Best new audiobooks for this summer

Chosen by Katherine Powers for @washingtonpost. Go to:
  1. "The Summer Before the War," by Helen Simonson (Random House Audio. Unabridged, 15¾ hours)
    Simonson’s novel delivers a bracing measure of early-20th-century small-town English life, its class bigotry and eruptions of scandal. Set in on the Sussex coast, and in the trenches of the Western Front, the novel gathers itself around Beatrice Nash. She has come to Rye to teach Latin after her late father left her inheritance in a trust controlled by a high-handed relative. The novel is read by Fiona Hardingham, whose brisk, limber voice encompasses many accents.
  2. "Kill ’em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul," by James McBride (Random House Audio. Unabridged, 9 hours)
    It is hard to imagine a better narrator than Dominic Hoffman for this wide-ranging consideration of James Brown. The book, which offers a big slice of American music and racial history, is written with admiration and outrage, especially at the siphoning off into lawyers’ pockets of the millions of dollars Brown left to educate poor children. Hoffman’s timbre, pacing and all-around panache wonderfully realize the oral quality of the book, the dialog, and interviews.
  3. "High Dive," by Jonathan Lee (HighBridge. Unabridged, 12 hours)
    Gerard Doyle reads this chilling, witty, often poignant novel. It begins in 1978 with the recruitment of Dan, a young Irishman, by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. From there, it moves to the 1984 bombing of a Brighton hotel at which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her entourage were staying for a conference. Doyle, a native of Ireland, is a fount of regional accents, from the Ulster tones of the recruiter to Dan’s more southern brogue, on to the various English people at large.
  4. "The Tales of Max Carrados," by Ernest Bramah (Audible Studios. Unabridged, 11-¼ hours)
    First published between 1914 and 1927, these tales were popular rivals to Sherlock Holmes’s adventures. The stories are now brilliantly read by Stephen Fry, his voice seasoned, perhaps, by his role as the inimitable Jeeves. Carrados, a blind man, possesses prodigious deductive powers and preternatural acuity in his remaining senses. The formidable sleuth is assisted by a number of other characters, the personality of each admirably conveyed by Fry.
  5. "Now and Again," by Charlotte Rogan (Hachette Audio. Unabridged 14-¾ hours)
    Six readers tackle “Now and Again.” Narrator Kathleen McInerney devotes herself exclusively to sections reflecting the perspective of Maggie, the central character who discovers that her Oklahoma town’s munitions factory is irradiating its workers and that the federal prison holds innocent men in what amounts to slavery. Her campaign for justice is connected to a midwife, Dolly, whose sections are performed by Christine Lakin. Dolly, in turn, links the story to Iraq and her soldier fiance.