Review by Jacob Licklider
As The Two Jasons was brought forward from its initial January 2022 to October 2021, Big Finish Productions commissioned two further Bernice Summerfield audiobooks to replace that slot plus an additional slot for February 2022. The January slot was taken by The Weather on Versimmon by Matthew Griffiths, a novel released during the box set era of the Bernice Summerfield range to coincide with the release of Road Trip, the second box set. Luckily, unlike the initial five Bernice Summerfield novels, while plot points are referenced, but not integral to understanding that box set or the events of this book. This is essential as I have not heard any of the box sets yet. The plot sees Benny with Ruth searching for her son Peter who has gone missing. They find themselves on the planet Versimmon which is essentially a world of ecological artists, but the weather seems to be going haywire. There’s a hailstorm as climate change begins to ravage the planet for reasons that nobody is entirely sure of why as fauna has begun to join the flora.
This is an intriguing premise for Matthew Griffiths to hang a novel on, and the release being only six hours put me in the mindset of looking at a short, snappy audiobook, but sadly this is not really the pace. Griffiths’ writing style is more apt for short stories and novellas, some of which he has written in The Christmas Collection and True Stories, both contributions to those being enjoyable. Despite being short, this novel feels like it has been stretched incredibly thin, mainly due to having a supporting cast who all fall down to one note characters you would expect in a story like this. Even the villain, something that most writers will generally rise above the rest due to their place in the plot, feels incredibly flat. It partially feels like this was meant to be a book with just Benny affecting the plot as Ruth has a plot that while eventually tying back to the main narrative with Benny, is one that feels like it doesn’t exist when she isn’t there. Benny is the only character who feels like there is a distinctive character voice from her perspective. Now, Griffiths does an excellent job in putting several topics together at interesting intersections, art and environmentalism connect in some very interesting ways. There is some potential for more exploration of Versimmon as a society into what it generally means with an art driven society and some of the art heist elements of the novel are a lot of fun. What brings it down is a plot that needs either some tightening or more in depth characterisation.
The production of the audiobook version of The Weather on Versimmon is, as always, a top quality audiobook, boosted by being back in studio for the first time since The Glass Prison, and it shows. While home recording is great and all, for an audiobook there is a slight limitation on how expressive the narrator can be due to the size of the at home studio space. Lisa Bowerman narrating while always great, here feels more freeing from having that in person connection and ability to play off the presence of the director. There’s just a slight increase in the energy in the narration and the way the sound editing turns out because of the in person presence which is excellent. Overall, The Weather on Versimmon is clearly a first novel from Matthew Griffiths and with that brings quite a few problems. It still manages to be an overall great production with narration from Lisa Bowerman bringing things to life incredibly well. 6/10.
You can get it on download or from Big Finish.
Check out the rest of our Big Finish reviews!