This thriller starts brilliantly. The protagonist, Julia, a second violinist, finds an unpublished waltz in a Rome junk shop run by "a little gnome of a man with eyebrows like snowy caterpillars." The shop is unnaturally cold and as she reads the music "the hairs suddenly rise on my arms". As she leaves the shop she notices "twin gargoyles perched above the pediment" and a "brass Medusa-head knocker". Spooky!
Back home in America she starts to play the music as her three year old daughter, Lily, plays with the cat. When the music has stopped she discovers that the cat has been stabbed with the garden fork that the daughter is holding. All this happens in the first eight pages and, if you aren't utterly hooked by now, you will be when Julia plays the music again and finds herself stabbed with broken glass. There is mental illness in her family (her mother killed her baby brother) and psychiatrists start testing Lily to see whether there is any reason for her to be doing this. Julia is starting to believe that it is the music that is causing the problems (it uses "devil's chords [which were ] ... considered evil and banned from church music" in the middle ages), perhaps supernaturally, and she starts an obsessive quest for the composer. Julia's husband Rob (he absolutely has to be an accountant so there can be instant and easy conflict between a numbers type and an arty type) is worried by this obsession, convinced of his daughter's sanity (shades here of We Need to Talk About Kevin) and, suspecting that Julia herself might be imagining the attacks, wants to send her to a mental hospital.
This is gripping stuff.
And then we suddenly break from this thrilling tale to go to Venice in 1936 where Jewish violinist Lorenzo is practising for a duet with Laura Balboni, falling in love as the fascist storm clouds gather. Lorenzo is, of course, the author of the music. This is a sweet interlude, with menacing overtones, but the change of pace is so sudden. I was racing along scherzo furioso and suddenly we switch to adagio dolcissimo.
It never really regains the intensity of those first few chapters. We switch back to Julia and thriller mode as she travels to Venice to find the answers and out of the blue she is being shot at by hoodlums and there appears to be a conspiracy against her. Classic thriller territory. Which, given the excitement and the potential of the start, was actually a little bit disappointing.
August 2016; 314 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57