I’ve been a fan of audiobooks since I was first transferred to a bookstore that was over an hour’s commute by bus from where I was living. At first, I tried reading anyway, but in no time I was reminded of a childhood problem: reading while a bus is in motion makes me feel ill, fast. With a commute that was about to become sometimes as much as three hours out of my day, I bought myself a small Walkman, and started ordering bestselling books on cassette.
Let’s pause a moment to pay respects to any illusions you may have had of my youth.
As the years have passed, the audiobook has shifted in both availability and price. Digital distribution has made shorter novels accessible for the market despite costs, and with apps like Audible, my phone is all I need to carry dozens of audiobooks at the same time. Truly, the audiobook future is here, and I am happy to live in it.
Even better? Queer books are available now. At Audible, asking for the LGBT books in the Fiction category gives you over two thousand hits, and nearly a thousand also show up under the LGBT subcategory of Romance. So, with three thousand audiobooks to choose from, where do you start?
I hope to help out with that. Over the years, I’ve listened to some great audiobooks, and Out in Print has been kind enough to let me drop by now and then with reviews in the past, and I’ll be popping in a bit more often—with queer audiobook reviews.
Let’s talk Trigger.
Jessica Webb’s debut novel Trigger takes the medical thriller narrative and gives it an ever-so-slight sci-fi twist. We meet our heroine, Dr. Kate Morrison, in a Vancouver ER, where fate puts her in the right place at the wrong time: a man stumbles in off the street and collapses, and while Kate tries to save him, police arrive and demand she not touch him at all. When she does—and when nothing bad happens and she manages to save the man’s life—instead of praise, Kate finds herself in the harsh criticism of RCMP officer Sergeant Andy Wyles, the woman who ordered Kate to keep her hands off the patient.
Confused, and despite Sergeant Wyles’s desire to keep Kate out of it, the doctor is soon caught up in something far darker than she could have imagined. Someone has turned human beings into bombs. Triggered by touch, people like this man have been exploding, and Kate is the first human being who seems somehow immune to triggering the effect. Suddenly very important to both the investigators who want to uncover who is behind this potential act of terrorism and also a danger to those who have created these human weapons, Sergeant Wyles has little choice but to draw Kate further into the investigation, working with her joint task force that crosses the Canadian-American border.
Kate’s initial mistrust of the RCMP officer, and Wyles’s frustration with the doctor who never seems to take her orders make for a great initial friction. That the two develop stronger feelings for each other born from this sense of protectiveness and desire to help plays out organically and is in fact one of the central strengths of this book. While there’s an instant spark, it’s just that: a spark, and it takes Kate—who has never had a relationship or strong feelings for a woman before—a great deal of the book to come to grips with what she is feeling. It’s rare I’ve seen bisexuality handled in a romantic sub-plot anywhere near as well as this, and I should point out that I’ve also listened to the second book in the series, Pathogen, and the further exploration of Kate’s awareness of just what it means to be in a relationship with a woman never loses this clear and sharp portrayal. Kate’s internal journey of her heart and mind is just as engrossing as the greater narratives of the books.
As Kate tries to work out just how these people have been turned into explosive weapons and more importantly why she is immune as a trigger, as well as whether or not there is a way to disarm them, Webb jacks up the tension notch by notch, throwing twists at the listener that genuinely stymied my ability to guess what was next.
Action mixes with medical intrigue, well-written emotional tension, and a romantic simmer that builds to a boil without forsaking the main narrative. The end result is a story that will please fans of thrillers, romances, and contemporary sci-fi alike.
The audiobook is performed by Ruby Rivers, who was a new-to-me performer, but who I’ll be adding to my list of performers to watch out for. She affects solid voices for Kate and Andy, immediately identifiable and filled with characterization, and while she doesn’t quite have as equal a range for the supporting cast of characters—most of the men in the book sound the same, with the exception of Andy’s tech-focused partner Jack—it’s not a distraction. With Webb’s writing being clean and clear, I was never lost for this lack of nuance in the performer. Rivers has the right level of emotion and pacing, and in a thriller that can really make or break the experience.
In fact, the moment I finished Trigger, I went back to Audible and picked up Pathogen, the second Dr. Kate Morrison Mystery. I was listening to it the following morning, and happy to be back with Andy and Kate.
I should mention that while it doesn’t come up in Trigger, there is one small foible of the performer that does come into play in the sequel, Pathogen: Ruby Rivers’s lack of Canadian French. Where Trigger takes place mostly in the US, Pathogen stays in British Columbia, and a few Canadian French words take a bit of a beating in Rivers’s mouth. Levesque is read as “Luh-vess-cue,” and Calliope as “cally-ope.” I imagine that wouldn’t pull non-French speaking listeners out of the narrative, but for those of you who do have an ear for la belle langue it might be a bit jarring.
That one small caveat notwithstanding, I’ll be heading back to Audible now and refreshing the page and waiting for Troop 18—the third book—to show up as available.
Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine