – and quite honestly, it’s all one big mess. The former plotline is resolved too easily and the identity of the murderer of the women seems to have been the result of sticking a pin in the list of characters to choose whodunnit, because there’s no build up to it at all.
The dialogue smells cheesier than month old camembert and the characterisation is paper-thin. As for the romance, well, blink and you’ll miss it. There is zero chemistry between Irene and Oliver, who go from kiss to shag (not in a bed the first time as per the formula) to pretty much living together with no discussion about what they’re doing or where they’re going.
I can’t say for sure if I’d have enjoyed this audiobook had the publishers used a different narrator, because the story is extremely weak, but I can’t help thinking that, if they’d used someone like, say, Julie McKay (to whom I listened in Beatriz Williams’ The Wicked City recently) I might have enjoyed the actual listening experience more. It’s no secret that I get just the teeniest bit annoyed when I hear a British-set historical romance narrated in an American accent, so here I’m levelling the exact opposite criticism. Louisa Jane Underwood seems to be the current “narrator of choice” for Amanda Quick’s work, but she is completely wrong for this book, and I don’t get why a British narrator was used instead of an American one. She performs all the narrative in her native British accent and the dialogue in some kind of American accent, but the juxtaposition is off and kept pulling me out of the story. I freely admit to not being an expert in American accents, but to my ears it sounded like Ms. Underwood was able to do two different ones; a kind of “all purpose American” and a slight “New York Bronx” (which she employs for Claudia and some of the hotel staff.) At one point Oliver says that it’s easy for West Coast people to identify people from the East Coast by their accent. Well, good luck with that, Oliver, because I heard absolutely no difference. I’d love to hear an opinion from an American who has listened to this (or part of it), because to my ears, the accents are excruciatingly fake.
The character differentiation is also quite poor. Ms. Underwood does an okay job with her characterisations of Oliver, Irene and some of the other female characters, but her other male characterisations leave much to be desired, and in the case of some of them – Chester, for example – they sound like they’re TALKING IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. This is also true of Irene’s editor, to whom she talks on the phone a lot. The woman is obviously meant to be one of those hard-ball woman-in-a-man’s-world types, but to my ears SHE WAS JUST SHOUTY.
A poor narration coupled with a less than scintillating story is a recipe for disaster and that’s exactly what we’ve got here. I was glad when I heard the words “The End.”
Book Content: D+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in - but really, REALLY tame. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Recorded Books
The Girl Who Knew Too Much was provided to AudioGals by Recorded Books for a review.